Steven Patrick Morrissey, born 22 May 1959, known as Morrissey, is an English singer and lyricist. He rose to prominence in the 1980s as the lyricist and vocalist of the alternative rock band The Smiths. The band was highly successful in the United Kingdom but broke up in 1987, and Morrissey began a solo career, making the top ten of the UK Singles Chart on ten occasions. Widely regarded as an important innovator in indie music, Morrissey has been described by music magazine NME as "one of the most influential artists ever," and The Independent has stated "most pop stars have to be dead before they reach the iconic status he has reached in his lifetime. Pitchfork Media has called him "one of the most singular figures in Western popular culture from the last twenty years.
Morrissey's lyrics have been described as "dramatic, bleak, funny vignettes about doomed relationships, lonely nightclubs, the burden of the past and the prison of the home. He is also noted for his unique baritone vocal style (though he is known to sometimes use falsetto for emphasis), his quiff haircut and his dynamic live performances. His forthright, often contrarian opinions, especially on the subject of race, have led to a number of media controversies, and he has also attracted media attention for his advocacy of vegetarianism and animal rights.
Biography,Early life: 1959–76
Morrissey was born on 22 May 1959 at Park Hospital in Davyhulme, Urmston, Lancashire to Irish Catholic immigrants who had emigrated to England with his only sibling, elder sister Jackie, a year prior to his birth. His father, Peter Morrissey, was a hospital porter and his mother, Elizabeth Dwyer, was an assistant librarian. Morrissey was predominantly raised within inner-city Manchester; his family first lived at Harper Street in Hulme before moving to Queen's Square, near Moss Side, in 1965. In 1969, when many of the old streets and tenements were facing demolition, Morrissey's parents moved to a three-bedroomed house on King's Road in the suburb of Stretford.
As a child, Morrissey developed a number of interests and role models that distinguished him from his peers, including female singers and pop stars like Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Marianne Faithfull and Billy Fury. He was also interested in the "kitchen sink"-style social realism of late 1950s and early 1960s television plays, Coronation Street's Elsie Tanner, actor James Dean, along with authors Oscar Wilde and Shelagh Delaney. The Moors Murders—which involved a young working-class couple, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, who had abducted, raped and killed three children and two teenagers from the Manchester area between July 1963 and October 1965—devastated and scandalised the city when the matter came to trial in April–May 1966, and this collective trauma is said to have made a profound and lasting impression on Morrissey growing up.
Early bands and published books: 1977–81
Throughout the 1970s, a teenage Morrissey acted as president of the UK branch of the New York Dolls fan club. He articulated his love for the group in the documentary New York Doll: "Some bands grab you and they never let you go and, no matter what they do, they can never let you down... the Dolls were that for me. This New York Dolls influence made Morrissey an early convert to punk rock. Morrissey, then still with forename, briefly fronted The Nosebleeds in 1978, who by that time included Billy Duffy on guitar (Duffy went on to form the post-punk band The Cult). They played a number of concerts, including one supporting Magazine, which resulted in an NME review by Paul Morley. Morrissey also founded The Cramps fan club, the Legion of the Cramped, with another enthusiast for their music, Lindsay Hutton, but he progressively scaled down his involvement in the club over time because of the increasing amount of time he was devoting to his own musical career.
Morrissey wrote several songs with Duffy, such as "Peppermint Heaven," "I Get Nervous" and "(I Think) I'm Ready for the Electric Chair," but none were recorded during the band's short lifespan, which ended the same year.
In early 1982, Morrissey met the guitarist Johnny Marr and the two began a songwriting partnership: "We got on absolutely famously. We were very similar in drive. After recording several demo tapes with future Fall drummer Simon Wolstencroft, in autumn 1982 they recruited drummer Mike Joyce. They also added bass player Dale Hibbert, who provided the group with demo recording facilities at the studio where he worked as a factotum. However, after two gigs Marr's friend Andy Rourke replaced Hibbert on bass because neither Hibbert's bass playing nor his personality "meshed" with the rest of the group. Signing to independent record label Rough Trade Records, they released their first single, "Hand in Glove", in May 1983. It was championed by DJ John Peel, as were all their later singles, but it failed to chart. The follow-up singles "This Charming Man" and "What Difference Does It Make?" fared better when they reached numbers 25 and 12 respectively on the UK Singles Chart. Aided by praise from the music press and a series of studio sessions for Peel and David Jensen at BBC Radio 1, The Smiths began to acquire a dedicated fan base. In February 1984, they released their debut album The Smiths, which reached number two on the UK Albums Chart.
