I was a little late getting into The Smiths. I was eighteen years old and only listened to Meat Is Murder because it was recommended to me by someone I half-fancied. He said it was one of the reasons he’d become a vegetarian. Little did he know, he would end up being the reason that I became a veggie too. I heard a year or so ago that he’s since gone back to eating meat, but that’s beside the point.
What’s clear is that, even decades after their disbandment, the legacy of The Smiths lives on. The hottie in my A1 Russian class was by no means the first person to go vegetarian after hearing the tortured cow sounds of ‘Meat Is Murder’ and he certainly wasn’t the last. Even now, The Smiths remain a hugely influential and relevant band, largely thanks to their bigmouth frontman, a man who through his lyrics about love, hate and alienation, really said something to generations of repressed introverts and secretly sensitive hardmen.
But how things change. Though Morrissey has continued to be a voice for the lost and the lonely, he has also become a mouthpiece for a far more dangerous and malicious section of society. Who would have thought the charming man with the soft, Mancunian drawl and flamboyant quiff, who sang so convincingly of love and longing would go on to become a champion of the far right?
In the past, Morrissey appealed to outsiders, to people who felt their voice did not belong in the public arena, to those who felt unvalued and misunderstood. And in many ways, he still does. How many bigots feel maligned because of their hateful views? But underpinning the Morrissey of old was always – as he sang himself – “A murderous desire for love”. Behind the injured, gasping love songs and rueful ruminations on pigheaded figures of authority, was an undeniable need for companionship and understanding. What shone through his lyrics was an irrepressible desire for affection, even if he was unsure how to give that affection himself.
Now, though, this urge for love has been dimmed, distorted and turned inside out. It has become something ugly and unkind. Morrissey no longer seeks to speak to society’s outcasts through a prism of love, but through one of exclusion and hatred. His support for Brexit, as well as UKIP, belies a man far more invested in division than in unity. In fact, one of his latest tracks which debuted yesterday on 6 Music, features the bizarre chanted refrain of “Brexit, exit, Brexit, exit.” Never mind the meteoric rise in hate crime since the Brexit vote, as far as Morrissey’s concerned, the result was nothing short of ‘excellent’.
So where does this leave Morrissey’s fans, the original outcasts who turned to him to give a voice to their passions and anxieties? For some, perhaps the boorish Brexiteer is representative of their views, their opinions having aged in a similarly unpleasant way. But I suspect that, for the majority, this is not the case. For me, and many people like me, Morrissey’s evolution into racist rambler is a fairly crushing blow. Even his earliest tracks, professing love in its purest form, are now imbued with a disturbing hindsight, making listening to them a difficult and often unenjoyable experience.
Morrissey’s brand of nationalism is by no means unusual, the same opinions held by great swathes of the population. Neither is it anything new. From 1988’s problematic ‘Bengali In Platforms’ to his constant glamorization of skinhead culture, we’ve long known about Morrissey’s nationalist – and often plainly racist – leanings. To fans, the only solace was to separate Morrissey’s music from Morrissey the man, taking comfort in his consistently good releases since The Smiths’ disbandment. But now, such separation feels impossible. Morrissey’s mean, exclusionary politics are woven into his music, his ignorance often right on the surface. He’s no longer the comedy uncle at Christmas dinner, the fool who doesn’t realise everyone is laughing at him, but a blithering, blustering great grandfather, the type of man who moans about immigrants with a mouthful of turkey before belching into his Rudolph jumper. As he once famously said himself: that joke isn’t funny anymore, and unfortunately for him, the fans are starting to realise.