Music News

We Love Morrissey, But Does He Love Us?

First: A Scene from a Movie

Setting: a bowling alley. WALTER SOBCHAK, a volatile Vietnam vet finally reaches his breaking point. (Well, one of many, many breaking points.) He pulls a gun on a competitor who's quibbling over sporting minutiae. Technically, Walter's correct in his claims, but he's overreacted. Later, sitting in a car driven by his buddy THE DUDE, Walter and his beleaguered friend (and, it should be mentioned, the protagonist of this movie, 1998's The Big Lebowski) talk it out.

WALTER: Am I wrong?

THE DUDE: No, you're not wrong.

WALTER: Am I wrong?

THE DUDE: You're not wrong, Walter. You're just an asshole.

WALTER: Okay, then.

Second: A Scene from Real Life

Setting: a photo shoot in a posh hotel. Steven Patrick Morrissey, the English singer and former Smiths frontman best known just as MORRISSEY, submits to the rigors of self-promotion. As chronicled in Simon Armitage's recent The Guardian article "Big Mouth Strikes Again," a photographer poses our hero for a photo shoot. A full-length mirror comes into play. Says Morrissey, "Am I looking in the mirror?" Says the photographer, "Yes, please." Says Morrissey, "'Twas ever thus." No joke. (At least if the British press is to be trusted.) The sigh, the wistful look, the very Morrissey-ness of Morrissey's action's — they don't need to be spelled out.

Third: Another Scene from Real Life

Setting: Warsaw, a concert venue. Morrissey is on stage. A longtime vegan and animal rights campaigner, Morrissey decides to comment on the July 22 attacks on the Norwegian island of Utøya, where Anders Behring Breivik slaughtered teens at a summer camp as part of a far-right Christian terrorist plot. "We all live in a murderous world, as the events in Norway have shown, with 97 dead. Though that is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Shit every day," says Morrissey.

People get upset. People write things on the Internet, but also in actual newspapers. Morrissey doesn't back down, though, and issues a statement soon thereafter, saying: "The comment I made onstage at Warsaw could be further explained this way: Millions of beings are routinely murdered every single day in order to fund profits for McDonald's and KFCruelty, but because these murders are protected by laws, we are asked to feel indifferent about the killings, and to not even dare question them. If you quite rightly feel horrified at the Norway killings, then it surely naturally follows that you feel horror at the murder of ANY innocent being. You cannot ignore animal suffering simply because animals 'are not us.'"

Thing is, Morrissey's not wrong. Not entirely. He's just being an asshole.

If we can jump to conclusions here, one of the Mozster's apparent goals in life is to persuade people to quit eating meat, thereby minimizing the suffering of countless animals. A noble cause, if that's what you believe, but what good is it going to do to pour salt (organically collected, no doubt) on raw wounds? Merriam-Webster's second definition for "asshole" — the first is just "anus" — is this: "a stupid, incompetent, or detestable person." Morrissey makes fine, fine music. His croon, his hoot, his honk may move you to swoon. And he may not be wrong. But he's an asshole. Okay, then.

Fourth: Real Life Once Again

Setting: Your living room. You, a Smiths fan for years, have admired Morrissey. You were won over by his deliberate lyrics. You've celebrated his solo ups (albums like Viva Hate, Your Arsenal) and bemoaned his solo downs (Maladjusted, Kill Uncle). Sometimes, Morrissey's not wrong, but he's an asshole. But then sometimes he is just so simply, plainly wrong. Like calling the Chinese a "subspecies." Like preying on the worst anti-immigrant stereotypes. Like trying to sue NME for claiming he's racist. Like claiming killing a deer is the same as killing a child.

And you struggle, because, hey, let's separate art from artist, right? But for an artist to have put so much thought into his work, he must know what impact his spoken words have. Right? Once a paragon of sensitivity, Morrissey now wields his fame like a bully.

And you think: Morrissey. That guy? What an asshole. 'Twas ever thus, Dude.

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Chris Hassiotis