Interview with Morrissey from May 1985 for broadcast on Australian radio. Topics include: the recording of 'Meat Is Murder', adolescence, making videos, Sandie Shaw, the New York Dolls, success, celibacy, Johnny Marr, and those infamous allegations in Rolling Stone claiming Morrissey was gay.
Carry On Down Under
We're in London talking to Morrissey of the Smiths. Welcome back to Australian radio...
'Meat Is Murder', the latest album, is quite dense lyrically - in keeping with the rest of The Smiths' works - and is a very English album. Do you think that the fact that it's quintessentially English is going to be a hinderance to you?
Well it hasn't been, because the LP has sold quite well almost everywhere - which is quite curious to me because we've not really travelled much really. We tend to keep ourselves - quite wrongly, I'll admit - deeply rooted in England. But the facts are that the LP has sold, so I don't see that as a problem in the least.
You're not worried about that...
Well, I think I'd be worried if it wasn't selling in various places, that would worry me. But it is, so I'm happy.
I believe you're about to embark on a tour.
Yes, we're about to leave for Italy and Spain, and then America - which is obviously a new adventure for us, we've never been to any of those places. But we have very good reports from all those countries, so it should be good.
'Meat Is Murder' is a lot harder and more direct - why was that?
Because I don't really think that you can write a song about... animal slaughter without it being quite strong. So it really had to be. But I think as individuals, when we came to record the LP, we were quite angered, we were quite... distraught about the way we had been treated by the music industry generally over the previous 12 months. So I think we felt quite alone, and quite in control.
Is the title of the album just your view or is it a group decision? You all decided on that?
I decided it, but it was... Obviously behind the title there was total unity. But it was virtually my decision.
Again, some ambiguous lyrics - purposely so?
Well, of course, yes. I mean, it serves to make people's lives slightly more interesting. I don't want the words to be blunt, I don't want to be black and white really. People have to slip in their own interpretations. Life without ambiguity is quite boring, don't you agree?
Oh no you don't. Be honest...
You write from both experience and observation?
Yes, which covers almost all ground. Because one can observe almost anything.
Sure. But do you think that your writing will move towards more observation as you grow older, as you become more embroiled in the music?
I don't know. I sincerely hope not. I don't think so. I have quite a stack of issues that have yet to be...that must be plowed through. I think when the time arrives when I'm stuck and I have to really sit down and think and say, well, what on earth am I doing, I think I'll probably stop then. Because I don't want it to be seen as a profession, as a... a cloak. It has to be real, it has to come from inside me, everything that I say. And if it doesn't then, you know, away I go, and everybody sighs.
What with? Relief?
What are the things that make you angriest?
Almost everything. You name it, it annoys me terribly. I suppose I'm quite easily angered. And there's so many things, certainly within the music industry. But if you mean things outside, well, there's lots of political issues that irk me. I'm quite an irkable person. But I get angered by almost everything - which is quite satisfying.
You don't think that could get to be unhealthy at all?
Not really, I can't see how. I'm not doing so badly for somebody who's incredibly angered but obviously endlessly miserable. I'm doing OK.
You seem to be remarkably happy.
It's only a facade.
There are quite a few violent themes on the LP. Do you think you should meet violence with violence?
Yes, I do. I mean life is quite violent. Let's be honest - it wasn't meant to be a dance record. The whole thing was supposed to describe life as it is, life as it is lived, instead of, as most modern records portray life, as it is not, life as we do not live it. So the record had to be - here we go again - life as it is lived. I wanted to be very real, and I think we just about managed that.
Could you give us a bit of background to the song 'Rusholme Ruffians'?
It's about fairgrounds in Manchester. As a child they were always of great annual importance. Fairgrounds which would be erected on barren land, and [were] very violent places where one learns a great deal about life. Very vicious places also. It seemed to be on this patch of land that everybody had free rein to be as wild and freethinking and naughty as was possible. It's very interesting - this undercurrent of total violence on this patch of land where everybody gets together to have fun. But on Manchester Council Estates, certainly, it placed Rusholme. It was the only thing that people had. It was the only distraction, the only pleasurable distraction people had - and they turned it into a temple of horror.
