I can’t expect everyone who stumbles upon this post to know who this guy is. Morrissey, born Steven Patrick Morrissey, was the frontman for the highly influential 1980s Manchester, England band, The Smiths. The Smiths are usually classified as alternative rock or indie pop with a 1960’s pop/post-punk fusion style and are known for their witty but depressing lyrics and Morrissey’s distinct warbling vocals. After their breakup in 1987, Morrissey has since pursued his solo career but also kept himself in the public eye with his activism.
For a good chunk of Americans around my age, The Smiths represented a cool, alternative band who spoke to our adolescent miseries and personal angsts with some catchy tunes. And Morrissey became cool as a by-product of being a Smith and with some of his solo work. But the music was not played on the Top 40 stations. It was like a well-kept secret.
However, let’s put The Smiths into context in their country in the 1980s. They were mainstream and were expressing their views on being an individual living in Thatcherite Britain. So they were part of the zeitgeist. The Smiths were also ubiquitous media-wise. That did not mean everyone was a fan though. The Boffin was watching the societal divisions on the telly as far as the miners’ strikes, the poll tax protests, economic inequalities, and other turmoil. Let me put it this way. The Boffin is a problem solver and spends his whole life trying to make things better for those around him. Even as a child, he didn’t want to listen to a bunch of Dirge Weasels telling him how miserable they were when he already knew things were shite. And he was far from the only one who thought that way.
Which bring me to Morrissey’s life after The Smiths and how he has become more known for what he does outside of the studio and off the stage. Morrissey’s main cause is animal rights, and he walks the walk with his veganism to the point of trying to make sure no meat is served at his concerts. However, instead of being measured in his activism, he is extreme and still loves to point out how crap everything is when things don’t go his way. He also loves to take down the Royal Family by verbally proclaiming about how horrible they are (even though their power really is limited). Google him, and you can see just how outspoken he is. Voicing his opinion issues matter more to him than people’s feelings, and he is still essentially carrying the same image that he had in his 20s. Even while maintaining a fiercely loyal fan base, a fair number of people in his native country have grown tired of his pontificating and complaining. Taking pot shots at him has become a British national pastime with that crowd.
Meanwhile, the Americans who learned to enjoy The Smiths and Morrissey without the baggage of the British social context and the decades of his whinging on the British media have become puzzled when people like the Boffin react to “Girlfriend in a Coma” deep sighs and eye rolls. Either that or the Americans understand the animosity but can overlook his obnoxiousness because they love his music so much.
So, if you know Morrissey, he is just one of those love him or hate him sort of guys. If you don’t, you may be better off staying out of the whole thing.
Addendum: I just talked to the Boffin about this post. He said that at least Billy Bragg has a purpose. He would have rather have him round for dinner.