Morrissey's refusal to cop off was not a cop-out but an extremely brave avowal of his understanding of human relations and the futility, as he saw it, of intimacy; his life was the theory and his work was the practice, not the other way round. Pop music was his exhibitionistic route to a virtual, ironic intimacy -- which in some ways has turned out to be rather more successful, and certainly longer-lasting, than the usual, "real" variety. When, during a particularly extravagant performance of "William, It Was Really Nothing" on "Top of the Pops" in 1984, he tore off his shirt to show the family audience tucking into their tea the words MARRY ME scrawled in magic marker across his scrawny chest, he was making a proposition to everyone in general and no one in particular -- or was it vice versa? Whatever, his proposal was accepted wholeheartedly by millions, many of whom, twenty years on, still remain faithful; countless actual, living human beings have come and gone out of their lives and have been forgotten. But not Morrissey. Even those who think they're over him, who think they walked out on him or that he walked out on them years ago, know deep down, in those really squidgy bits they don't let anyone else see, that they'll never ever be rid of him. The more they ignore him, the closer he gets. "I've still yet to touch perfection ... I'll know it when I do it, and I think it will be totally enchanting to affect other people's lives with a form of perfection. It will be like marriage!"
-- Morrissey, Blitz, 1988
Crucially, Morrissey's terminal singleness meant that the fans could possess him through his work -- which was full of him and his eroticism in a way that his life wasn't -- reassured in the knowledge that there was no one else, no shameless groupie nor jammy live-in lover who could possess him more fully, more authentically, than they. Morrissey's work and his public performance was, in effect, his "private life." His songs offered an intimacy which most people wouldn't inflict on their life-long lovers. Morrissey was a fan who had crossed the bedsit Rubicon and became a star, but he had somehow retained the fan's greatest defining feature: frustration. He did not act out his fans' unfulfilled fantasies so much as embody them. His famous celibacy told his fans that he was still one of them, still lying alone on the floor of his bedroom listening to records and moaning mother me smother me -- just as they were, even and especially those clever swine who had grown up and got married.
"I'm just simply inches away from a monastery and I feel that perhaps if I wasn't doing this that I probably would be in one ... which of course is a frightening thing to dwell upon."
-- Picture Disk, 1984
Morrissey has no need of sex with people so long as he continues to have it with his audience. Each stage performance is so obviously a sexual release -- one of the things which makes his concerts so memorable and so sublimely, indecently unprofessional. If the yelps and yowls and the desperate, ecstatic falsettos on tracks such as "This Charming Man," "Barbarism Begins at Home" or "Maladjusted" hint powerfully at an orgasmic release, onstage they turn into a form of musical pole dancing -- a protruding, curling fleshy tongue, a salacious smile, a sadistic whipping of his mike cable, a coquettish swing of those magnificently inhibited hips, a tempting spasm of his shiftless body, a golden sparkly shirt torn from his back and flung into an audience which, as one, pounces on it and renders it to the tiniest, dampest, most fragrant fragments, while the curious love-object himself lies on the stage writhing around in ecstasy-agony or on his back, legs akimbo airborne or draped over a monitor in an obliging gesture towards his audience. A Morrissey gig is an extraordinary, epic, religious prick-tease. But then, this is the self-conscious nature of his relationship with his audience: "Tell me tell me that you love me/oh, I know you don't mean it." ("Tomorrow")
"Do you ever go out dancing, stuff like that?Heavens no! I can only do that in front of four thousand people. It's the answer to everything."
-- MorrisseyMorrissey's celibacy is the symbol of his central contradiction. For all his bravura posturing as the loneliest monk, he can't quite make up his mind whether he is rejected or rejecting, which is itself the basic and irresolvable problem of self-consciousness. He keeps people at a distance because he feels too good for the world and the people in it, and because he feels he isn't nearly good enough for the world or the people in it. "I Know It's Over," an emotionally exhausting, scourging track on "The Queen is Dead," begins with the immortal, self-immolating lines: "Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head/and as I climb into an empty bed/Oh well, Enough said." Climbing into an empty bed is compared, typically, to a kind of burial; at the same time it expresses the worry that he might go from the womb to the tomb without ever encountering any other kind of intimacy.
"Desire is excruciating to me, and as far as I know that's all there is. I can't imagine response, and I can't imagine being loved by somebody whom one loves."
-- Details, 1992
The joke here, of course, is that for Morrissey there never is "enough said" about the matter, as the whingeing title of the track that immediately follows this, "Never Had No One Ever," demonstrates. However, in "I Know It's Over," celibacy is portrayed as essentially a rejection of life -- all his achievements, including his art, are just empty distractions and consolations that, in the end, merely underline even more sharply this basic failure. He taunts himself, asking if you're so terribly good looking and entertaining "then why do you sleep alone tonight?" the answer the voice in his head hisses is, "because tonight is just like any other night." You are on your own, he tells himself, with your "triumphs and your charms/while they are in each other's arms."