Did you used to frequent these places each year?
Oh, you couldn't keep me away from them.
What was the attraction?
I don't know. I quite like the idea of seeing human beings living on the emotional edge, and their emotions brewing beyond the brim. Which is a hard thing to say! But it was quite interesting. Fascinating.
Such fairs - do they still exist?
What, with me?
No, physically, in Britain.
Oh good heavens, they do now, yes! But now they're not just restricted to fair grounds - which is the big moral modern dilemma. They're much more widespread now.
'Nowhere Fast' - almost some elements of humour there.
Yes, almost. If you dig deep enough.
Dropping your trousers to the Queen?
Well, she probably wouldn't find that humourous.
Lots of other people would, I'm sure.
Yes, I'm sure they would...yes. Must I explain this?
Dropping one's trousers to the Queen... happens to be the new movement, is what I think. I don't like royalty and I wanted to write some... make some anti-royalty statement. But really, when they have been made on the very bleak, isolated cases of the past, they've been too...they've been quite intangible - if that's the word, it probably isn't - and a bit too shallow and a bit too brutal and a bit too overtly political. I wanted to say something that was very strong yet with an undercurrent of absurdity about it. But in a way it's not absurd. I mean, the way I feel about royalty is that I really don't even want to discuss it. I just drop my trou... Well, maybe not. Let's move on.
In what way do you think this album is an improvement over the previous two?
Foremost because we produced it ourselves, and that was a very important decision for us to make. For the first time we were on our own and we were devoid, if you like, of any other influence or participation. Which I think is a quite an extraordinary situation for a group to be in, because groups are so used to being pampered and being surrounded by lots of people. But for us, we were on our own in the studio and it was so easy. The first album was very, very difficult to make for the opposite reason. So we could see things quite clearly and we knew what we had to do. And we did it.
Pete Burns appeared on stage with you on tour. Why did that come about?
Well, I still... I don't really know if... Suddenly he was there. No, it was quite planned - he popped up out of a trap door. He was there throughout the day and we just thought, well, this was the last night of a very long tour and we wanted to do something different, something with a twist. Literally. So we just twisted him... So he just came onstage and it was dramatically under-rehearsed and incredibly clumsy, as I'm sure you noticed, but so what?
Would you ever consider working with Sandie Shaw again?
Yes, we might be doing this in a few weeks. We've written a song which we want her to tackle and hopefully she'll tackle it in a few weeks.
Looking back on her version of 'Hand In Glove', how do you feel about that in retrospect?
In retrospect, I feel...I've got two feelings. I think from a recording point of view it was a tremendous success, but I think from a sales point of view it wasn't. I mean, in this country it was a hit, it did quite well, reached #27. But I think it should've done much more and I feel slightly angered because of that. But these things are trivial really. I still adore the record and I still play it endlessly. So that, I suppose, is the only success that we really need to care about.
What was it about Johnny Marr's music that attracted you?
I think music was being drenched by the classical rock guitarist again - even though it was 1982 and we had been through various 'anarchic movements', to avoid a certain word. The very classical rock guitarist still kind of hung heavy, as it were, over the general flow of music in this country, and he wasn't like that. His music was very - well, I'm hesitant to use the word 'rudimentary' because that sounds as though he couldn't actually play his instrument, which he certainly could. I mean, he's hugely underrated. But it was very simplistic, and it was very emotive, and to me very heartfelt. Those are the things that I saw in it. But I must say, I do think he's cripplingly underrated. Certainly in this country. They do have a different opinion of him in America - and of me of course.
What do they think of you in America?
They think I'm just some disturbed hag. Which, of course, is completely wrong.
Well, there was that quote in Rolling Stone that said you were gay.
Yes, I know.
How do you view that?
Well, I just think it's all so untrue and I think it's so unfair. I mean, obviously any kind of a tag I'll dodge. I'll really dodge any kind of a tag, whatever it is. I don't want to be shoved into a box and put in a category. That's not the whole point but, I mean, that person said that I was gay, and he'd never asked me, he never approached the subject and he himself was a very loud and strong voice in the American gay movement, and I think it was really just wishful thinking on his part. But ultimately people will see what they want to see in the whole aspect of what I do and my motivations. I'm not embarrassed about the word 'gay', but it's not in the least bit relevant. I'm beyond that frankly.
