Q&A: Morrissey

Q&A: Morrissey

Morrissey:1  This interview took place early June, 1991, backstage at Dublin’s National Stadium, several hours before Morrissey went on stage (the support acts were the Would Be’s) in support of his Kill Uncle album. To my knowledge, it is one of perhaps many (or very few, even?) ‘lost’ Morrissey interviews, as it has never shown up as part of the research for any Smiths/Morrissey book I’ve read in over 20 years.

It doesn’t exist any more, but back in 1991, In Dublin was a niche, often very good publication of reasonable credibility; I was the magazine’s Music Editor, and obtained the Morrissey interview through his then record label, EMI (whose then press officer, incidentally, refused point blank to give Morrissey’s one-and-only-one face-to-face print interview to any other Irish publication). The photos accompanying the original article were taken by Conor Horgan, then a respected Dublin-based photographer, and now an even more highly regarded photographer and filmmaker. (Conor says he has the images “lying about somewhere”, so the accompanying images here are not his.) In an attempt to contextualise Morrissey, the article subhead reads: “He is the missing link between Charles Hawtrey and Billy Fury…” (I can’t recall writing that, but I might have…)

Note to younger readers: the words ‘top’, ‘of’, ‘the’ and ‘pops’ are mentioned somewhere down the page. Ask your parents. Note to younger media types: the word ‘typewriter’ appears just when you least expect it.


TCL: DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM ABOUT YOUR TREATMENT AT THE HANDS OF THE BRITISH PRESS? M: No… I’m sure there’s unfairness in all quarters. I simply look forward to the misquotes. They misquote me most of the time, which is a terrible strain on the brain, but I think it happens to most people.

BUT DON’T ALL JOURNALISTS NOWADAYS TAPE THE INTERVIEWS? I generally think that when these people go home, they’re very tired and they just fast-forward. It’s a lack of attention and a lack of dedication to their job. Maybe they find misquotes more interesting than natural quotes. The only bugbear, shall we say, that I find about misquotes is that they never make you more interesting than you are. They always make you seem slightly more silly.

IS MORRISSEY TOO FAMILIAR A SIGHT IN THE BRITISH MEDIA? I very rarely give interviews, yet I’m much discussed. I know the general temperament of pop within England is that once you have your five years, they’re bored, they’re sick of your face, regardless of who you are. But I accept that. I also think that they assume you reach a certain level where you don’t need them or you’re rich enough to not possibly care about making records anymore. It’s inverted snobbery, really. At the same time, the magazines that repeatedly condemn me repeatedly ask me for interviews. Indeed, several magazines have so kindly put me on their cover in order to say Morrissey’s career has ended, but if they really believe my career had ended they would never have dreamt of putting me on their cover.

IT SOUNDS AS IF YOU HAVE A ‘FAME’ ATTITUDE… Well, it varies. I’m an obsessively private person, so I do as little as possible, which is why I don’t have management and so forth. If I had management, I would be cajoled into doing much more. As I said, I don’t do too many interviews and I don’t really appear on television, so it isn’t important to me to become the most known face on the universe. I find if I couldn’t, as it were, retreat – if I was forced to be constantly, repeatedly public – then I couldn’t take it for more than, oh, three hours.

HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED SINCE YOUR PRE-FAME SMITHS’ DAYS? Well, I now look very old, as you’ve noticed. Otherwise, I’m just the same potty character – you seem to agree with that quite readily and quite quickly! Oh, look, I wouldn’t have it any other way – I’ve got no intentions of being any other person.

IS UNWANTED FAME A NECESSARY EVIL, CONSIDERING YOUR CHOICE OF LIFESTYLE? I wouldn’t say a necessary evil. Most of the time, I don’t find myself doing anything I wouldn’t want to do. And that’s something that I actually had to work at, because initially when you begin you’re so eager and so naïve. You want to do everything and please everybody. But when I arrived at the understanding that I did not have to be that way it was a great relief. Mind you, I have been banned by Top of the Pops, which I don’t think has happened in the entire history of the programme. I refused three invitations, which is not really allowed. It’s very petulant of them, but I think – certainly in England – that the British pop establishment is so… Well, they need you to need them, and if you don’t need them, if you’re self-reliant in any way… And that absolutely applies to the music press; the press giveth and the press taketh away. If they feel for a second that it doesn’t really apply to you, they get very angry.

WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE INTERVIEW PROCESS? YOU APPEAR NOT TO LIKE IT. I’m very rarely interviewed and almost always cross-examined, so that’s one point. The second point is that I’m almost always asked the same questions, mysteriously enough. It’s very difficult for me to come across a writer who wants to ask me something new or different. The false intimacy of an interview situation is troubling, because being interviewed in any sense, in any aspect of human life, is odd and unnatural. But I cope quite well.

DO YOU FIND YOURSELF TO BE MISINTERPRETED OR MISUNDERSTOOD? Yes, yes. I think more than that is the constant stream of assumptions and deliberate lies and fabrications that occur. You know – ‘Morrissey was here last night doing that and nobody wanted his autograph, and then he went there and he was very unhappy because everybody ignored him.’ I constantly come across these things and I find it very hurtful. I said to a journalist once, ‘why did you write that? You knew it wasn't true, a complete fabrication.’ And he said, ‘it sells newspapers’. I think that’s the prevailing attitude, and about that I can do nothing. Unfortunately, large amounts of people actually believe what they read in the music papers. It’s so easy for the music press to concoct any quote, put it in inverted commas and it’s an official statement. I find if you sound like you’re heavily disturbed by this situation, then they instantly assume they’ve got you. That they’re upsetting you and their name is on your lips every day. Which is not the case.

