Morrissey: Stupid, Irrelevant, Boring, Wrong Man

You might have seen in the papers that Morrissey is again trying to get himself accused of racism and drum up some publicity. There was a lengthy Guardian interview recently with another overrated Northern artist, Simon Armitage – a double whammy of Mancunian tediousness. Read it, if your stomach can handle it. An excerpt:

It’s a bit like being on a date. It’s not a blind date exactly; poet meets songwriter seems to be the general idea. But I’ve no idea if he knows who I am, and for all that I’ve stalked the man and his music over the years, I can’t say with any confidence that I know who Morrissey is either. Can anyone? So when the door opens and he strides into the room, neither of us seems sure of the protocol. I am meeting him of course, that’s a given, but is he meeting me? I shake his hand, a square and solid hand, more in keeping with the mobster and bare-knuckle boxer image he’s cultivated of late than the stick-thin, knock-me-over-with-a-feather campness of yesteryear. Then he gives a little bow, a modified version of the one I’ve seen him give about a thousand times on stage, one foot forward and the other behind, head low, eyes to the floor. It’s a bit like being greeted by a matador: the gesture of respect is genuine, but we all know what happens to the bull. I cast my eyes downward as well, and notice that he’s wearing cute gold trainers, like those football boots reserved for the world’s greatest players. They look like they should have wings on the side.

It goes on like this. It is typical of people’s attitudes to the guy. Morrissey produced one good song, the classic ‘How Soon Is Now’, and even that is charged mainly by Marr’s guitars, and would have sounded even better without Morrissey’s stupid warbling voice. I can’t stand Morrissey not only because of his music but also because of what he’s done to music. I look at my CD collection – Blue States, Too Many DJs, Morphine, Mr Scruff, Dandy Warhols, Cranberries, DJ Shadow, Groove Armada, David Holmes, Aim, Alabama 3 – and it’s a wonderful cacophony of style and influence. I turn on the radio, and there’s nothing but landfill indie. The man retarded the evolution of music in Manchester for a generation, and yet everyone loves him.

Yet music journalist John Harris sees through the act, and draws a connection between Morrissey’s pale, miserabilist, self-obsessed songs, and the similarly pedestrian state of contemporary indie.

Over five decades have passed since rock’n’roll’s dizzying collision of black and white arrived, yet far too much contemporary music seems more segregated than ever, defined by a miserable rule: the more ‘serious’ and ‘authentic’ it is, the more fenced-off it will be. Sneering at The X Factor is entirely understandable, but think about its multiracial parade of wannabe icons and bereft no-hopers: all human life is there. Once music begins to understand itself as art, by contrast, forays across the colour bar are depressingly rare.

Morrissey is particularly relevant here, because he remains the pre-eminent elder statesman of what is commonly known as ‘indie’ music, these days a byword for just about anything created with guitars – but a form whose story goes back through the left-inclined counterculture of the 1980s to the righteous furies of punk. Unlike plenty of other genres, its practitioners tend to pride themselves on an inclusive, liberal outlook, seen in an admirable campaign called Love Music Hate Racism (to which Morrissey made a donation in 2008, after the hoo-ha about his views on ‘British identity’). Indie’s home turf is urban bohemia, where diversity and difference are taken as read. But in his own gruesome way Morrissey embodies its contradictory collective id: a bundle of conservatism, parochialism and generic navel-gazing.

Just to make it clear: I cut my teeth on this stuff, and if I had to come up with my Desert Island Discs, at least half would be indie records. But while the supposedly flimsy world of mere pop reflects Britain as it is, while the best hip hop and so-called urban music can be omnivorous, and while even the adventurous end of heavy metal is more porous than you’d think, the indie milieu literally pales by comparison.

… [P]icture the average indie event, and what springs to mind? The Killers, Biffy Clyro, or even the sainted Arcade Fire: 99% Caucasian males, limply strumming away, in endless tribute to the same old white-bread influences. Even when normal service is suspended, the essential rules remain clear: witness the Brit awards duet between Dizzee Rascal and Florence Welch, a relatively innocuous collaboration received as if it were the very acme of artistic bravery.

In the modern context, what I don’t understand is this: that with the music of the entire planet now available in abundance, so few people seem interested in the creative cross-pollination it might inspire. So it is that you end up with the grim spectacle of good old Noel Gallagher, making the case against the rap titan Jay-Z appearing at the UK’s most fondly loved festival: ‘I’m not having hip hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.’ The latter artist had a much better reception than some people expected.

Then again, think back to events at this year’s revels, and the revue laid on by Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz. In keeping with his catholic tastes, Albarn – a passionate fan of the music of west Africa – was performing alongside Bobby Womack, the rap trio De La Soul, and Snoop Dogg, but swarms of people soon departed the main arena in search of something more comforting. Presumably they were after some of the plodding, conservative fare that defines most of the rock aristocracy, and is an obligatory part of the outdoor ritual.

Morrissey, it’s fair to say, would have gone down a storm.

Morrissey and his stupid, pretentious, stupid face.

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