What do you think you've achieved so far with The Smiths?
A tremendous deal. Because in England at any rate The Smiths are critically important. They're important because of reasons that I think I've stated in other interviews. We've never done a video. We've never used any mode of advertising, apart from interviews. It was the only mode of self-promotion that we've ever used. And the fact that we can become so successful, using no tools or props whatsoever, really says a great deal about the foundations of commercial success in England. [It really] questions many things. And there are many programmes that we won't do - there are lots of things that we won't do - and this makes us very problematical and very difficult, it seems. But I think we've challenged the music industry and we've won. Which is quite remarkable, because although the music industry in England still say 'no' to The Smiths, the people say 'yes' and that's more important to me. I mean 'Meat Is Murder' went to number one after three days of release here - which is quite remarkable because we didn't spend a solitary penny on promotion. I think it questions a lot of the cemented ethics that so many middle aged music corporates still insist are quite crucial in music today.
So do you feel any kind of empathy with that particular movement of a few years ago that you mentioned?
I do, I do. I do feel empathy. But I think I just feel anger because it was so short lived and it was so unmemorable. I mean, I can't remember any of the songs that counted. I think it was just...I think really in retrospect people were just so shocked that there was any kind of mobility and there was an uprising regardless of what it was doing or saying. Just the fact that there was some kind of a movement and an uprising was enough to make people get... People gazed at it very, very fondly. In retrospect of course most of the records were absolute bosh. But...it was fun. Why didn't it last and why did things go back to as they had been? I don't really know. Do you? Do I have to ask Arthur C. Clarke?
Does success for you equal power?
Yes it does. Power to be seen and to be heard.
Do you need to feed off that to a certain extent?
Feed off what?
The power. The feeling that you can actually have your voice heard?
Well, it doesn't make things more difficult, put it that way. No, it does make things easier I must say.
What would you most like to do with it?
Well there's a great deal to do. Obviously we haven't covered as much ground as is possible. We have to visit other countries, things as basic as that. Which takes time and is quite... It tends to corrode the health somewhat. It is very time-consuming, it's very taxing to do those kind of things. And obviously because we're on an independent label it's much more difficult because we have virtually no facilities whatsoever to do anything. So just arranging a trip to Spain takes up a full year. Almost.
Do you think you'll get sick of the standards like vocals, guitar, bass, drums and want to go into-
No, no, I mean bring in some keyboards or some more strings or something like that?
Yes, we want to do that. We want to do that, yes. And we will do that on the next LP.
Why was 'Shakespeare's Sister' not on 'Meat Is Murder'? Commercial reasons?
No! No, no, no, no. It happened after 'Meat Is Murder'. We just walked into the studio one day and it just simply appeared, and the LP had already been released. So it was quite impossible to get it on.
Why not release something off the record?
Well, that's a good question. That's a very tricky question... It all boils down to record company politics. I think finally something is about to be released, a track called 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore'. A little late, I realise. But I must say I think something should have been released much earlier, but at the time when the LP came out, Rough Trade were quite adamant about an older track, 'How Soon Is Now?' being re-released in this country as an A-side. And it was. And of course it was much to be regretted because it didn't really do anything substantial.
Still a fine song though.
It's not bad, it's not bad.
Does it worry you that you've got so much influence, as it were?
No. I mean, would it worry you? No, it's nice to have influence. If everybody thought I was a total simpleton, I'd worry then. No, influence is quite a nice thing to have. Better than having acne.
How will you know when you've come to the end of your... useful ...
I'll probably be lying on the middle of the floor and I'll probably weigh a stone. Probably. No, I think I'll know. I mean one just instinctively knows these things. There's a little bell inside one's head that rings a danger bell. I'll know - when I start grappling and when I start stuttering and really being hesitant about what I'm trying to do. And then I'll just... jump out the window. Probably.
