How soon is never

Since he broke from The Smiths I’ve done my best to ignore all the stupid things Morrissey has said over the years. It’s sad when an artist you loved so much is still around when you sometimes wish they weren’t. But it’s easier to blame the creep you fell in love with than to take responsibility for your own decisions. And a hard lesson in what makes for great art and good people, when they’re not one and the same.

And so it goes when word got out that The Simpsons did a parody of Morrissey with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the lead part. But the premise was more entertaining than the delivery and we found ourselves wincing at the singer’s unflattering portrayal as “Quilloughby.”

I went back through the footage of Morrissey to catch up with the racial slurs and far-right BS. Was it even true or just a ploy? Was he being calculated in saying such things, a Trumpist? How could he have turned out this way?

I went down the internet gutter looking for clues but the real Morrissey was better left alone, where he belonged. Instead I pulled up an interview with Johnny Marr and a group of students at Oxford university. And it was like washing myself clean to hear the other half of The Smiths talk about what a privilege it is to be well known, the responsibility that comes with it. Him saying, “I’d rather be known for what I play than for what I say.”

I went after the writers at The Simpsons too, feeling they’d gone too far. I came to the defense of Morrissey, I wanted to protect him because the songs he wrote were a part of me, rooted in my past. I was in love with him as much as I was with myself and my memories. And how screwed up that was to admit.

But I’ve made the same mistake before and it never ends well. You assume the artists you love are good people and then feel betrayed when they’re not. Like Mark Kozelek from Red House Painters, like Mark E. Smith from The Fall. Drunks, pre-madonnas. You make the mistake of falling in love with them but they don’t love you back. You feel betrayed but they never promised you a thing.

I talked it over with my wife and we tried to pinpoint why the show wasn’t funny. Were the writers on The Simpsons now dried up like Morrissey? And this whole thing about artists and how they act in real life, off stage: we saw an acting friend of my wife’s in a film with Phillip Seymour-Hoffman and Laura Dern. They studied together in the same MFA program, she called him “luminous” on stage: any choice he made he committed to fully. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. But off stage what a mess, dull and dysfunctional. Banal. Maybe being a great actor was just a talent like anything else, like carpentry or gardening. It didn’t make you a luminous person. It just meant you were a great actor.

The thing I’ve learned about art is that it’s not yours after you make it. It doesn’t belong to you anymore. But on the flip side, the artist doesn’t belong to the people who consume their work either. The artist is like an empty vessel. If you like the idea of where they’re going climb in, but check your expectations when the ride is over.

Maybe for some artists the best part of themselves is in their work. Morrissey and Marr put that into their songs, that’s why they call it a record. It’s a moment in time, same as on film or on stage. And once it’s out in the universe it’s a memory, perfect in how you remember it, perfectly flawed too.

In the interview with Johnny Marr one of the students asked what his favorite Smiths song was, which had the most sentimental value? And he said There is a Light That Never Goes Out, and described what it was like after he left The Smiths and played it for the first time at a concert in New Zealand. How everyone went nuts, how people really loved that song. And how he realized then the song really wasn’t his, he owed it to his fans because it was more theirs in a sense, he was just the messenger.

And so with that, the funny paradox in the mystery of art: how one can put so much of themselves into a thing, how so many can then claim that thing as their own, how the artist tries to hold on to who they are with everyone expecting them to be someone they never can be. It must be really, really hard.

Still I’d rather be famous than righteous or holy
any day, any day, any day…

Photo copyright 20th Television, 2021

Categories: music, writing

Tags: ,

24 replies

  1. So well said. The less I know about an artist whose work I admire, the better. It’s also surprising the Simpsons is still on. So different from the early days. Really enjoyed reading this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nice Kristen, thank you. I feel like we may have hashed this out some time ago too when we did that music writing thing on that guest blog series I hosted. Hope you’re well at any rate. And great to hear from you! I love that The Simpsons are still going, blows my mind. And no one has grown up! Me included.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The Masks we wear the Roles we inhabit and those that we identity with; the search for me.
    Much to ponder.
    Yours in a Quasi Freudian State of Mind,

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes David, yours in the bond of the misunderstood perhaps. Thanks for reading, your comment sounds like the beginning of a Smiths song, ha! Ain’t Alice Coltrane.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reading Carl Wilson’s 33 ⅓ on Celine Dion (sadly, I don’t care enough to add her acute) then over to this. It’s a lot for a Monday morning.

    Some great points in your piece about person vs product and how we are desperate to lionise, demonise, or deify popular culture figures — or indeed, any artists. It is inevitable, of course; if I express, or even feel, fandom for an artist this is aligning myself with something I see of value, something of worth. Introduce the personal and that alignment comes with ideas or behaviours I find objectionable. It’s a dilemma.

