Music has always been a huge part of my life—especially when I was a teenager. As many young people do, I often sought an identity in song lyrics, musical styles, bands, hair, and clothes. To say I was drawn to the expressive and dramatic was an understatement. Indeed, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen-years-old, I listened almost exclusively to dark, moody, and emotional music played by The Cure, Joy Division, and Depeche Mode. However, there was no band more influential than The Smiths. Their guitarist, Johnny Marr, was one of the reasons I eventually went on to attend music school.
The band’s unique singer, Morrissey, had an even more profound effect on me. Morrissey had a way of putting into words how I felt at that age. He had the ability to make one feel as if his songs of love and loss were written just for you—a feeling I’ve heard echoed by many of my generation.
Even as my musical tastes evolved, Morrissey always held a special place in my heart as an early powerful influence. Therefore, I was shocked to learn that Morrissey has said very questionable things over the last decade in regards to immigration in England, race, and “English Identity.” Statements which sound like they could have come from Nick Griffin, the chairman of the ultra-fascist British National Party. In the United States they’re reminiscent of Lou Dobbs, Tom Tancredo, or Dan Stein (FAIR).
Accusations of racism, directed at Morrissey, began in the 1980’s with a comment he made stating “All reggae is vile.” In the 1990’s he wrote several songs with very ambiguous lyrics entitled, “Bengali in Platforms”, “Asian Rut”, “The National Front Disco”, and “We’ll Let You Know.” In “Bengali in Platforms”, Morrissey writes about an immigrant who, “Only wants to impress you…only wants to embrace your culture…oh shelve your Western plans and understand that life is hard enough when you belong here.” In “The National Front Disco,” Morrissey begins flirting with fascist imagery which is said to be a reaction to David Bowie’s preoccupation with Hitler and fascism. He writes about a boy “lost” to the National Front who wants to “settle the score” and contains the line “England for the English.”
In the song “We’ll Let You Know”, reportedly about soccer hooligans, Morrissey sings, “We sadly know that we are the last truly British people you’ll ever know.” The most disturbing imagery is found in the song “This is Not Your Country” where Morrissey plays with National Socialism and skinhead culture “Armored cars, corrugated scars, graffiti scrawls: “This is not your country.” The line “this is not your country” is alleged to have been taken from the infamous Skinhead film “Romper Stomper.” The scene the line is taken from depicts a skinhead savagely beating an Asian woman after exclaiming, “This is not your country!”
Morrissey has also draped himself in the Union Jack flag during one of his concerts (associated with the far right in England), performed in front of a backdrop of two female skinheads, and was featured in a 2007 New Music Express (NME) article where he proclaimed, “England is a memory now. The gates are flooded and anybody can have access to England and join in. Although I don’t have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. So the price is enormous.”
Morrissey has firmly denied any accusations of racism. He said, “If I am racist then the Pope is female. Which he isn’t” and “If the National Front were to hate anyone, it would be me. I would be top of the list.” He has sued NME for the 2007 piece citing they misrepresented, distorted, and fabricated what he said and that, “Racism is beyond common sense and I believe it has no place in our society.” Morrissey has since donated £75,000 to keep an anti-racism festival alive. A festival which is run by the group, Love Music Hate Racism (formerly Rock Against Racism) which was formed as a response to Eric Clapton and David Bowie’s preoccupation with fascism in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
This has been a hard blog to write. See, it’s not just about a fallen hero or a middle-aged musician desperately seeking relevancy in his later years—it’s about growing up, seeing things differently, and holding our idols accountable.
Truth be told, even though the aforementioned is deplorable, I could not find a smoking gun in regards to Morrissey and he has never clearly explained himself. But what does it matter? At best, Morrissey seems like an idiot musician using fascist imagery to fetishize strength and power, stir up controversy, and sell records. At worst, he’s a deranged xenophobe hiding out in obscure lyrics and ambiguous press releases.
Either way, I have a right to know.