Do you consciously analyse everything you do and the direction you're going?
Yes, I do. I do indeed. It's just a matter of being thorough really. Because there're so many persuasive influences that surround you in this businesss, so many people who are dying to get you into a Salvation Army suit or something, or whatever, or dress you up as an orange. It's quite frightening. So you have to cling to your principles.
You've got quite a fascination with films from the 60's.
What is it about them that you like?
I'm afraid that they probably remind me of my childhood because I lived in lots of those circumstances. I gaze upon it fondly because it was the first time in the entire history of film where regional dialects were allowed to come to the fore and people were allowed to talk about squallor and general depression and it wasn't necessarily a shameful thing. It was quite positive. I mean if you notice films, British films, of the late 1950's even - films which deal with army themes, or war themes, or the people who were in the army or whatever - all the actors have wonderfully crisp theatrical voices. But from, I think, Room At The Top, 39th, and Saturday Night & Sunday Morning onwards, people were just allowed to be real instead of being glamorous and Hollywoodian - if that's a word, and I sincerely hope it isn't. Sounds awful!
The New York Dolls - what was it about them that you liked?
I still haven't a clue. I'm still trying to work that one out. Well, the music industry hated them and that was good enough for me. I thought well, yes, that's the group for me. The music industry couldn't wait to get rid of the New York Dolls. They were quite clamorous and raucous, so many people said they couldn't actually play - which was not entirely true. But you must remember throughout the periods of '73 and '74 when they existed, they were quite dank times and they were very...they were quite stylish times - offensively stylish, should I say - and the New York Dolls were just the antidote to everything we find. And I thought that was wonderful.
Have you ever met any of them?
Um, yes I did. I met the drummer and the guitarist a long time ago and they were completely unfriendly.
Why did that infatuation end?
Well they broke up in 1975 and after that there wasn't really anything to retain one's interest apart from the two LP's that they had made. So they just faded really. I still have vague fond memories but it's not really terribly important to me. I think they were the single most important group to me as an adolescent.
Do you look back on your adolescence with fondness?
No, it was a dreadful time, it was an awful period. I certainly can't deny that it was very difficult, very isolated, very alienating - all those usual things that teenagers complain of. But I certainly complain of them now!
Your interviews are all very honest, especially the early interviews that you read. They get right down to tin tacks as it were.
Well, you could put it that way, yes.
And then you had it thrown back at you and people labelled you as being sort of arrogant and conceited.
It's really unbelieveable. It's shocking. People find me quite uncomfortably honest. But this is only because they're used to quite cold individuals dominating the music scene, for want of a better term, and if you really want to talk quite openly and drop your defences as it were it seems to be quite unnerving because people just simply aren't used to it. It's like if somebody sits next to you on the bus and says, I really like your jacket or your trousers, you immediately run away, which is the wrong thing to do. But it's the same way within music. People are just so used to this glossy nothingness. And also if you have a degree of intellect you actually run the risk of making your critics generally seem quite dull in comparison. So they don't like it. Fools, fools, fools.
Do you celebrate your birthday?
I certainly do not, no. I never have. It's just another day really.
What purpose did the time when you were, shall we say, reclusive, serve?
A tremendous purpose. And in quite a perverted way because for me it was almost like being in the army. I don't know why I'm laughing, because I'm sure the army isn't a very pleasurable experience! It was like being in the army, it was like training for the Olympics, almost, going through these years of preparation. And I think that because those years existed, I now can cope with what's happening to me quite successfully, and I'm not easily tripped up. So, yes, it was like a period of long intense self-development and I'm glad it happened for those reasons. I don't think I would be glad if I was still there now. But I'm not, so I'm chuckling.
You've not done any videos at all. You're not interested in doing some live footage and just touting that around?
No, we haven't done a thing. In America the record company put a video together and released it and naturally it's quite abhorrent and in extremely bad taste - but it's nothing to do with us. We'll never do that kind of glossy promotional video. Now having said that, it would be nice to tread into film somewhat, but only in a very intellectual way, not as a sales tool. Something quite artistic and quite intricate. I'd like to meddle with film somehow. You know, mess all the film up.
