We all need comfort, love, and thankfulness right now. This is a blog about those precious things, and finding, in the end, what truly matters.
Around twelve, I realized that pop radio stations were no longer playing music that meant anything to me. This coincided with two other catastrophes, puberty and a move in the middle of the school year. I had never been popular. But at least I shared the “my parents moved from Philadelphia” and even the partial Italianess that most of my South Jersey peers did.
We moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Home of the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch (who are German). It was rural. It was conservative. And it was heavily Evangelical Christian. It was a lonely time. Until I discovered Morrissey. And he hasn’t left me since.
When I first saw him on MTV with his band, The Smiths, he exuded this vulnerable, anti-macho, yet aggressive form of “It.” There he was, singularly beautiful yet awkward in his gangly beanstalk body with his institutional glasses. Dressed in thrift store blouses and costume jewelry, he warbled his witty lyrics and literary allusions as cover to his air punching fists. He flagellated pain and cruelty with bouquets of flowers. He created anthems dedicated to hanging DJs who played music that didn’t speak to his life and the savagery of our mistreatment of animals. He wrote lullabyes for his nephew. Used words like “Mother” and “Dad” without negative connotations. Described his sexual tension and longing with gender swapping lyrics and words like “conjugal bed” and wanting to get his hands “on your mammary glands.” He sang in falsetto, his natural baritone, he yodelled and laughed and sighed his songs.
He embodied everything the rock of the day was not. He was clean cut, shy, British, declared himself celibate, lamented the sadness of his post-industrial home town, and the cruelty of romantic love. He was the friend you’d hang out with in your room on long afternoons listening to music, just talking or not.
As I grew, so did he. More mature, growing into his six foot frame, writing torch songs so vulnerable that I could only imagine Sinatra with his tough guy image tackling. But it didn’t seem to bother Morrissey. He let people gossip about his sexuality, while remaining wisely mum. Anyone could love him however they wanted. He had no labels. He was his own.
And the music developed. He worked on his voice, all three octaves of it. He wrote about the fame killers received and chatting up hair stylists in order to snag an appointment with the same level of irony and aggressively free and unerring pop sensibility. He laughed at himself. He wrote songs that predicted where his life would go, comparing his music to a used condom that you may fondly remember from those momentous days when music and love were everything to a young heart.
He committed the most elegant, unsparing, and gorgeously lush midlife crisis ever to disc in Vauxhall and I. Families broke up, old friends went their separate ways, and there were folks waiting to use you, hoping for you to fail, or waiting for you to die. It’s a perfect album. But then he just kept going.
He worked with Ennio Morricone (composer of spaghetti western soundtracks such as The Good the Bad and The Ugly) and his orchestra at the iconic Cine Cittá studios in Rome. He never ceased to experiment, adjust and develop his voice, or call things as he saw them, which he lampshaded in the early tune Big Mouth Strikes Again.
But, while he changes, he’s still the same deeply weird dude whipping gladioli around his head. Except now he’s a man who loves his nephews and nieces, mourns his mother’s passing, and contemplates the passing of time and mortality marginally more than he did before. He loves his fans. His fans love him. It may be his most enduring love affair.
And I’m one of those fans. I designed a full-sized flag of him to hang from a pole. He’s all the flag I’m willing to fly. I keep his albums, CDs and cassettes like the day I bought them. I have his Funko Pop doll. Tee shirts and buttons too numerous to count. And of course my hair is faded, and I can style it up in that 50s pompadour.
But why? Why would a grown person be so silly for a pop singer? Because he steals from Oscar Wilde and Kurt Vonnegut? Because he uses words like “sycophantic” or calls out Oliver Cromwell in a rock songs? Because he sings about his shoes looking shabby or his hair being flattened by rain? Because his voice exudes warm, buttery depth and wraps you up in a warm velveteen blanket?
That’s all part of it. But he has always been there for me, too. Through my teens, when my Dad died, after my Dad died, and beyond. And yet he’s temptingly forbidden.
How does a “nice young man” become forbidden? Well, because Gen X dudes still think it’s OK to use “gay” as a put down. Because Rage Against the Machine and Wu Tang possibly appeal more to young men than Morrissey’s underhanded, self-aware self-deprecating style. Because of the absolute shit-fit the media throws at whatever happens out of his unguarded mouth.
Before I married my x, he liked Morrissey and The Smiths, but that door closed as he was drawn deeper into alcohol and cocaine, mainly. Then he decided to hit me, a lot. His irrational hatred of vegetarians, which included me to a point. I couldn’t have anything or anyone for myself that I loved and made life worthwhile to me. Not even the music that comforted and saved me. I wasn’t “allowed” to listen to Morrissey. But I did. In secret. Which is why those jewel cases, albums, and cassettes remain intact. You don’t cut drugs on Morrissey’s face. Not on my watch.
I’m not being dramatic by declaring that Morrissey saved my life. Not just then, but in the horrific period when I left x. When I began seeing an old friend. And since. Whenever I felt sad. Felt alone. Felt angry at life’s vagueries. Or just sticking it to The Toxic in a decidedly British by way of Dublin fashion. When I felt most alone, when I howled into the void, Morrissey could get through to me. If I’m depressed, Morrissey commiserates, and then throws in some fun, danceable pop, laughing at something, anything, until I am up singing and dancing with him.
Life right now feels like The Pit of Despair in Princess Bride. The machine that sucked years of your life out of you. Or the ancient curse, “May you live in interesting times.” So maybe I need to soothe myself with what I love. And cherish them.
All of that. Because what comforted me and i cherish most is that friend I dated. We’ve been together now longer than I was with x. And I have never been able to actually see The Mozzfather in concert. Ever. But Morrissey will be appearing near us, and my guy got us tickets.
I haven’t placed any expectations on the show, entitled “An Evening with Morrissey.” I’m even attempting to manage my expectations that he’ll sing that night. He’s never been the show must go on type. No, this feels more like a pilgrimage. For the experience of Morrissey up close and real. If I were Catholic, he’d be the Pope.
He takes gifts from his audience from the stage, signs autographs, and hugs stage crashers before security ushers them off. I’ve wondered what I would do, bring or say if I had a chance. I’d definitely take the hug. I’d probably thank him. After all, don’t I have the thing he sings about wanting most?
I have love. I will hug and thank my dearest friend and partner, Stan. For buying the tickets, for knowing what it would mean to me, but also because he is the man who has stayed by me for real. Because somehow, two wrongs make a right with us. Thank you, my handsome Stanman.
Thanks to Moz for getting me to Stan.
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