Last of the Famous (International Playboys)

Tony Alvarez
August 31, 2012

Steven Patrick Morrissey was born in 1959 in Manchester England, Lancashire to be precise, but Manchester to be sure. Morrissey, as he is now and will forever be known, something of a cultural and cult icon. As the singer for The Smiths, with the dynamic Johnny Marr on guitar, Morrissey was able to craft lyrics that resonated with fans in the early 1980ís and still to this day. There is a long and winding backstory concerning The Smiths, why they are no longer a band, and why Morrissey and Marr—one of the greatest song writing duos of the last century—cannot get back on a stage together and recreate the incredible sounds they crafted over 30 years ago. However, this piece is not intended to provide a backstory on a long standing feud, nor is it to truly describe Morrissey from birth through the Smiths years, his solo appeal, and his subsequent re-emergence in the early 2000ís. This piece is intended somewhat selfishly, and somewhat necessarily as an appeal and an invitation to begin listening to and appreciating Morrissey for the same reasons that I do. I do not mean that you must become a super-fan—storming the stage just hoping for a chance to touch the man known as Morrissey see YouTube for numerous examples of this fandom. My sole intent is to try to explain the why and the how of the appeal of a singer that has been moderately successful in the United States, but has remained an enigma since the first Smiths single “Hand in Glove” was released in 1983.

I must admit first that I was a late, almost too late, convert to the Morrissey/Smiths fandom. While those in the know were listening to old British 7“s I was too busy listening to Korn, Rage Against The Machine, Nirvana, and all matter of other early 90ís “alternative” music. I was lucky, however, to have some friends who would introduce me to some much better music, and after a now life changing Reel Big Fish concert with Brett Whitehead and Raymond OíConnor I began to discover the punk rock and indie rock music scenes. This transition meant spending many days and many dollars at the now shuttered Repo Records in Rosemont, PA. The early purchases included Bouncing Souls S/T, NOFX Ribbed, Lagwagon Double Plaidinum, Suicide Machines Destruction by Definition, and Rancid S/T. These first few punk albums are the start of years of shows in basements, in churches, abandoned warehouses, parking lots, and dive bars. In those early years of my introduction to this new (to me) phenomenon of punk rock, I was reading liner notes and magazines and interviews and anything else I could just to gain an understanding of the influences and reasons behind the songs and those who wrote them. I found an almost universal love or respect for the Smiths, and especially for the lyrics of the man known as Morrissey. While the lyrics of the early 90ís pop-punk scene skewed more towards girls, skateboarding, and poop jokes, there was a new faction developing incorporating a much more emotional lyrical tone, which owed its entire existence to Morrissey.

The emo scene of the 90ís and early 2000ís utilized songwriting that attempted to connect with the emotions of the audience, and this style of audience connectivity is why Morrissey and The Smiths were and are as popular as they are today. Morrissey was able to write lyrics that connected with his audience. The ability to listen to a song and feel as though you could have written those lyrics, or at the very least that you recognize the feelings and emotions being sung about are the reason that there are still kids and adults alike who treat Morrissey as a pre-eminent lyricist. While Morrissey is singing about his Irish Blood and English Heart being what heís made of, and how there is no one on Earth heís afraid of, there are many listening who can relate their own roots and their own feelings of pride and accomplishment. On songs such as “I Know Itís Gonna Happen Someday,” Morrissey is able to convey his feelings of not giving up on love, no matter the consequence and the current situation may entail. Subsequently “I Know itís Over” relays messages and feelings of depression that allow the listener to feel as though they understand truly the inner workings of Morrisseyís mind. His ability to completely open himself up in his lyrics is what first drew me into listening to someone that I previously had no interest in. It took some prodding and suggesting from a more knowledgeable music snob Noah C, for me to truly understand the appeal of this songwriter and how enjoyable and engrossing the music can be.

My introduction to Morrissey came in the poorest form, and unfortunately one that had been utilized previously, and that was the purchase of “The Best of Morrissey” at the aforementioned Repo Records. The greatest hits collection is essentially a cheat code to get to the finish line. This allows a casual listener to accumulate enough of a background and recognize the “hits” when discussing a musician or group. In my defense, I was very much on the fence when it came to Morrissey, so the greatest hits collection seemed a safer and more economical bet. If I were to enjoy it, I could have, and did, go back and purchase additional albums. If it was terrible, as I was sure it was at the time, my only loss was $12.99 plus tax. The “best of” track list is as follows:

  1. The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get
  2. Suedehead
  3. Everyday is Like Sunday
  4. Glamorous Glue
  5. Do Your Best and Donít Worry
  6. November Spawned a Monster
  7. The Last of the Famous International Playboys
  8. Sing Your Life
  9. Hairdresser on Fire
  10. Interesting Drug
  11. We Hate it When our Friends Become Successful
  12. Certain People I Know
  13. Now My Heart Is Full
  14. I Know Itís Gonna Happen Someday
  15. Sunny
  16. Alma Matters
  17. Hold On To Your Friends
  18. Sister Iím a Poet
  19. Disappointed
  20. Tomorrow
  21. Lost

