"You write a lot about the homosexual experience ... Well ... not a lot.OK, you write a lot about homosexual 'longing.'I've always said I leave things very open and that I sing about people. Without limitation. And I don't think that automatically makes me a homosexual.You've always taken offence at that word.Because it's limiting and restrictive."
-- The Face, 1990
"What about camp flirting?I never do that.You do!I knew you'd stray. I knew as soon as I mentioned 'camp' you'd stray from the real meaning of the word. I knew you'd suddenly think of feathers and things like that. No, I don't flirt. You were there at Wolverhampton, you could see the steam, there was aggression."
-- NME, 1989
Some have pointed to the fact that Morrissey has admitted to both male and female (rather unsatisfactory) encounters in his life and wondered why he didn't simply announce that he was "bisexual." Well, perhaps because bisexuality isn't an escape from sexuality at all, it's two sexualities. Moreover, it suggests twice the opportunity instead of merely twice the frustration. Yes, Morrissey's struggle to resist the iron law of "sexuality" which most of the rest of us have to submit to was always flagrantly self-important and lofty. Teenage even. But isn't that what artists and stars -- rather than common-or-garden celebrities -- are for? Morrissey's ambition, his perversity, his sensibility was far too large, too talented, too vicious to be fitted into this harmless, silly, precious, sequinned little word "gay." (He would assert repeatedly that he had nothing against "g" people themselves, but then who could blame him if he did?)
"Have you got a love life?I'm not answering that question.Why not?Because you're just too nosey, you don't deserve to know. "
-- On "The Janice Long Show" on BBC Radio 2, 2002
Throughout his career the pressure on him to "come out" (with his hands up) increased. This capitulation was allegedly for "Morrissey's own good," a contemporary version of that line from old cop shows: "make it easy on yourself, kid." The skinny spectre of the camp "Carry On" star Kenneth Williams, who claimed not to be interested in sex but admired workmen's oiled bodies in his private diary, was invoked rather too facilely. Besides, it wasn't as if Kenneth Williams was someone whose existential problems and narcissistic erotic attachment to his own sexual repression and isolation would have been solved by an appearance on "Gaytime TV," a cocktail kiss from Serena McKellan and a bottle of poppers. (Well, maybe the poppers might have helped.) People nowadays seem to imagine that 'sexual identity' is a place where people find themselves and true love, rather than the place where they lose all hope.
"Is celibacy really a victory of guilt over lust?I wish it was, I wouldn't feel so badly about it then. In fact, I wish it had any purpose whatsoever. It certainly wasn't something I ever tried to instil on the public at large -- I never expected a massive movement of celibates storming down Whitehall -- it was just something that slipped out really. In a manner of speaking."
-- Melody Maker, 1987
By the late Nineties the fashion for "coming out" had reached a feverish pitch; people who had once been happy to hear as little as possible about gayness began to outpace even gayists in their dogmatic insistence on the need for "honesty." A married British MP caught visiting a male pick-up area was clapped in the stocks by the press, tabloid and "quality," not because of the homosexual dimension, they claimed, but for his "hypocrisy" and "denial" about his sexuality (he refused to "confess" that he was gay). Even the President of the United States faced impeachment for not coming out about his extra-marital (non-penile vaginal and therefore, under the law of many US states, "sodomitical") "sex" life. And in 1998 that other sexually ambiguous British pop performer, George Michael, whose shuttle-cock-stuffed shrink-to-fit perma-crotch was launched on the world around the same time as Morrissey's shrub-stuffed baggy-arsed jeans, was caught "performing" in a public toilet -- in a painful pincer movement involving the British tabloid press and the Beverly Hills Police Department.
"Sex is a waste of batteries."
-- Melody Maker, 1986
The refusal up until this time of the "elusive" Mr Michael to make a public announcement about his private life (despite having all but announced his orientation in his more recent work and interviews) apparently amounted to a crime of global proportions. Realizing the game was up, and ever the consummate showman, he responded by giving the public what they wanted -- he out-tabbed the tabloids, and confessed all in televised interviews in the US and the UK. By co-operating fully with the authorities -- and the public -- in regard to his sexuality, he was able to avoid having to express any shame about the arrest, and instead was actually able to go on the offensive and allege he was the victim of police entrapment. He even released an hilariously vengeful single and video called "Outside" which turned his arrest into a celebration of "sexuality" and "public sex."
