The strange logic in his clumsiest line. It stayed emblazoned on my mind.
I borrowed that one from Morrissey because his own words (from Viva Hate‘s “Break Up the Family”) perfectly encapsulate the way he makes me feel. I’ve been thinking about him a lot ever since a few days ago when my best friend Lori sent me an email asking for my favorite Smiths lyrics.
I have heaps of them, but as usual when someone asks me a musical question with so many answers, I couldn’t think of any. So I sent her a blog post I wrote last year, on a day much unlike today, when it was gray both outside an in. The subject: 5 Songs (and Lyrics) by the Smiths That Describe Exactly How I Feel Today.
The truth is, I could write that post every day, using 5 different songs, and probably have enough material to see me through the end of 2013. Morrissey, more than any songwriter I can think of (the great, insightful Fiona Apple included!), has a knack for nailing my everyday emotions with a simple turn of phrase. If I ever meet him, we’ll probably either love or loathe each other because we think so much alike.
He’s a modern-day Shakespeare, a contemporary Oscar Wilde (my favorite writer, whom I discovered in 1988 after Morrissey quoted him in an interview), but his lyrical genius didn’t end in 1987 when The Smiths did. Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr (Lennon, or McCartney, to Morrissey’s McCartney, or Lennon) may have been the one to go on and have a U.S. Top 40 hit outside of The Smiths (as a member of Electronic — also featuring New Order’s Bernard Sumner and occasionally Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant — with “Getting Away with It,” which hit No. 38 in 1990), but Morrissey has had one of the most remarkable solo careers after leaving a legendary band in the history of rock & roll, all without ever scoring a hit U.S. single.
Without his partnership with Marr to inspire (or hinder) him lyrically, Morrissey solo relies less on gallows humor, resulting in more emotionally honest work with muted theatrics. It’s not as instantly quotable as “She said, ‘I know you, and you cannot sing,’ I said, ‘That’s nothing, you should hear me play piano” (from “The Queen Is Dead”), but often equally compelling. Sure there have been rough spots, but had The Smiths lasted more than three years (1984 to 1987) as a recording ensemble, the band likely would have lived through creative stumbles far worse than “Paint a Vulgar Picture,” an indictment of music-industry avarice from Strangeways, Here We Come that sounds like the clunky, clumsy rantings of a bitter, jilted pop star.
After the solo-career high of 1994’s Vauxhall and I, 1995’s Southpaw Grammar and 1997’s Maladjusted were expendable, slightly tainting the solo proceedings, and then there was a seven year break before he came roaring back with 2004’s You Are the Quarry. There’s enough brilliance, though, in Morrissey’s solo work to fill months of daily tributes to five songs that perfectly encapsulate the way I feel.
Today, I’ll offer a random 12 and leave it at that.
“I’m so glad to grow older/To move away from those darker years/I’m in love for the first time/And I don’t feel bad” — “Break Up the Family” (His first solo coming-out song — though Morrissey never has — from 1998’s Viva Hate.)
“But you were so different/You had to say no/When those empty fools/Tried to change you, and claim you/For the lair of their ordinary world” — “The Ordinary Boys” (Non-conformity is hard work. His second coming-out song, also from Viva Hate.)
“God, come down/If you’re really there/Well, you’re the one who claims to care” — “Yes, I Am Blind” (Self-awareness with a side of blasphemy, from 1990’s Bona Drag.)
“God give me patience/Just no more conversation” — “Our Frank” (Wanting to enjoy the silence, from 1991’s Kill Uncle.)
“We hate it when our friends become successful” — “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful (A song title that basically says it all, from 1992’s Your Arsenal.)
“My love, wherever you are/Whatever you are/Don’t lose faith/I know it’s gonna happen someday/To you” — “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” (A rare moment of unguarded optimism, from Your Arsenal.)
There’s gonna be some trouble/A whole house will need re-building /And everyone I love in the house /Will recline on an analyst’s couch quite soon” — “Now My Heart Is Full” (from 1994’s Vauxhall and I)
“I will creep into your thoughts like a bad debt that you can’t pay/Take the easy way and give in/Yeah, and let me in” — “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get” (Crossing the not-so-fine line between persistence and stalking. His biggest U.S. hit — No. 46 on the Hot 100 — from Vauxhall and I.)
“Used to be a sweet boy/And I’m not to blame/But something went wrong/Something went wrong” — “Used to Be a Sweet Boy” (Nature over nurture, from Vauxhall and I.)
“All of the rumours/Keeping me grounded/I never said, I never said that they were/Completely unfounded” — “Speedway” (The last cut is the deepest, from Vauxhall and I.)
“So, close your eyes and think of someone you physically admire/And let me kiss you, let me kiss you” — “Let Me Kiss You” (His typical self-deprecating wit, back in full force, from 2004’s You Are the Quarry.)
“The youngest was the most loved/The youngest was the shielded/We kept him from the world’s glare/And he turned into a killer” — “The Youngest Was the Most Loved” (More nature over nurture, from 2006’s Ringleader of the Tormentors.)