Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Albums I love:The Smiths.

I was a sensitive, socially gauche, awkward teenage boy. A righteous rage ricocheted through my reasonably privileged bones. I had, comparatively, nothing to be angry about but angry I was. Reagan, Thatcher, schoolyard bullies, parents - I didn't like any of that shit. Only in the last instance was I incorrect.

Music had proved a salve. Madness, The Specials, UB40, Dexy's, and The Undertones drilled in to my nascent psyche in a way I still can't articulate. Yet nothing spoke louder to me, louder than bombs, than The Smiths. I saw them as the newest, yet oldest, thing imaginable, an escape route from the wonderful and frightening world of my imagination. They weren't. Morrissey's recent utterances have despoiled that but what do you tell a teenager, a teenager in love?

Girls terrified me. Some even physically attacked me. I recall being spat on as I walked around Tadley. My drainpipe black jeans and Ian McCulloch mop might be the height of fashion now but in the 80s they got you a kick in the bollocks from a Level 42 fan in a 'Candy' logo Liverpool t. I'm not judging. Just observing. Through a heavy, heavy fug of teenage tears.

Then in 1984, when supposedly swotting for my mocks, my best mate Shep rang me and asked me if I'd heard The Smiths on the radio. They were in the Top 40. Well, of course I fucking had. That coruscating cacophony, the anxious scream of Irish immigrants in to a country that cared not a jot for them, had floated down the Irwell, siphoned off in to The Manchester Ship Canal, and, eventually, lanced the emotional guts of a shy virgin from Reading. That was me by the way.

I was hooked. Everything else had been a crush. This was love. Even now I consider that my life changed when I first heard What Difference Does It Make? There were people like me out there. I would find them. I would be with them. The world would be better for us. It fucking was too. It fucking was. The cunts are in charge now but the love we learnt must never, ever, die.

Hippy shit aside this was a band that seemed to rip up the rule book. My middle aged self rationalises them as the last of the great punk bands but that wasn't how the teenage me saw it. Vegetarianism, hard left politics, Albert Finney films, and a crushing romanticism came together in my conception of the band. A perfect storm in my malleable mind. In some ways an excuse, a get out clause, for my complete inability to integrate with Thatcherite Britain.

I bought their first album on cassette, a knock off cassette too, in Basingstoke town centre. I'd play it at night on my crappy Jones tape deck, often blubbing like the fucking baby I was. Reel Around The Fountain, oddly the most grown up song Steven Patrick Morrissey ever wrote, tapped me gently on the shoulder, gave me my new instructions, and told me how it'd be.

It's a song that only grows in stature. Paul Carrack was recently on Celebrity Mastemind and I'd dismissed him, incorrectly, as the prick from Mike and the Mechanics. Yet his sympathetic keys bring out an empathy that Moz was later unable to grasp. The searching, warm feel let you know that in Morrissey and Marr you have found a love you won't forget. These guys will return your calls.

It's not that simple though is it? Morrissey knew that and, perhaps callously exploiting teenage insecurities, let us know he knew that. Shove a geranium up your arse and hear You've Got Everything Now. A two fingered salute to Norman Tebbit's idea of a fully employed nation, a rancorous rebound from the riots in Brixton and Toxteth, a rejoinder to those of us disaffected to be -  affected.

More than that a riposte to the idea of the nuclear family, to relationships, to the shitty fallible Lego of love itself. It's a theme our bequiffed narrator would eventually work to the point of parody but here, on side 1 of the album he must've dreamt about all his life, he skewers it with a passion worthy of ancient Italian poets.

Miserable Lie may be ripe for parody but followed by Pretty Girls Make Graves and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle we're coaxed in to the dark Satanic mills of our narrator's youth. Far from Coronation Street and out into the Moors. Babies slaughtered to the sevice of an obscure human sexuality.

Cottonopolis waters run dark but Marr's deathless intro to This Charming Man, as sure an indie disco signifier as Smells Like Teen Spirit, tells you that this gang aren't wallowing. Who can imagine a punctured bicycle on an hillside without hearing THAT fucking break. Nature had not made a man of me yet. Morrissey, again, equated automobiles with adulthood. No wonder he ended up in LA.

Does the mind rule the body or does the body rule the mind? I dunno. What a line. As we kiss our memories goodbye under the iron bridge of our reminiscences, as we consider the miserable lies of politics and the fake balm of snake oil salesmen, as Morrissey's doom filled propechies come to fruition in the ghastliest ways imaginable, we ask ourselves what difference does it make?

It makes none. Not now you're gone. Prejudice won't keep you warm at night. Only love can do that. Morrissey once knew that. He may've not heeded his own lessons but we're better than that. The sun shines out of our behinds. This love's different. It's ours.

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