    Though I loved the Quilloughby song. ‘Run my bath and hope I’ll drown’. Fabulous.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. For reasons we cannot grasp we identify with certain artists (I’ll include politicians in that broad category) and then see them through our lens of acceptance. Maybe it’s something in them that affirms something in the fan? I have had this experience a couple of times. Very disconcerting when my hero proves flawed.
    I’m with you on the artist as vessel … especially with music … a gift they receive and pass on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good phrase, “see them through the lens of acceptance.” Weird world of wizardry, this! Glad you’re part of mine Jazz, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been smashed about Morrissey too, really disappointed in his apparent political beliefs. Haven’t been able to listen to him for a while now, though I can happily listen to Marr. It’s a shame, for the reasons you describe, because artists like him get under your skin when you’re young and you don’t want to extract them. I even wrote a song in a Morrissey mode a couple of years ago (“Lovely Liar”), pretending I understood him. Fat chance!

    People are having the same problem with Michael Jackson, Woody Allen, and now maybe even Rick Schroeder. Heh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kevin, thanks for that, I’m in the same boat as you I think. It’s a fun puzzle to ask oneself about artists and what we expect of them. I think there’s a Morrissey song called “Disappointed,” I should put that on. It’s a great song! Separate myself from the man behind it. Hard when Van Morrison comes on now too. “Turn up your radio” (or turn it off). Be well my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think Morrissey is a tougher case than most. His music touches intimately. Ted Nugent, for example, is much less of a problem – I have no problem with making sure I don’t give him another penny of royalties while enjoying some Amboy Dukes or cat scratching out of my collection. I am enjoying the music and not relating to it. No mixed feelings, simpler. I stick to the Smiths these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought of referencing Van Morrison here too. Ted Nugent drives the point home a lot clearer! It is complicated isn’t it? Thanks for playing. And yes I put together a little Smiths playlist post that Marr Interview to celebrate some of those songs with Dawn. Surprised to hear that Marr’s favorite Smiths tune was “Last night I dreamt somebody loved me.” Funny what the artists hear in the work that we may not.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I had also thought of using Van Morrison as an example but he is another case altogether (for me). I am vaguely aware of some of things he says but don’t dig into it to avoid it polluting my listening.

        True that about what the artists hear. After hearing about what they hear, I often feel like I am discovering a whole new song.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “Vaguely aware” is safe to avoid the pollution as you say. “I can hear the merry gypsy play. “ Leave it at that: a merry gypsy. Keep the costume on, Van.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. My fallen-angel-artist is Exene Cervenka from X. She’s a conspiracy theorist of the worst type… a Sandy Hook denier. I blogged on the topic as well. I want to hold it against her, but I love her music so freaking much that it transcends the nonsense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No way! Good gracious, that kind of ruins my day. I love their music so much too. Going to forget that entirely, as best I can. Wish she’d stuck with voodoo.


  8. There’s something magical, mysterious, and wonderfully 80s about The Smiths that instantly transports me back to my high school days, even though their music and I never fully resonated with each other. They are one of those bands that, for me, are stuck in time, or define a time, or take me back to a time, every time I hear them. It’s not that often that I hear them, but when I do, I feel like I did back then. I think if I were to listen to them more often, it would be different. The bands from that era that I still listen to today are bands I still enjoy, obviously, but they don’t feel like time machines to me, as The Smiths do. Probably because they’ve been at my side for so long. I still haven’t watched that Simpson’s episode, but I like that you and Dawn spent time analyzing why it wasn’t funny. That’s a worthwhile exercise, and I’m serious when I say that. But on a lighter note, what about that name? Quilloughby? That right there is hilarious. I’m stealing that name for my fantasy football team this year. If that’s the funniest thing about the episode, I’ll be disappointed, but still, it’s pretty funny.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is pretty funny. I started watching it again and thought you know, this is pretty funny (but not enough to watch it again). I think for Benedict that had to have been a gas. I would love to watch him do the voice and make the faces. I like that you have that relationship with The Smiths, that’s cool and thanks for sharing. Fun all this…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The more grotesque the perceived flaws, the brighter the work shines, like a patrolman’s flashlight in an abandoned darkroom.

    Morrissey will always be a petulant shithead whose excess demands that you loathe him for his own attention and benefit. Sadly though, he’s just another boring old git sitting in the airport lounge, waiting to get home to his adoring pets.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. *Van Morrison has entered the chat room*

    “The thing I’ve learned about art is that it’s not yours after you make it.” On my walk today, was listening to Wilco’s “What Light,” which expresses that exact sentiment:
    “And if the whole world’s singing your songs
    And all of your paintings have been hung
    Just remember what was yours
    Is everyone’s from now on”
    Tweedy seems like a good guy, though, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha. Good one. “Tweedy seems like a good guy.” Now you could be like that Republican senator who gave the rebuff after Biden’s recent National address: “Joe Biden SEEMS like a good man.” Open that seam to doubt right?! Sorry, had fun with that. I don’t know a damn thing about Tweedy beyond his headaches and headaches he’s given others, but yes, I’d be in your camp of seems. That’s a very cool connection you made with his song. I owe them some more listens. Thanks for liking my stuff! Zombie guy.

      Liked by 1 person

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