Any particular ideas?
Yes, I've got many.
Do you want it to be a story line with Morrissey playing the lead acting part?
Well, yes, that would be nice wouldn't it? Not really... Yes, I do have few ideas. I think to reel them off now would be quite pretentious because I really firmly don't believe in talking about things until they're almost happening. Because if they don't happen, you're left to answer for them. But video - yes, I think we've outlived that.
Australia - are you ever likely to tour there? Is that part of your plan?
Oh, God, good grief, yes and most definitely! The only problem is actually getting there because it's so far away and as you might not know, I do have a fear of flying. It's almost embarrassing to utter those words, it sounds so absurd. I mean, I've tried to be hypnotised and silly things like that, but it hasn't worked. I'm trying to figure this one out - if I can perhaps go to Singapore and then on to Mauritius or somewhere, just land in Australia somehow. As you can see, it's still a very embryonic situation. I'm trying to work it out.
How far ahead do you plan?
About 3 or 4 months really. Not terribly far.
So The Smiths Corporation doesn't have your movements mapped out for the rest of this year?
There isn't a Smith's Corporation. Which makes things easy and difficult because it's really largely left down to Johnny and I. So it's really just finding time to sit down and say, well, what exactly should we do next? But there's certainly no corporation!
Do you feel under pressure constantly?
Yes, I do. Constantly.
How do you cope with that?
I don't know. I mean, you just have to learn to deal with it really. It can't really be conquered, I don't think, because like it or not things are there to be done. And of course these are the complaints that most people don't really like to hear about. But I can't deny that it's very, very difficult to keep on top of the situation. But I try.
What devices do you use to...
I unplug the telephone, I disconnect the bell on the front door, I close the curtains, and I just simply lie on the bed and listen to a Walkman or something. You seem very bored with that reply.
No, no, I -
I expect these little bits will get chopped.
Why do interviews at all? I mean surely you should, if you're going to take the line you're not going to do much other promotional stuff?
Well, because I take that line interviews are necessary. Without interviews we wouldn't have any sort of presence whatsoever, because we avoid so much television and radio and all other aspects of the media. But if we don't actually do interviews, where on earth are we?
What are you doing with all the money you're making?
Well, I'm trying to find it, that's what I do with it. Next question. Oh, do I have to elaborate? I'm certainly not rich by any means. I think I'm much poorer than other people of my status for unknown reasons. We're a little bit poorer than most I think. Why is it always so embarrasing talking about money?
People have this thing about not knowing what other people earn, I guess.
I wonder why though. Can you answer that?
Maybe they feel some jealousy.
Oh, well, that's OK then. As long as it's that.
Can you answer it?
No, I can't answer that question. I don't really know. I mean people never talk about money. It's like when you first come into the music industry, you're never allowed to ask, well, am I still getting paid for this? You're supposed to be so humble and artistic you'll accept anything, but of course I never was. I think a lot of people are but... I'm quite comfortable, I can't deny that. I'm certainly not poor, but I'm certainly no threat to royalty at the moment.
Does your mother still take as close an interest in your career?
Yes, yes, she certainly does, yes. Even closer in fact. She's quite concerned in every way.
Is she still entirely supportive?
Absolutely entirely supportive. Which is a great help.
Has that been essential, do you think?
Yes it has. It has for me because I live with her mainly and for that reason it helps. I think everybody ultimately needs somebody, some sense of reassurance from the people who are close to them. So I think if she was disinterested or if she found the whole situation awkward, it would be quite hard.
Your professed celibacy, no doubt, has been the subject of many letters from people. Have you had lots of advances?
Only hand-written advances - which of course are meaningless really. I find that when I'm out and about that people, quite regrettably, tend to... they approach but they keep a particular distance. People are quite wary for some reason, they find it quite unbelievable. I think it's quite difficult for people to understand - especially me, I might add! But yes, I've had absolutely cases and cases and cases full of letters from people saying, well, I'm here, come and get me. I'll be waiting tonight, I'll be lying on the setee covered in feathers. Which is quite worrying when it comes from the woman next door!
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