The question "why are you on your own tonight?" is the essential problem of loneliness, the question which solitude asks repeatedly of itself, and which can never be satisfactorily answered, even and especially by someone who has actually chosen loneliness, or at least likes to think he has (when it suits him). It is a constant theme of Morrissey's work that he would dearly love to be normal, and sex, after all, is something that we hope will render us human. "Which song do you wish you had written?'Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets' (Bacharach-David).
-- Q, 1995
Of course, Morrissey's wish to be normal can be expressed only because there is no chance of it ever being granted; it is another, equally constant theme of his work that he's glad he isn't normal. For a man who is a collection of celebrated, creative pathologies and dysfunctions, normality/cure would be a kind of erasure. Morrissey is much less interested in being normal than in the gap between himself and "normality," as it is this disunity which makes him special, defines his genius and describes the walls of his confinement (and refuge). may be in each other's arms, but Morrissey is hugging himself with the lonely but strangely delicious knowledge of his difference.
"What or who is the greatest love of your life?Next door's cat."
-- Kill Uncle Tour Book, 1991
In "I Know It's Over," he goes on to isolate another contradiction of his celibacy: the perverse anti-faith that a cynical person has in the institution of love, rather like the atheist has in God: "Love is Natural and Real/but not for you, my love/not tonight my love."
As the capitalisation of "Natural" and "Real" suggest, there is an irony bordering on sarcasm attached to the delivery of these words, but this is probably just a defence-mechanism; the cynical celibate idealist invests Naturalness and Realness with more substance than anyone else, since his whole sense of self (pity) is defined by his separation from these things. Undoubtedly, Morrissey's appeal to his fans and his repulsiveness to his much larger number of detractors consists of the fact that he has made a home out of his loneliness. It isn't that Morrissey is happy to be alone but that he is ravishingly resigned to it. Worse, he has made a glamorous career out of telling and re-telling the "secret" most people, quite rightly, do anything to avoid admitting to themselves: "This story is old -- I KNOW/but it goes on."
"If I see a beautiful woman I can be attracted like any man. But I find it very embarrassing. It's the same whether it's an attraction to a man or a woman ... Human relations don't work ... If I see someone I find attractive, then I flee in the other direction."
-- Les Inrockuptibles, 1995
Like a latter-day St. Sebastiane, exposing his flesh perhaps a little too eagerly to the cruel arrows of outrageous fortune, Morrissey has chosen to represent in himself an unpalatable truth about the contemporary human condition -- the impossibility of intimacy. Impossible, that is, except through the laughably false medium of pop music. In this way he has become a symbol of the basic paradox of post-modern life and the terrible curse of self-reflexivity; a symbol which most people would rather not read because within Morrissey's own eternally adolescent self-dramatisation is a story of their own unhappiness and separateness -- a teenage unhappiness and separateness only partly submerged beneath their adult busy-ness and sophistication. For such people, understandably -- commendably -- determined to get on with their lives and not acknowledge the sadness in it, Morrissey is an unappealing cross between Coleridge's albatross and A.A. Milne's Eeyore the donkey: "Oh God, Morrissey ... He's soooo depressing. Have you got any Cheeky Girls?"
However, for those damned or foolish enough to read, Morrissey achieves through his art what his lyrics say is unachievable in life: by symbolizing the impossibility of intimacy, he himself becomes the only person that his fans feel a pure and genuine, "natural" and "real" connection with. This is the very heart of pop's evil-beautiful transcendence, how the pop star both rises above and stands in for life and love.
"You broke all our hearts and never said sorry.That's because I never was sorry.Are you a bad man?Only inwardly."
-- Melody Maker, 1997
Morrissey himself has few illusions about his condition. For all his determined avoidance of limiting categories and dodging of discourses, Morrissey, the hypochondriac's hypochondriac, has a keen sense of his own pathologies -- diagnosing oneself is all very well, and can in fact be quite enjoyable, since it's a form of self-obsession; other people thinking they have the right to do so (or worse, write bleedin' "psycho-bios" about you) is quite intolerable. "Southpaw," the last track on "Southpaw Grammar" (1995), a wistful and regretful work even by Morrissey's standards, asserts that a sick boy "should be treated" because he's "so easily defeated" and seems to speculate whether it is an attachment to "Ma," or at least a failure to engage with life, which has cost him the kind of "normal" happiness and companionship that more conventionally robust boys appear to have achieved without even thinking (which is, of course, the only way to achieve anything vital and normal). "So you ran back to Ma" he sings, audibly shaking his head, "which set the pace for the rest of your days." The song ends lingeringly on a closing couplet repeated over and over, like someone murmuring tunefully in their sleep, not sure whether they're having a wet or a bad dream, until it finally dissolves into wordlessness and a neck-hair bristling guitar outro: "And now there's something that you should know/The girl of your dreams is here all alone"
"Have you ever met the girl of your dreams?No, I've rather met the girls of my nightmares."
-- Les Inrockuptibles, 1995Back to page 1 | 2
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