Can you separate the art from the artist? The contradictions of being a Morrissey fan

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If you had asked me two years ago who my hero outside of family was, without hesitation I would have said Morrissey. One year ago, I would have said the same but would have added the disclaimer that I don’t agree with everything he says. Today? I can no longer say Morrissey is my hero. Not only this, but I have even begun to question whether I should continue to support his work at all.

What has changed in the last year? Well Morrissey in the last year has said things not just controversial, but potentially dangerous in its divisiveness including:

1)Endorsing the far right ‘For Britain’ party;

2)Defended Kevin Spacey, seeming to imply rape victims were somehow to blame for what happens to them;

3)Claimed Sadiq Khan cannot speak properly, perpetuating a racist rhetoric;

4)Called Berlin the rape capital of Europe.

These are just some of Morrissey most shameful moments of 2018. without considering the things prior to this year that I had defended, despite knowing deep down I was defending and making excuses for things that would make me sign a petition calling for resignation were they said by a MP.  So, why is it still so hard me for me and many other Morrissey fans to let go? To understand I need to look at how Morrissey became such a big part of my life.

I am in almost every way the stereotypical Morrissey fan, first discovering The Smiths at the age of 13.  At 13 like most teenagers I was awkward, confused, not overly happy and yet egotistically thought I was the only one feeling this way.  However I also knew that the way I was feeling was not just being a stereotypical teenager; I would later discover I was suffering from OCD.

With this context it is easy to see why I was so drawn into Morrissey world. He put into words what I was feeling but didn’t know how to express. As another Morrissey fan put it, he made people realise that although they may be going through their problems alone, there were plenty of others out there going through the same. Morrissey wrote lyrics which could be heart-breaking in their exploring of the human psyche and his own experiences of depression in ‘That Joke isn’t funny anymore’. Morrissey sings: “That Joke isn’t funny anymore, it’s too close to home and to near the bone,” ending by singing over and over again, “I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives, now it’s happening in mine,” brilliantly capturing the moment people with mental illness realise events and feelings they did not take seriously when experienced by others are now affecting them. In one of the saddest songs ‘Asleep’, Morrissey expresses the sheer desperation which mental illness can cause, a desperation to be saved.

Although such heart-breaking lyrics have become what he is known for, it is easy to forget that Morrissey did not just sing about loneliness as some people assume, his lyrics and interviews also display great wit and his knack for self-deprecation. In ‘Heaven knows I’m miserable now’, he plays up to the stereotype he has of being always miserable and writes lyrics designed to parody his own reputation:  “In my life why do I give valuable time to people who I’d much rather spit in the eye”. Morrissey is also a storyteller able to write songs from the perspective of completely fictitious people and make the listener feel for them as if they were real, “This night has opened my eyes” being a case in point in which he emphasises with a young mother forced to give up her baby: “The dream has gone but the baby is real, oh you did a good thing / And I’m not happy and I’m not sad”.

This compassion is another reason why it is so hard for fans to let go, this understanding of people’s feelings so rare to find in pop music.  In the 1980s Morrissey allowed for the first-time people confused about their sexuality to have a voice, with songs such as ‘This Charity Man’ being a dialogue between two male potential lovers flirting on a hillside. Morrissey even embraced celibacy in his trademark witty style, once being asked by a journalist if he was a virgin he responded with, “Yes in the most profound sense of the word”.

The beauty and kindness of Morrissey lyrics is so at odds with his current opinions, which makes it even more strange considering the fact that even in 2018 his music still displays such  sensitivity and beauty.  In ‘Istanbul’, Morrissey emotionally explores a father searching and later finding the body of his son. The song, ‘Home’ is a question Morrissey opens to the audience about his own lack of belonging and inability to find a place to call home.  None of this is to mention Morrissey continued devotion and support for animals rights – a cause he has been passionate about throughout his career.

Yet does any of this excuse his views now no longer just offensive but divisive? The answer is sadly, no.

I cannot any longer call Morrissey a hero and neither can he be someone I particularly respect.  However, can I stop listening to his music? Can I forget the last seven years where I have listened to Morrissey daily? Can I stop being a fan? The answer to this is also a no.

It has been said Morrissey is one of those few lyricists who has a song which can be used for every occasion, so it only seems natural that this is how I should end. In my favourite Smiths Song ‘Rubber Ring’, Morrissey foresees that his fans would one day face such a conflict, pleading us to always remember how much his songs used to mean to us: “Don’t forget the songs that made you cry and the songs that saved your life / They were the only ones that ever stood by you”. He then goes on to more directly ask the listener not just to remember his songs, but not to forget him either: “When you’re laughing and singing and finally living / Hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly”.

Am I still able to think of Morrissey kindly?

Yes, I think of Morrissey kindly for the words he sang and how they changed my life. But, I cannot think kindly of the man he has become.

If I ever got the chance to speak to Morrissey, which once would have been a dream, I would say: “You said more in one day than most people say in a lifetime, so we thank you, you were good in your time”. I would also recommend that he listen to a song called ‘I know it’s over’ in which a kind, poetic wise man once reminded people that in life “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind”.

Morrissey’s latest album, Low In High School, is available now via BMG.

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