Ironically, though, the brightly lit, out-and-proud undeniably catchy "Outside" was so concerned with sunny self-justification and literally shame-less self-promotion it failed to capture anything "outside" at all, and said much less about the real, shadowy nature of desire and compulsions than his "in-the-closet" songs such as "Fastlove" or "Spinning The Wheel." Or -- it goes without saying -- any of Morrissey's criminally ambiguous and evasive "outside" songs. In truth, "Outside" effectively marked the end of George Michael's career as a serious artist. Not because "coming out" turned the straight world against him, but because, paradoxically, it meant that he could no longer write about "inside" feelings honestly. He could only be a spokesperson. "Were you being slightly flippant when you said your love songs were written from total guesswork?No, I was being absolutely serious. Which isn't really funny."
-- Melody Maker, 1985
Perhaps, as many people appear to be convinced, Morrissey is simply lying. Perhaps secretly he is the life and soul of Elton John's hot-tub parties, has his own booth at Heaven nightclub, possesses Europe's largest collection of peaked caps, and has a live-in boyfriend who is Kylie Minogue's personal stylist and colonic-irrigationist. (Funnily enough, no one ever seems to think that Morrissey's "really" covering up a life of secret heterosexual bliss, even though being outed as straight, i.e. post-Seventies Bowie, would probably be much more embarrassing for him).
But if Morrissey is just fooling us, just "living a lie," how do you explain his work? How do you explain the obvious, undeniable, massive, throbbing sublimation not just of eros but life into his songs? Why, in other words, would this pathologically, paralytically, criminally shy creature bother to get up on the stage and sing at all?
Despite an acknowledgement of sorts in 1997 that he had finally succumbed, albeit briefly, to some kind of relationship with a young Cockney boxer (and, in all honesty, who wouldn't?), and heavy hints that celibacy and he had parted company, Morrissey resolutely refused the blandishments of the press and refused to kiss and tell and show the home video -- except in his "enigmatic" songs -- and the gossip and speculation continued. Perhaps because he was not vulgarly famous enough to warrant the kind of media gang-bang at gunpoint which Mr Michael endured, perhaps because he was not quite as reckless, or perhaps simply because he still didn't really have much of a "sex life" at all, Morrissey was able to continue protecting and preserving the virtue of his private life -- such as it is.
Many of Morrissey's fans however recognize his celibacy as a saintly gesture and continue to believe in it rather like Catholics believe in the virgin birth (which is to say: "I know very well that ..., nevertheless ..."). For most of his career it had proved the seriousness of his commitment, even if it was to his own misery. He might perform before a crowd of thousands, he might be mobbed by ecstatic, sweating fans, male and female, eager to hug and kiss him until they were finally dragged away by bouncers, but he returned to an empty bed every night -- the perfect vantage-point from which to observe other people's messy love lives.
"I find that people who are knee-deep in emotion and physical commitment with human beings, I find they're often totally empty of any real passion ... I mean, if we look back on the history of literature, it's always these really creased, repressed hysterics, if you like, who are enchained in these squalor-ridden rooms, who say the most poetic things about the human race."
-- Melody Maker, 1984
Celibacy, which as has been pointed out by others, actually, pedantically means a refusal to get married, crystallized Morrissey's image as the loneliest man in the world, and only enhanced his appeal to those proceeding through the loneliest time of life -- adolescence. It is a period which is often -- even in this day and age when sex is more compulsory than taxes -- excruciatingly characterized in the relationship department by lots of thought but little action; a peculiarly pleasurable pain which Morrissey vocalizes as no other has. In publicly eschewing the consolations of coupledom, perhaps the only remaining religious faith in the Western world, he once again displays his genius for turning a powerless, frustrating situation (rejection) into an extremely powerful and satisfying one (rejecting) -- again, something which powerless, frustrated adolescents under an entirely inhuman pressure to couple/conform could relate to.
"I constantly spectate upon people who are entwined and frankly I'm looking upon souls in agony. I can't think of one relationship in the world which has been harmonious. It just doesn't happen."
-- NME, 1984
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