And the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular
You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does
The Smiths --
"How Soon Is Now?"
I have a very particular memory about this song. In the mid/late 80s, I was living in Chicago and frequented a very cool and laid-back neighborhood bar called Club 950. It was on Wrightwood near the DePaul campus and was as close to a “hang out” as I have ever had. I went to 950 because it was the place to go in town to hear alt/indie/retro music from the wonderful oddball DJs without having to deal with jerks and suburban drunks (at least not during the week). I could just go and listen. I became friends with Joe, one of the DJs, and he knew that The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” was a favorite of mine. He often would put the 7-minute 12” single on his turntable within minutes of me getting there and I would smile towards his booth in the back of the club, set my drink and my purse down (nope, never stolen) and I would float over to the small dance floor, usually empty on the nights I would be there, and just move to the hypnotic, repetitive vibrato of the guitar by myself. I could just be that sound. For those few minutes, I felt somehow completely released, blissful and free and alone in the darkness.
There's a club if you'd like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die
When you say it's gonna happen "now"
Well when exactly do you mean?
See I've already waited too long
And all my hope is gone.
“How Soon Is Now” was very different from The Smiths’ usual work with its distinctive huge guitar sound. I wanted to like them more than I did at the time, because they were an interesting and intelligent group. I know exactly why I didn’t, though: Morrissey’s voice. I couldn’t get past the ‘80s Brit yelp of it, the unbalanced feel, and mostly that he seemed to write melodies that never went any further than five notes or so, just arranged slightly differently for each song, all in the same key. It is kind of a shame, because for what he lacked in vocal range, he more than made up for in very interesting lyrics: wry, raw, vulnerable, witty, emotional, open yet obscure at the same time. He is certainly completely unique; the angsty young man with a decided twist, almost aggressively depressed. Morrissey grew up in Manchester, a gray and frighteningly grim place that would depress the hell of out anyone, really. I remember visiting Manchester Polytechnic in the early ‘80s and thinking how it reminded me more of the Chicago projects than a school.
Fast forward 25 years or so. The Smiths broke up, and Morrissey carved out a very successful solo career with songs just as strong and memorable (although I do miss guitarist Johnny Marr). There is no doubt he is one of the major influences/icons of rock music, as much for his prickly and grand personality as his music. I think he has become a better singer over time – significantly stronger – and I have really enjoyed his last few releases too. Time for me and Stephen Patrick Morrissey to meet up again, this time live at the Paramount in Seattle last night.
If you read this blog or are acquainted with me, you might already know that I am determined. Determination came into play when I noticed right before I left the house last night, this:
“No cameras, search required.” AH, SHIT! Well, that won’t do, eh? I looked at my clothes for the evening. Too tight to stuff my leetle camera anywhere, which all of a sudden seemed bulky and uncooperative. But I would figure something, because that is what I do and I am just as prickly and grand as Morrissey in my own way. I knew I wasn’t going to get any outstanding photos from the Paramount balcony, BUT.
I will have you know that I walked two city blocks with my camera in the crotch of my black pencil jeans. I will also have you know that my walk was compromised for it, and that John Cleese would approve of my silly stride, and that I kept bursting out in laughter because of the absurdity of it. I was patted and probed upon entry, purse purged, passed, and hobbled my way to the ladies’ lounge to remove the BRICK from between my legs. Ahhhhhh. Better.
I stood in line to get a bottle of water to take into the theater, and the very nice bartendress informed me that just two minutes before showtime the Paramount staff was informed by Morrissey’s people that NO NOTHING was going into the venue – all drinks had to stay outside in the lobby. This is because of a recent concert incident in Liverpool, which caused Morrissey to end the concert cold:
I am hearing “NO BOTTLED WATER!!!!” in Joan Crawford’s voice. I do hope that one was spring-fed, anyway. I drank my water quickly, poured into a hastily-found plastic cup, and settled into my seat for the show.
After a short wait, Morrissey took the stage and he and his band roared into “This Charming Man” as the crowd stood and roared back in appreciation. His twisty humor was evident right away in the appearance and manner of his band – all dressed in identical jeans and black t-shirts, with the same haircut, with the same brisk, workmanlike precision throughout the show. They were very good, all excellent musicians. One got the idea a bit from that and the scurrying of the crew to attend to every last little tiny thing out of place – a misplaced cord, a spilled BOTTLE OF WATER by the drums, and I swear what appeared to me to be some rubber chickens thrown onstage but were in fact flowers – that the guy runs a tight ship. Yo ho ho.
It was a good show, a nice mix of solo and Smiths’ tunes. Standouts for me were “Teenage Dad,” “Is It Really So Strange,” and “Because of My Poor Education.” Moz spent the evening in good voice, wandering back and forth across the stage (he’s not really the dancing/rocking out kind of frontman), was unfailingly polite in repeatedly thanking the crowd, and seemed…yes…pleased! I would also note that he kept hiking up his jeans and would recommend a belt to solve this dilemma.
Security started buzzing around making people turn off even their cell phone cameras, so as I figured I didn’t get much, but I got SOMETHING for my camera-defiling actions:
At the end of the show, several men and women were joyfully compelled to jump up onstage to hug and kiss Morrissey. He reacted with good grace and tore his shirt off at the end of the show in possible appreciation. Some of the fans were escorted from the stage relatively politely, but then security started putting in the boot and some people started getting pretty roughed up in the front. I dunno, how threatening can a Morrissey fan be? Really? But then again, he is an icon whom many fans feel passionately about, spending hours and hours obsessing over his lyrics and persona, and one never knows. That kind of fan didn’t work out so well for Icon Lennon.
One may assume that it is a long way from being the skinny New York Dolls-obsessed brainy misfit from industrial England to the fit, 50-year-old Morrissey of today who commands such attention and love from a diverse and impeccably-rock-dressed Seattle crowd. It probably is and isn’t. I would think he will remain prickly, grand, dissatisfied, and too smart for his own good, despite fame, fortune, respect, and all that goes with it. Sometimes what goes with it is a standing ovation, and sometimes is it a plastic water bottle to the cranium.
Of course, when the opening tremors of “How Soon Is Now” were being played last night, I thought back to 950 and that feeling of being a skinny-ish Kinks-obsessed brainy misfit from rural Wisconsin, for a moment lost in something, swirling in noise and pulse and desire, that sound taking over your body and mind. I hope when I am 80 I am still hobbling around some urban street, sneaking a camera into a concert, and that music remains that strong in me, as I suspect it always will in Morrissey as well.