In 1984, the band released two non-album singles: "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" (their first UK top-ten hit) and "William, It Was Really Nothing". The year ended with the compilation album Hatful of Hollow. This collected singles, B-sides and the versions of songs that had been recorded throughout the previous year for the Peel and Jensen shows. Early in 1985 the band released their second album, Meat is Murder, which was their only studio album to top the UK charts. The single-only release "Shakespeare's Sister" reached number 26 on the UK Singles Chart, though the only single taken from the album, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore", was less successful, barely making the top 50.
In March 1988, a mere six months after the Smiths' final album, Morrissey released his first solo album, Viva Hate. To create the album, Morrissey teamed up with former Smiths producer Stephen Street, Vini Reilly of Durutti Column (and formerly of the Nosebleeds), and drummer Andrew Paresi. Viva Hate reached number one upon release supported by the singles "Suedehead" and "Everyday Is Like Sunday". Viva Hate was certified Gold by the RIAA on 16 November 1993.
Morrissey initially planned to release a follow-up album entitled Bona Drag after releasing a few holdover singles from the Viva Hate sessions. As such, he released "The Last of the Famous International Playboys," "Interesting Drug," and "Ouija Board, Ouija Board" over the course of 1989. The first two of these became top ten hits. However, by the end of 1989 it became apparent that he would not be able to put out an album of new material soon enough. Morrissey decided to scrap the idea of a full-length LP and release Bona Drag as a compilation of singles and B-sides instead. The album collected these early singles along with further non-album cuts such as "November Spawned a Monster," "Piccadilly Palare," "Disappointed" and the B-side "Hairdresser on Fire."
After a falling out with Stephen Street, Morrissey recruited the production aid of Clive Langer and songwriting services of Mark E. Nevin, of Fairground Attraction, for the studio follow-up to Viva Hate, entitled Kill Uncle. The album peaked at number eight on the UK charts. However, both of its singles failed to chart in the Top 20. The nature of the album was different to past Morrissey releases. Musically, the inclusion of two tracks which surpass the ten minute mark, the near two and half minute drum solo courtesy of Spencer Cobrin which opens the track "The Operation" and the sampling of a Shostakovich symphony have led some to dub the album as 'Morrissey's flirtation with prog-rock.' Some critics were impressed by this apparent attempt at progression, while others dismissed the longer tracks as mere self-indulgence. With the exception of the single "Sunny" in that December it would be another year before Morrissey released a new album or single.
In 1996, Joyce took Morrissey and Marr to court, claiming that he had not received his fair share of recording and performance royalties. Morrissey and Marr had claimed 40% each of the Smiths' recording and performance royalties and allowed ten percent each to Joyce and Rourke. Composition royalties were not an issue, as Rourke and Joyce had never been credited as composers for the band. Morrissey and Marr claimed that the other two members of the band had always agreed to that split of the royalties as they had consented to an account of the royalties sent to Joyce during the band's existence, but initially the High Court and then the Court of Appeal found in favour of Joyce and ordered that he be paid over £1 million in back pay and receive twenty-five percent henceforth. As Smiths' royalties had been frozen for two years, Rourke settled for a smaller lump sum to pay off his debts and continued to receive ten percent. While the judge in the case described Morrissey as "devious, truculent and unreliable," he did not state that the singer had been dishonest.