DO YOU THINK IT’S JUSTIFIABLE THAT YOU HAVE A REPUTATION FOR BEING ONE OF THE GREAT WITTY, PERTINENT POP INTERVIEWEES? Hhhmmm… Yes, I think that would be quite correct. When I’m interviewed and don’t fulfil any of those expectations the journalists say I’m off form, I’ve become dull, I don’t live up to the reputation that races ahead of me – all of those things. The only unfair aspect, of course, is that I can’t write my views upon that journalist, mainly because nobody’s interested. Yes, it would be interesting if the tables were slightly reversed.


DO YOU MISS THE SUPPOSED CREATIVE SECURITY OF THE SMITHS? No, not at all. I think what I’ve done since then has been hugely underrated and what other ex-Smiths have done has been dramatically overrated. So… There you go!

DOES IT BURDEN YOU THAT A LARGE NUMBER OF YOUR FANS WOULD LIKE YOU TO REWRITE/RECREATE THE SMITHS? No, because I understand the reality of the issue. People always want what no longer exists, and if The Smiths still existed then people would, perhaps, be less interested than they are now. If I was knocked over tomorrow by a milk float and died, people would herald everything I’d done in a solo capacity in a stronger way than they do The Smiths. There’s a certain re-evaluation that happens when a group or an artist no longer exists that is so obvious to spot. And with The Smiths and the quite natural belief that ‘oh, that was great and isn’t it sad that this is still happening and that Morrissey doesn’t have Johnny Marr…’ Well, I mean, I find that rather pathetic.

DO YOU THINK THAT YOU’RE REVERED BY YOUR FANS? It would be too pompous if I said yes.

AND TOO HUMBLE IF YOU SAID NO? So I’m trapped, really. Next question!

ARE YOU ANALYTICAL ENOUGH A PERSON TO CHART YOUR OWN CREATIVE SUCCESSES AND FAILURES? Yes I am. I feel enormously objective. I feel I’m my strongest critic; nobody can tell me anything I’m not aware of. But they do, much to my extreme personal boredom.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BLEAKEST MOMENTS IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS? I think they have occurred with certain journalists that have conducted pleasant, comfortable and supportive interviews, yet the journalist – and friend – has gone back to their typewriter and turned into a terribly nasty character. I don’t mind if I have interviews with writers who are honest and nasty with me, but I don’t like it when they’re nice to me, yet what emerges in print is unreadable and savage. These have been the bleakest moments.

DO DEPRESSING MOODS COME EASILY TO YOU? I find that I have a lot of moods that people consider to be depressing, let’s put it that way. To me, though, I don’t deliberately want to depress anybody.

A PERCEIVED OPINION OF YOU IS THAT YOU ARE AN UNHAPPY PERSON – TRUE OR FALSE? I am unhappy many times, most of the time, but most people are. They just don’t, won’t or can’t admit it. I think that most people who make records are quite straightforward and simple characters. Those few who are not straightforward are instantly over-judged, and if they don’t make ‘Boom-Bang-A-Bang’-type records, or at least simple emotions, then they have to repeatedly explain why they’re not mundane and not tedious. The reason, perhaps, why I’m called unhappy or depressed is because there is a herd element to pop journalism. Whatever the leaders say everybody else follows. When things snowball and you find that you have your tags, I don’t think it would matter what course I would take for the next five years in music. I would still always be the most depressing person you’ve ever put an ear to.

IS YOUR IMAGE IN A SEXUAL SENSE IMPORTANT TO YOU? I wasn’t aware that I had an image, so the rest of the question I therefore cannot answer.

ARE YOU NOT, THOUGH, FOR SOME PEOPLE, AN OBVIOUS OBJECT OF DESIRE? A lot of people tell me I am that to them – it’s usually by letter – but you know, I also think there’s some strange bedazzlement about becoming a minor public figure, that anybody who becomes remotely famous tends to have somebody, somewhere, who wants to sleep with them. I don’t know why that happens.

IN MOST INTERVIEWS, YOU’RE ALWAYS QUITE VAGUE ABOUT YOUR SEXUAL PREFERENCES. WHY? I don’t really have any, to be honest. I mean, I never ever have relationships. And I almost think that is surely enough to say. If I say any more it becomes uncomfortable to the reader.

WHY WOULD IT BE? I don’t know. It’s just slightly squirmy, isn’t it, to discuss the fact of relationship and sexual preferences. I never do unless I’m asked about it, but I have to say I do mind talking about it. Are people interested?

WHAT ARE THE MOST POSITIVE ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE? That I can make the records I want to make. I don’t honestly think that a lot of recording artists can say that. But I think I’m only allowed to do that because I’m not going to be promoted, anyway. Leave the poor boy with his illusions. Or delusions.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO LIVE OUT YOUR DAYS IN RURAL IRELAND? I did once upon a time, but suddenly I’m beginning to feel that I’d quite like to have a very noisy apartment in an obnoxiously loud and raucous city. I’ve no idea why. Maybe I’ll be a wasting mess in the Chelsea Hotel. We all have our aspirations.

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