Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before

Tonight I am going to the church of Morrissey at Webster Hall. I cannot deny that this particular venue is a terrible place to see a show, but when it comes to The Moz I would pay $75 to see him in a Bikram Yoga studio—which says a lot as I hate feet and yoga gives me the creeps. Often, my friends and co-workers will wonder aloud why I—a sports addled guy from the Rust Belt—would be so enamored with an asexual guy from Manchester who preens himself with gloom. How can somebody who screams at the television during Browns games harbor such an affinity for a guy who sings “I wear black on the outside/ ‘cuz black is how I feel on the inside”?

Why not address that here?

It all started when I was in high school outside of Akron, Ohio in the early 90’s. I discovered rap in the late 80’s and even though I lived in a white washed city of 40,000 I decided to emulate Flavor Flav, going so far as to wear a clock around my neck and speak in mode of affectation borne on the waves of urban radio. Feel my pain here

This was before hip hop crossed over and was deemed cool by suburban white kids . . .Prior the moment in time (that continues today) when ebonics became the lingua fraca in towns like mine and guys named “Blaine” used words like “fo’ shizzle.” The result was daily verbal, and occasionally physical, evisceration from my classmates. Yet somehow, I found solace in the fact that I was not simply following the pack like a drunken lemming, wearing acid wash jeans and White Snake T-Shirts and looking at my reflection in the windshield of my red Camaro. I was special because I could withstand it and recall all of the lyrics to Big Daddy Kane’s “Raw.”

How does this relate to Morrissey? In about my sophomore year, just as rap was being accepted by the mainstream and kids at my high school were asking me if the could borrow the latest Eric B & Rakim or Jungle Brothers tape, I started to get bored with the whole gangster mentality that overtook the scene. NWA, with their gratuitous violent imagery and disdain for white folk like me, killed rap for me. Of course I know that Chuck D. also was not very fond of ol’ whitey but Public Enemy had an intellectual agenda that sent impressionable kids like me to the library asking for books about Malcolm X, Joanne Chesimard (Assata Shakur, if you like) and Marcus Garvey. NWA just had kids racing to their local black market in search of an AK-47 . . .

This was about the time that I first heard The Smiths “How Soon is Now?”. I was (am) a goofy, pasty red haired kid and was invisible to girls (at least the ones that I dreamt about) and when Morrissey sang about loneliness and despair I was there to empathize with him. It was like black laced manna from heaven as I knew what it was like to go to a dance in the high school gymnasium and watch my friends make out with girls while I stood in the corner. Let’s face it, red headed men are the antithesis of the “dark handsome stranger” that women long for and nowhere is that more certain that in the cruel minds of high school girls.

While I didn’t instantly go out and buy the entire Smiths catalogue (they had broken up by 1987 and my family was less than affluent) I started to chat with the kid in the Depeche Mode t-shirt in study hall and ask him about this Morrissey guy. I heard the witty, side of The Pope of Mope in tracks like “Girlfriend in a Coma,” “Hairdresser on Fire” and “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others.”

And because of songs like “Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before,” where he croons:

“And the pain was enough to make/ a short bald Buddhist reflect/ a plan a mass murder/ who said I lied to her?”

Or, in “This World is Full of Crashing Bores”:

“It's just more lock jawed pop stars/ Thicker than pig shit/ Nothing to convey/ They're so scared to show intelligence /It might smear their lovely career”

I slowly became yet another acolyte, unable to dismiss Morrissey as just a pop star.

Now, as I am much more secure in who I am (not really), I can say that Morrissey’s appeal to me is derived from his dark gravitas as much as his poetry. He represents the amalgamation of Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde, Elvis Presley and David Johansen of the New York Dolls and carries himself as such. As evidenced by his latest album “Years of Refusal” his skill as a song writer has remained strong and I am eagerly anticipating this evening’s show as a chance to see eye to eye with the my musical hero . . .

I just hope that he does not rip his shirt off at any point during the performance.

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