Despite the absence of any record deal, Morrissey undertook a world tour throughout 2002, with dates across the US, Europe, Australia, and Japan. Setlists consisted of material from his Smiths and solo years, and new songs that would later be recorded for his seventh studio album. It was during this time that Channel 4 filmed The Importance of Being Morrissey, a documentary which eventually aired in 2003. In June 2003, it was revealed Sanctuary Records had given Morrissey the one-time reggae label Attack Records to record new material and to sign new artists. You Are the Quarry was released in 2004. The album peaked at number two on the UK album chart and number 11 on the Billboard album chart in the United States. Guitarist Alain Whyte described the work as a mix between Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I, and the album received strong reviews. The first single, "Irish Blood, English Heart," reached number three in its first week of sales in the UK singles chart. This was the highest placing chart position for Morrissey in his entire career at that point. Three other hit singles followed: "First of the Gang to Die," "Let Me Kiss You," and "I Have Forgiven Jesus." With the release of "I Have Forgiven Jesus," Morrissey along with McFly became the only artists to score four top-10 hits in the UK singles chart that year. The album has since sold over a million copies, making the album his most successful one, solo or with the Smiths. To coincide with the release of the album, Morrissey embarked on an accompanying tour spanning several continents from April to November. Morrissey attributes this change in sound to new guitarist Jesse Tobias. The subsequent 2006 international tour included more than two dozen gigs in the UK, including concerts at the London Palladium. Morrissey was scheduled to appear at the 2005 Benicassim festival in Spain but pulled out at the last minute. In January 2007, the BBC confirmed that it was in talks with Morrissey for him to write a song for the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest. If an agreement could be made, Morrissey would be writing the song for someone else, rather than performing it himself, a BBC spokesperson claimed.The following month, the BBC ruled this out, and stated Morrissey would not be part of Britain's Eurovision entry.
In early 2007, Morrissey left Sanctuary Records and embarked on a Greatest Hits tour. The tour ran from 1 February 2007 to 29 July 2008 and spanned 106 concerts over 8 different countries. Morrissey cancelled 11 of these dates, including a planned six consecutive shows at the Roundhouse in London, due to "throat problems." The tour consisted of three legs, the first two encompassing the US and Mexico were supported by Kristeen Young from February to October while the remainder featured Girl in a Coma. The final leg was a small scale European tour that saw Morrissey headlining the O2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park, London on 4 July and culminated in Morrissey playing at the Heatwave Festival in Tel Aviv, Israel on 29 July.
After a show in Houston, Texas, on the first leg of the tour Morrissey rented out the Sunrise Sound Studio to record "That's How People Grow Up." The song was recorded with producer Jerry Finn rather than previous producer Tony Visconti for a future single and inclusion on an upcoming album. In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live with Visconti, the producer stated that his new project would be Morrissey's next album, though that this would not be forthcoming for at least a year. However, in an interview with the BBC News website in October 2007, Morrissey said that the album was already written and ready for a possible September 2008 release and confirmed that his deal with Sanctuary Records had come to an end. In December he signed a new deal with Decca Records, which included a Greatest Hits album and a newly-recorded album to follow in autumn 2008.
On 30 May 2008, it was announced that Morrissey's ninth studio album, Years of Refusal would have 12 tracks and be produced by Jerry Finn. On 5 August 2008 it was reported that, although originally due in September, Years of Refusal had been postponed until February 2009, as a result of Finn's death and the lack of an American label to distribute the album.
On 15 August 2008, Warner Music Entertainment announced the upcoming release of Morrissey: Live at the Hollywood Bowl, a DVD documenting the live performance that took place at the historic Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California, on 8 June 2007 on the first leg of Morrissey's 2007/2008 Greatest Hits tour. Morrissey greeted news of the DVD's release by imploring fans not to buy it. Originally due to be released 6 October 2008, the DVD has subsequently been delayed until 1 March 2009 by Warner Music according to HMV.
2011 and future
In February 2011, EMI announced a brand new compilation – Very Best of Morrissey – would be released in April that year. The press release stated both the tracklist and artwork were chosen by Morrissey himself, and the single "Glamorous Glue" would also be reissued the same week with two previously unreleased songs.