This collection of songs is a great tribute to the singer that Morrissey is, but more importantly it is a great entry level course in his lyrical ability to connect with the listener. The initial track “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” was undoubtedly Morrisseyís best known solo song in the United States for those who were not familiar with his incredible work with The Smiths. By the end of “Everyday is Like Sunday” I was sold. The songs were striking a chord in me, and I found myself feeling the songs and the music more than I had anything else. While Chris Carrabba and Dashboard Confessional were pulling at the heartstrings of post-pubescent boys and girls in America, I was feeling the emotion of a British lad nearly twice my age and with songs made while I was still discovering music as a whole. As the second track, “Suedehead” begins, you begin to understand what separates Morrissey from the rest: His storytelling is through these songs, but the tone is no different than discussing life and love with a friend who understands where youíve been and how you feel. I found that my initial unease and skepticism towards the “Pope of Mope” was unfounded and unwarranted. The initial foray into the “best of” led me to finding and listening to and absorbing as much as I could from Morrissey and The Smiths. The only logical step at that point was to go backwards and purchase Smiths albums to see where it all began. This included purchases of “The Queen is Dead,” “The Smiths,” and “Meat is Murder.” Each of these albums had numerous tracks that elicited just the desired response.

Songs such as “Shoplifters of the World,” “Girl Afraid,” “Hand in Glove,” “Ask,” “Heaven Knows Iím Miserable Now,” “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” “Panic,” “Unloveable,” “This Charming Man,” and “Is It Really So Strange” relate to different aspects of my own life, whether it was the girl that I just couldnít bring myself to talk to, the breakup that I didnít see coming, the friendships that I may have been overlooking, or the look at myself that I didnít want to take, these songs opened my eyes. While Morrissey may not be for everyone, just as the Insane Clown Posse is for Juaggalos alone, I was able to find something in his lyrics that stuck with me. The songwriting partnership between Morrissey and Johnny Marr was able to produce some of the most uplifting yet sad songs you might ever hear. There are portions of songs where despair and desolation are the only feelings you might be getting, while the song itself is talking about love. Additionally while the emotion is real and the lyrics are raw, this is not to say the music is depressing or even comes off negative. The underlying thought in these songs is that if you want something you can get it, it might take time, you might have to make a move and put yourself out there, but it is achievable as long as you believe. No one song will evoke more emotion, discussion, comparison, and not to mention numerous tattoos and quotes than “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”

“There is a Light that Never Goes Out” is my favorite Smiths/Morrissey song. That sentence is not saying much, because that song is everybodyís (not everybody) favorite Smiths song. This is the song that everyone goes to see Morrissey in 2012 still hopes to hear played. I personally have seen Morrissey three times, and I hope each time for this song as the encore, and each time it does not occur. “There is a Light” tends to evoke the most emotion solely because of how poignant the lyrics are and how all who listen can find their own meaning and their own experiences within that song. “Take me out, tonight, where thereís music and thereís people who are young and alive, Driving in your car, I never never want to go home, because I havenít got one, anymore” so begins “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” This song begins as many dates and days that we have, being young and wanting to surround oneself with similar folks, who feel the same way. As the song builds to the chorus, “and if a double decker bus, crashes into us, to die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die, and if a ten ton truck, kills the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure the privilege is mine,” we can all attest to that feeling of being with the one you want, and if it all ended in an instant, there is no one you would rather spend that last time with. Maybe itís the romantic in me, but that singular chorus has always given me hope that there is in fact a true love out there. One that would be the person youíd long to spend every moment with, even the worst moments in life. “There is a Light” means many things to many people, some, like me, relate to the feeling of true and everlasting love. Knowing that no matter the circumstances there is always someone or something waiting, the light is on forever. To others this song signifies something unrequited, the light still burns but nothing be done to get to a conclusion. It can be about love, or about loss, about hope or about fear, but what it most definitely is, is a song that touches people by an artist who has been moving people with his words for over thirty years.

While Morrissey may not be a household name, and remains very much an enigma stateside, he is still able to sell out shows, as witnessed by his recently announced Northeast tour in Winter 2012. He has inspired band names—Pretty Girls Make Graves of Seattle took a song title verbatim—is still covered by mainstream acts such as Death Cab for Cutie and She and Him, and for a time, was the house band for The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn. Morrissey has been able to stay in some semblance of popularity solely due to his ability to write songs that are relatable to the populous. While 2012 is rumored to be Morrisseyís last year of touring, the music is timeless and still very much obtainable. Iím not sure if this piece has converted anyone, or just allowed me to tell you about why I like Morrissey so much, but the least you could do is go to iTunes, search “The Smiths,” and purchase their “best of” album. It will be $9.99, if itís terrible to you, it was only $9.99, or if it resonates with you well then the cost is offset by years of great music to listen to.
Here is a sampling of some of Morrisseyís best, as chosen by me and me alone!
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Jacques Dangereux, app by WildTaters

Check out The Ringer by Camp Dracula,
available now.

The Ringer, album by Camp Dracula