Stay Handsome Forever (Icons: Morrissey)

Do you love him? Or do you hate him? But how can you love or hate him if you don’t even know him? Yet, the ringleader of the tormentors grasps a comforting metaphorical hand on your shoulder through those dark and dreary Sunday afternoons, where the only solace found is in the words of  modern dirges that connects with life in all its arduous beauty.

Morrissey is an enigma. A paradox. An icon.

30 years ago, The Smiths first album was released and instantly infused into the bloodstream of the music industry; transforming the DNA of pop songs and the themes they could explore, going against all their predecessors and by doing so defining indie music. Setting the precedent for what was to come, the unlikely relationship between outcast Steven Patrick Morrissey and trailblazer guitarist Johnny Marr would give birth to one of musics most important partnerships. As a 22-year-old Morrissey sat in his bedroom at 384 Kings Road, Stretford, with the curtains drawn and images of James Dean staring back at him, the 18-year-old Marr tapped on his window after Billy Duffy from the band Morrissey first coyfully leapt into, The Nosebleeds, spoke of a boy from Wythenshawe who played the guitar, and, as they say, the rest is history.

Marr elaborates on the pairs instant magnetism, ”We discovered that we liked a lot of the same things, but more importantly, we liked them in the same way: very, very passionately…We elevated pop culture to a sort of mythical status, and we recognised that insane idealism and romanticism in each other.”

Now 30 years later, The Smiths have been dead for 27 years but Morrissey and ‘Smithdom’ still remain alive and well. To those who worship the man and his lyrics as if it were a genuine religion, there are emotive backstories to each individual describing the time they were first converted, sheathed underneath the gilded wings of his influence. Richard Taylor, a trainee teacher from Chester, has been a Morrissey fan for as long as he can remember and tried to define what ‘Mozmania‘ is; ”I like him for his talent and his ability to write and perform good music more than anything. He appeals to many because he represents, through his music, the emotion of being miserable and people can relate to him in that manner.”  

The words ‘depressing’ and ‘miserable’ have loomed over Morrissey like the proverbial gladioli swooshing around his head. This is what makes Morrissey unique; that for as many people who love and worship him, there are just as many who despise and loathe him as ‘boring’ or a ‘b*****d.’ And the ‘outspoken outsider’ doesn’t hesitate to fan the flames of controversy; whether deliberately or not.

And the calf that you carve with a smile is murder. And the turkey you festively slice is murder…And do you know how animals die?” Meat is Murder has been responsible for converting thousands of people to vegetarianism since the song was released in 1985, used as a vehicle to express his views on animal rights. The graphic imagery of death and Morrissey’s painful wails against a backdrop of animals being slaughtered shocked the mainstream, and gave people no choice to be ignorant anymore about how the meat they consume ends up on their plate.

Named as PETA‘s (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals) Man Of The Year 2011, Press Officer Ben Williamson told me of what, as an ambassador, Morrissey does for their cause and how influential he is to be a voice for animals around the world, ”He donated a live version of the song (Meat Is Murder) to PETA’s first benefit album and has remained active ever since, including having our representatives on all his solo tours internationally with membership and literature stalls…He has also donated to PETA on other occasions over the past three decades. In addition, he routinely boosts our campaigns in other ways, including doing aQ&A for PETA’s blog, starring in a print campaign promoting spaying and neutering, appearing on PETA’s Vegetarian Icon stamp series and dressing his band in PETA campaign shirts targeting McDonald’s. Ringling Bros. Circus and SeaWorld.”

However, speaking to ‘True To You’, a fan site dedicated to the man himself, Morrissey unleashed a barrage of extreme comparisons regarding the meat industry that could potentially protract away from the good intentions he no doubt has- threatening to turn them into negative press; not only for him but for PETA, ”I see no difference between eating animals and paedophilia. They are both rape, violence, murder…If you believe in the abattoir then you would support Auschwitz. There’s no difference. People who would disagree with this statement have probably never been inside an abattoir.”

Morrissey’s private life, and how he has been able to shape his own enigmatic persona through the media, results in even more speculation and contradiction which turns a man into a fabled mythological being. Writer Will Self, in the documentary ‘The Importance Of Being Morrissey‘ talked about the components of his mysticism, ”His eccentricity lies in his procurable nature, his ambiguity about his sexuality and in the strength and intellectual force of his writing.”

No other human in living history has had their sexuality scrutinised to such an extent; first being hailed as the first openly celibate star. In 1984, Morrissey had become a voice for the desperately shy who were now made to feel less alone. Simon Goddard, in his book ‘Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia Of Morrissey and The Smiths‘ details the impact this had on young men and women in that era, ”Morrissey set himself up as an empathetic martyr for a whole generation of teenagers coming to terms with their own sexuality and all related fears of rejection and inadequacy.”

Until recently, revelations came to light from Morrissey’s newly published autobiography revealing a two-year relationship with photographer Jake Owen Walters and how he discussed ‘producing a mewling miniature monster’ with former girlfriend Tina Dehaghani. Though trivial to anyone else, Morrissey’s reputation paves the way for fan fares and headlines at the very mention of such news. Reaffirming his sexuality after the launch of his book, Morrissey stated, ”In technical fact, I am a ‘humasexual.’ I am attracted to humans. But, of course, not many.”

Morrissey is set to tour America this summer with Tom Jones and Cliff Richard as support acts, but as journalist Miranda Sawyer declares, the majority of those acolyte devotees commonly jumping onto the stage to embrace their idol are ‘nearly always blokes…It’s not women that do it- men are in love with him.” On a psychological level, it is quite possibly that heterosexual males are drawn in on a subconscious homoerotic element by his beguiling aura and tales of harmony connecting the working class with one of their own who reached out from the gutter of everyday life into the stars of immortality.

”Here we have a creature persistently creased in pain whose life was a total travesty. He married, rashly had two children and almost immediately embarked on a love affair with a man…As I blundered through my late teens, I was quite isolated and Oscar Wilde meant much more to me. In a way he became my companion.” Young Morrissey revered Oscar Wilde as countless people do in relation to the world of Morrissey- history repeats itself, but there will be only one Morrissey; a character cloaked in intrigue and mystery, profoundly preaching a tainted beauty to a generation desperately in need of an incomparable icon.

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