In March 2011, it was announced Morrissey was now under the management of Ron Laffitte and would be headlining the Hop Farm Festival in July that year. Shortly after this announcement, a UK tour was unveiled – mainly consisting of small venues in the North of Britain plus Glastonbury Festival – taking place in June 2011. In July and August he is also touring venues in Europe. Only two exclusive festival dates, namely Hultsfred Festival in Sweden and Lokerse Feesten in Belgium, are announced.
Morrissey has stated that he has completed a 660-page autobiography which he intends to offer to publishers.
On 14 June 2011, Janice Long premiered three new Morrissey songs in session on her BBC Radio 2 program. Those songs are titled: "Action Is My Middle Name", "The Kid's a Looker" and "People Are The Same Everywhere".
On 24 June 2011, Morrissey played on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury. While he was there he criticised the UK Prime Minister David Cameron for attempting to stop the ban on wild animals performing in circuses, calling him a 'silly twit'.
Image and politics,Music industry feuds
Morrissey has criticised singers like Madonna, Elton John and George Michael, generally claiming their lyrics are pointless and they are more interested in being celebrities than in their music. He has also had disagreements with The Cure's Robert Smith, who stated "If Morrissey says not to eat meat, then I'll eat meat; that's how much I hate Morrissey. Lol Tolhurst, another founding member of the Cure, has claimed he likes Morrissey's music; however, he also said Smith is "quite justified in his ire", alleging their feud was instigated by Morrissey:
"We had never met Morrissey or the Smiths at that point and Morrissey made a very uncalled for remark concerning Robert in the English press. I never understood why as we or Robert had done nothing to upset him that I could think of, but after that it kind of snowballed.... Especially as journalists love feuds!!"
Morrissey also once openly wished Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance author Johnny Rogan "ends his days very soon in an M3 pile-up." Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys co-wrote two songs inspired by Morrissey's public stereotyping as miserable and unlovable ("Getting Away with It" and "Miserablism").
Attitude towards political leaders
Morrissey has always been politically outspoken, directing his criticism at figures ranging from Oliver Cromwell, the British Royal Family, former British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair and former U.S. President George W. Bush. He has criticised both the two main political parties of the United Kingdom, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party.
In a 1984 interview, Morrissey spoke of the then-Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher: "She is only one person. She can be destroyed. It is the only remedy for this country at the moment." Morrissey's first solo album, Viva Hate, included a track entitled "Margaret on the Guillotine", a tongue-in-cheek jab at Thatcher. British police responded by searching Morrissey's home and carrying out an official investigation, while Simon Reynolds, who had interviewed Morrissey for Melody Maker, was questioned about the tone in which Morrissey had made certain remarks about Thatcher.
At a Dublin concert in June 2004, Morrissey caused controversy by announcing the death of former US President, Ronald Reagan and stating that he would have preferred it if the then current President, George W. Bush, had died. In October 2004, Morrissey released a statement urging American voters to vote for Democratic Party candidate John Kerry for President, calling this vote a "logical and sane move". Morrissey opined that "Bush has single-handedly turned the United States into the most neurotic and terror-obsessed country on the planet.
Accusations of racism
Morrissey was accused of racism throughout part of the 1980s and much of the 1990s, primarily due to the ambiguous lyrics in songs such as "Bengali in Platforms," "Asian Rut" and "The National Front Disco," the latter containing the lyric "England for the English." These criticisms also stemmed from Johnny Rogan's biography of the singer which claimed that, in his late teens, the singer wrote "I don't hate Pakistanis, but I dislike them immensely." In 2006 Liz Hoggard from The Independent argued that "Morrissey didn't help his case with an uneasy flirtation with gangster imagery: he took up boxing and was accompanied everywhere by a skinhead, named Jake." She claimed that the "man who abhorred violence became strangely fascinated by it. Encyclopædia Britannica argues that Morrissey's 1990s albums, including Your Arsenal (1992), Vauxhall and I (1994), Southpaw Grammar (1995) and Maladjusted (1997) "testified to a growing homoerotic obsession with criminals, skinheads, and boxers, a change paralleled by a shift in the singer's image from wilting wallflower to would-be thug sporting sideburns and gold bracelets.
