When I heard Stephen Patrick Morrissey in high school he was the boy I always wanted. Fey, elegant, prone to word play, sensitive and maybe even homosexual. His stories were autobiographical in a way that could be constructed to comfort me. I wanted the stories to be lonely heart tales about the pretty boys on the album covers, so they were. I wanted the sensitivity to be playground reactions to masculine men and it was. It wasn’t only me though, generations of boys who weren’t sure exactly who they were listened to the Anglo-Irish lover on cassette tapes in their lonely bedrooms. The lad had legions of fans, all of whom took him as a bit more than a rock star.
This reading wasn’t completely out of place. There were songs about disco dancers and robin hoods who stole hearts and sailors, about troubles in grammar schools and out on the street. He knew us more then we knew ourselves.
Mexicans sing narrative ballads about the dangers and joys in their lives. Complicated, multi-narrative epics with world-weary cynicism towards love-tales, where the border is as literal as the Rio Grande or as symbolic as the variations of the heart. They sing songs about sensitive lovers pining for the girl, even while sick or away. Gangsters hire bands to play for them, funerals come with wakes soundtracked to these songs, and supper club cabarets still sell out. These songs about love, drugs, borders, the immigrant experience are ancient and ingrained from the birth of a Mexican child and young people have not abandoned them but reclaimed them. Everywhere there is a large immigrant population, the clubs have dance remixes of the ballads of youth.
This lonely Englishman talked to us in code, he never made fun of our political beliefs, he said witty things in interviews that may have been about the status quo. He hated Margaret Thatcher. He made us think we were talking about serious issues. When he wrote about skinheads and Asians, was he talking in character? Did he love working class boys ? Were the songs about rough trade? He was ok to like. He was literary enough to scribble in notebooks and use as yearbook quotes. He was sensitive enough to moon over but wouldn’t be seen in the arms of a Hollywood bimbo. He was handsome enough that he could be. He uses synths, instrumental breaks, his voice has a soothing but almost operatic quality. He enjoyed irony, and we were clever enough to recognize it. He wrote hooks though and I, at least, would breathe the lyrics, all through classes, maybe as a way of protection but mostly cause they were catchy.
At home, I would write the miserable poetry of youth, while hearing his voice. There was an effort to control myself but my toe would tap. Once, my mother told me how much she liked listening to the Smiths because she could hum along.
The elaborate metaphors and romantic heroes of Mexican song tradition are half of the country’s vernacular literature. The heroes of the ballads were heroes of the streets, the robbers and kidnappers and noble murderers. The heroes of God were equally important. These heroes were worshipped because they withstood great pain, their hearts were visible outside their chest like Mary or Christ. Occasionally it was other people who caused the pain, but more often then not it was heroes who hurt themselves. The lives of the Saints are filled with not only acts of physical violence but emotional ones. These are men who separate themselves from both their families and their homes. They wander the desert or become hermits. In the name of God, of course, but also because they felt most comfortable there.
Since High School Morrissey has become nostalgia for me and my kind. I buy expensive concert tickets and he stands me up, promising to reschedule. He shows up on late night television, treating it like Marlene Dietrich treated cabaret work in the mid 1970s, as a way to make money from suckers who lived off her memory. He looked like Minelli marrying David Guest instead of being Sally Bowles. He wears a cardigan and a lavender lace up shirt. He mimes broad pantomime gestures, his face is doughy and he has gained forty pounds.
My hero is lost in pancake makeup and late night television, he is supposed to tour but never does. The gossip mills resurrect rumours that he is dating people who have already come out and I realize Moz never did. The man who was my Manchester Sodomite, a reincarnation of Oscar Wilde becomes another stop on the old queens nostalgia circuit. But we expect old queens to come out, and I’m sick of reading code.
In Los Angles the Latin community has discovered a new hero. He is a second generation immigrant, Ireland to England becomes Mexico to the USA. These songs are filled with pain longing and lovers crossing borders. They are filled with martyrs, heroes, hermits and thieves. Like ballads they have long solos to show the musicians’ prowess. He is macho as well, showing a rockabilly element that modern bands don’t even try to ape. They latch on to this singer, his voice echoing from their homes and cars. This is a new thing for them – although he hasn’t recorded an album in seven years. There are rumours that he is queer, but he has never really said anything and a man’s silence means as much as his words. This outsider tells them stories they want to hear and they go to the conferences, learn all the words and get his name inked on their shoulders.
Academics noticed this and interviewed participants for theses, write think pieces complete with pictures. Spin, like the bloodhound it is, sends a writer and gives the latino/as a five page spread. Internet gossip ratchets up and so does mouth to mouth. Some of it’s about a new album or a tour
where he doesn’t cancel most of his dates. But within this speculation are ugly gashes of queer hatred and racism.
There are questions being asked that contextualize this as a kind of freak show. Isn’t it weird that these Latin folks like an anglo artist? Why do you think that would happen? Is it weird that Ricky Martin sells ten million albums to white folks? Is it weird that my university, in the Canadian prairie, features salsa dancing, and that dancing is done mostly by white people? In our postcolonial world, is culture not transferable? Does it not move both ways?
The other myth, the homophobic myth, is the myth of vampire as inspiration. You see it in Sunset Boulevard, where Norma Desmond regains her energy at the expense of the young writer Joe Gillis. We all know what happens, this vampiric energy cannot hold and someone ends up dead. You see tt in the ludicrous book and movie Gods and Monsters where a lecherous James White gets a hard-on for a gardener that could be his grandson. This hard-on leads to posing naked for sketches, garden parties, panic attacks, guilt, flashbacks, and then erotic breath games with a World War Two gas mask on a dark and stormy night.
Writing on Morrissey in the last couple of years has concentrated on the Latin Boys who love the English Fop – some of them assume that Morrissey’ s apparent new energy comes from a desire to please these new fans, and by extension fuck a few groupies. There he is in a crumbling mansion, high in the Hollywood hills luring members of the Latin Kings to be his harem. They write his material and he records it. None of this is said but connect the innuendo and it’s there. There may be something to this though, not in the latin heartthrob servicing the Irish Saint – but a cult audience that still cares about the artist – especially one whose main fanbase has either moved on or grown up.
For the sensitive people who played him in middle class high schools, Morrissey is no longer the pin up of choice- there will always be sensitive boys with floppy hair that black-clad goth girls and bedsit homos can swoon to in unison, it’s just this year its called emo. When an artist is replaced in his fan’s hearts he could live on residuals or try a new sound or keep recording the same album ad infinitum. Without doing anything but moving to Los Angles, Morrissey has become a dying vegetation god of sensitive boy pop. Like all dying vegetation gods from Adonis to Elvis, this has awarded him a cult and imitators. The thing is he did it without dying – that’s the miracle.