Discovering and obtaining music in the 80’s was a process that most kids would not understand today. They live in an age where songs are nothing more than disposable streams of 1’s and 0’s and there are no obstacles between the artist and the listener. That was not the case when Morrissey and Marr were recording music in England three decades ago. Small town record stores and radio stations always lagged behind the big cities when it came to ‘the next big thing’. And my small town’s closest ‘big city’ was Sacramento – a government cowtown that lagged behind the cultural hotbeds of Los Angeles and San Francisco by at least a year itself. By the time my friend’s older brother introduced me to The Smiths, via a Louder Than Bombs cassette in a 1983 Mazda RX-7, Morrissey and Marr had already gone their separate ways. It might have been over, but that didn’t stop me from listening to that compilation until the tape finally melted in the heat of my own car five years later. But by that time I had discovered Morrissey’s solo material via Bona Drag (once again a few years behind the curve) – a CD that will always hold its spot among my most played throughout high school.
The work that went into procuring those tapes and CDs, and the time spent with them, is an exercise I will never forget. It’s something I rarely experience with new releases these days…now that everything is always available with almost zero effort or cost. But my interest in Morrissey faded as I got older and moved away from that small town. I found happiness in the sunshine of Southern California and I traded the miserable for the manic as my listening habits went punk rock. It wasn’t until 2004, when he returned with You Are the Quarry, that Morrissey became a blip on my radar again. Proving the album wasn’t an accident, he followed it up with Ringleader of the Tormentors and Years of Refusal – essentially creating a late-career trilogy that refused to be ignored. Unfortunately, every glowing review was followed by the usual Morrissey melodrama. He was demanding extraordinary actions be taken by venues; he was trying to cancel other band’s sets; he was bitching and moaning and essentially being the twat that the media had always wanted him to be. Whether this tabloid dribble was true or false didn’t (and doesn’t) really matter to the people who love Morrissey’s music. But the health issues and postponed (and then cancelled) dates made it so I was unable to catch Moz in a live setting. It had been two years since he first announced his return to Denver (originally scheduled for November of 2012), and with ongoing postponements, cancellations and venue changes, I had my doubts that I would ever have the pleasure. So it was with great excitement (and relief) that I witnessed the man take the stage, flanked by a 5-piece band in matching CARNE EN AESINATO t-shirts, at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House last night.
“If you’re looking for trouble, you’ve come to the right place”
An unapologetic Moz kicked things off with a trip to the very beginning – “Hand in Glove” was The Smiths first single, and opening the night and old wounds with that track set the stage for a setlist that spanned his entire career. “Speedway” was up next , as it raced toward the midway point where we were met by a dark silence…before being blinded by flashing lights and undeniable life in the face of those who want to destroy it. “Ganglord” took things to the depths of the ghetto before “I Have Forgiven Jesus” ended with Matthew Walker taking his frustrations out on the giant gong pitched above his head. As if everything had been fun and games before, Moz warned those gathered in front of the stage – “I am now ready to convulse, so for your sake, stand back” – as he threw his arms around stone and steel, despite the outpouring of love in front of him.
In one of the more positive statements of the night, Morrissey declared that the world was getting better, despite the appearance of a nervous breakdown. There “are less dictators”, so please “do not be fooled into thinking “World Peace Is None of Your Business “. And that’s when the enviable politics took their place center stage. A PETA commercial describing drowning animals foreshadowed what was to come, but it wasn’t until the intro to “Yes, I Am Blind” that the stage became a soapbox of sorts. I’ve always been able to respect musicians despite my inability to share their beliefs, even Morrissey, but separation was not possible last night. The “4,000 trapped, unhappy, suicidal” animals at the Denver Zoo were mentioned. Greeley was called out as the “murder capital of Colorado” – “just ask a cow”. The venue itself was taken under review when Morrissey admitted he had no clue who Ellie Caulkins was, assuming she was on Gilligan’s Island, or just another wealthy American who bought an Opera House. The new song, “The Bullfighter Dies”, wasn’t exactly subtle in its message, but the style in which it was sung made it hard not to sing-along with the massacre in Madrid. “Meat Is Murder” was accompanied by a video of animal slaughter, and as much as I respect Morrissey’s right to advocate for animal rights and veganism, I also respect my right to sit down on my ass, close my eyes, and wait for it to end. I was not surprised, or even offended by the video, but it wasn’t something I wanted to watch in the middle of a concert.
The video ended and I was back on my feet with the rest of the crowd to applaud the excellent band as Gustavo, Jesse, Solomon, Matthew and Boz were introduced. “Everyday Is Like Sunday” brought us back from the animal farm to the morose Moz I love so much. “Earth Is the Loneliest Planet” was a mariachi-style new track that was a lot more fun than it sounds. And “Trouble Loves Me” made me realize how much Matt Berninger of The National owes to Morrissey when it comes to his stage persona. The audience interaction before that particular song was quite amusing (in a Morrissey sorta way). When an audience member confessed his love, the object of that affection replied with a simple “that’s perfectly legal”. And when the next recipient of the microphone asked what he wanted them to say, his reply was a curt “nothing”.
Morrissey is a man who has been loved and adored by thousands, but evidently, never by one.
Despite his voice being incredible last night…despite the energy he still has at 54 years old…despite his incredible band…some might find him sad and depressing. And he was…and he is. He is a man who shows more love for animals than he does for most human beings. He is a man who has (or at least believes he has) been screwed over by almost everyone he has ever trusted or cared about. The life of Morrissey is not a happy one, but that’s the genius of his music. When he came back on stage for a semi-solo rendition of The Smith’s “Asleep”, it was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking.
“Sing to me
Sing to me
I don’t want to wake up
On my own anymore”
The words are a basic human request for love, but the man singing them doesn’t actually believe them. I can’t claim to know Morrissey, but after reading his Autobiography, he doesn’t seem to be capable of receiving love. He is the definition of a tortured artist. He is a rare individual. He has no problem screaming his politics at the world, and he effortlessly writes songs that speak to the depths of the soul, but he struggles to interact with the human race on a basic social level. It’s because of this that so many people have a hard time with him.
At one point in his book he writes (of David Bowie) “David quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had so LITTLE sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive.’ But Morrissey is still alive. Unlike so many of his kind, he did not kill himself before the world could turn on him. While he was closing the night with “One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell”, I couldn’t help but wonder what people would be saying about him if he would have left us after Strangeways, Here We Come. On the flipside, I couldn’t help but wonder what the media would be saying about people like Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin or Kurt Cobain had they lived (and continue to produce music) well into their 50’s. It’s a question that can’t be answered, but as the words “and when I die, I want to go to Hell” were coming out of his mouth, I couldn’t help but be grateful that Morrissey didn’t take the easy way out. I couldn’t help but be grateful that his miserable time on this miserable planet with these miserable people allowed him to create such magnificently miserable music.
Hand in Glove
I Have Forgiven Jesus
I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris
World Peace Is None of Your Business
Yes, I Am Blind
Life Is a Pigsty
The Bullfighter Dies
To Give (The Reason I Live)
Meat Is Murder
Everyday Is Like Sunday
Earth Is the Loneliest Planet
Trouble Loves Me
I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday
One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell *
* started over after being knocked into crowd by a fan. “I’m alive! I can take it!”