A trigger for much of the criticism was Morrissey's performance at the first Madness Madstock! reunion concert at Finsbury Park, London, in 1992, in which he appeared on stage draped in the Union Flag, often associated with nationalism and the British far-right. As a backdrop for this performance, he chose a photograph of two female skinheads. The British music magazine NME responded to this performance with a lengthy examination of Morrissey's attitudes to race, claiming that the singer had "left himself in a position where accusations that he's toying with far-right/fascist imagery, and even of racism itself, can no longer just be laughed off with a knowing quip.
In the early days of the Smiths, Morrissey stated that "all reggae is vile," leading to the first reports of his alleged racism. He later explained that this was a tongue-in-cheek answer to "wind up the right-on 1980s NME" and that he grew up partly on the classic singles released by the British reggae label Trojan in the early to mid-1970s. In 2004 he signed the Unite Against Fascism statement, and in 2008 he made a personal donation of £75,000 to the organisers of the Love Music Hate Racism concert in Victoria Park, London, after the withdrawal of the NME's sponsorship left the event facing a financial shortfall.
In 2007, Morrissey sparked controversy by claiming British identity has disappeared because the country has been “flooded” by immigrants in his interview with NME. Morrissey's lawyers are now pressing legal action against NME for defamation, with the magazine declining to print a retraction or apology. Within days of issuing the writ against NME, Morrissey also released a detailed explanation of his side of the story via an online fanzine. The statement included a firmly worded rebuttal against the accusations of racism, a condemnation of racism itself and an exposition on his belief that NME's editor had deliberately staged and scandalised the outcome of the interview in an orchestrated attempt to boost the paper's "dwindling circulation. In 2008, Word Magazine was forced to apologise in court for an article by David Quantick that accused Morrissey of being a racist and a hypocrite.
Animal rights activism
Morrissey has been vegetarian since he was 11 years old. He has explained his vegetarianism by saying "If you love animals, obviously it doesn't make sense to hurt them.Morrissey is an advocate for animal rights and a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In recognition of his support, PETA honoured him with the Linda McCartney Memorial Award at their 25th Anniversary Gala on 10 September 2005.
In January 2006, Morrissey attracted criticism when he stated that he accepts the motives behind the militant tactics of the Animal Rights Militia, saying "I understand why fur-farmers and so-called laboratory scientists are repaid with violence—it is because they deal in violence themselves and it's the only language they understand.
Morrissey has criticised people who are involved in the promotion of eating meat, specifically Jamie Oliver and Clarissa Dickson Wright – the latter already targeted by some animal rights activists for her stance on fox hunting. In response, Dickson-Wright stated “Morrissey is encouraging people to commit acts of violence and I am constantly aware that something might very well happen to me.” The Conservative MP David Davis criticised these comments, saying that "any incitement to violence is obviously wrong in a civilised society and should be investigated by the police. On 27 March 2006, Morrissey released a statement that he would not include any concert dates in Canada on his world tour that year—and that he supported a boycott of all Canadian goods—in protest against the country's annual seal hunt, which he described as a "barbaric and cruel slaughter".
In 2009 he abandoned a stage at the Coachella Festival in California because of the smell of cooking meat.
At a concert in Warsaw, Poland on Sunday, July 24th 2011, Morrissey caused more controversy when stating "We all live in a murderous world, as the events in Norway have shown, with 97 dead. Though that is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Shit every day. in relevance to the recent attacks of Anders Breivik in Norway on the 22nd of July, which resulted in the killing of 69 people who were attending a Youth Labour Party camp on Utøya Island, and eight people working in and around a government building which was bombed. His statement has been seen by many as crude and insensitive.
Morrissey's sexuality has been a matter of conjecture, and this has been fuelled by many conflicting statements from the singer, none of which has ever explicitly stated his sexual orientation. Encyclopædia Britannica argues that he created a "compellingly conflicted persona (loudly proclaimed celibacy offset by coy hints of closeted homosexuality)" which has "made him a peculiar heartthrob. "Morrissey has always taken great pains to maintain the ‘undecidable' nature of his sexuality." In 1983 he claimed to be "a kind of prophet for the fourth sex," on the grounds that he was "bored with men and ...bored with women." In 1984, he stated that he refused "to recognise the terms hetero-, bi-, and homo-sexual" because "everybody has exactly the same sexual needs. A 1984 Smiths article in Rolling Stone stated that Morrissey "admits he's gay," but Morrissey replied that it was news to him and the article used the term "fourth-gender" in its title.
The speculation was further fuelled by the frequent references to gay subculture and slang in his lyrics. In 2006, Liz Hoggard from The Independent noted, "Only 15 years after homosexuality had been decriminalised, his lyrics flirted with every kind of gay subculture"; for example, she claims that "This Charming Man" "is about age-gap, gay sex. Reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine claims lyrics to the Smiths single "Hand in Glove" contain very thinly "veiled references to homosexuality.
Throughout much of his career, he maintained in interviews that he was asexual and celibate. Johnny Marr stated in a 1984 interview that "Morrissey doesn't participate in sex at the moment and hasn't done so for a while, he's had a lot of girlfriends in the past and quite a few men friends. In 1986, Morrissey claimed that he was "dramatically, supernaturally, non-sexual." In a 1994 interview, he claimed that "sex is actually never in my life," and as such, he argued that "I have no sexuality." In 1995, he claimed "I'd like to have a sex life, if possible. In a 1997 interview, he revealed he had been in a relationship with someone for two years but that it had ended and the person in question had just stopped loving him. He did not reveal the sex of his partner or whether it was a sexual relationship. However, he did admit to caring deeply and he stated he had hoped he or she had shared similar feelings. In a 2006 NME interview, he stated he was no longer celibate, but he did not give any additional details. A 2006 article in UK paper The Independent stated the singer "...has even hinted at a late-blooming sex life.John Murphy of musicOMH has even speculated that the lyrics "Nothing entered me, 'til you came with the key" to Morrissey's 2006 song "You Have Killed Me" give reference to a sexual encounter he had.
Legacy and influence
Morrissey is routinely referred to as an influential artist, both in his solo career and with the Smiths. The BBC has referred to him as "one of the most influential figures in the history of British pop, and the NME named the Smiths the "most influential artist ever" in a 2002 poll, even topping the Beatles.Rolling Stone, naming him one of the greatest singers of all time in a recent poll, noted that his "rejection of convention" in his vocal style and lyrics is the reason "why he redefined the sound of British rock for the past quarter-century. Morrissey's enduring influence has been ascribed to his wit, the "infinite capacity for interpretation" in his lyrics, and his appeal to the "constant navel gazing, reflection, solipsism" of generations of "disenfranchised youth," offering unusually intimate "companionship" to broad demographics. Journalist Mark Simpson calls Morrissey "one of the greatest pop lyricists – and probably the greatest-ever lyricist of desire – that has ever moaned" and observes that "he is fully present in his songs as few other artists are, in a way that fans of most other performers...wouldn't tolerate for a moment. Simpson also argues that "After Morrissey there could be no more pop stars. His was an impossible act to follow his unrivalled knowledge of the pop canon, his unequaled imagination of what it might mean to be a pop star, and his breathtakingly perverse ambition to turn it into great art, could only exhaust the form forever. In 2006, he was voted the second greatest living British icon in a poll held by the BBC's Culture Show.The All Music Guide to Rock asserts that Morrissey's "lyrical preoccupations," particularly themes dealing with English identity, proved extremely influential on subsequent artists.Journalist Phillip Collins also described him as a major influence on modern music and "the best British lyricist in living memory."
Cultural historian Julian Stringer notes that the Smiths and Morrissey were a product of and a reaction against Thatcherism, and that their rise to fame "can be seen as the only sustained response that white, English pop/rock music was able to make against the Conservative Government's appropriation of white, English national identity; and that being the case, it is not really surprising that the response is utterly riddled with contradiction". Other scholars have responded favourably to Morrissey's work, including academic symposia at various universities including University of Limerick and Manchester Metropolitan University.