If you ever longed for the moment in time when Morrissey wasn’t just the gladioli swinging indie heartthrob of the eighties but hadn’t quite reached the bubbling fermentation point of his current character, then we’ve got just the thing for you. We’re bringing you a taste of the old Morrissey, the one who was outlandish and outspoken without being too divisive or socially inept as he shares the songs that he simply couldn’t live without.
It’s a piece of radio work that offers up that rarest of things — Morrissey in a good mood. The former Smiths singer at this point in his career was enjoying his imperial phase. Famed for his career chock full of witty lyrics and droll melancholy, Morrissey had become the unofficial royalty of the indie circuit. It wouldn’t take took long before the imperialist within him came out to say hello in more menacing ways but for 30 minutes or so, Moz is listenable once more.
Of course, we’re taking a look back to the 2009 episode of Desert Island Discs which welcomed the Mozfather to the studio to complete the legendary show’s simple premise. You’re stranded on a desert island with no chance of escape. You get to take a luxury item, a book and eight discs that you couldn’t live without. It’s a show that has welcomed world leaders and rock stars alike and seen them all give themselves over to the proposition.
On the show, the presenters ask their castaway to share not only their most treasured music but also the life which those discs soundtracked. It meant Morrissey opened up a little about his childhood, his relationship with The Smiths’ Johnny Marr and the music industry as a whole. Buckle up, everyone. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.
If there’s one thing that Morrissey has always been it’s comfortable in himself. Despite protestations, Morrissey has been a self-promotional, self-assured and loudly confident ever since exploding on to our screens in 1983, and it’s a feeling that keeps on permeating his work: “If you reach 50 and are not at one with yourself then you’re in serious trouble,” he told the BBC Radio 4 programme.
While at the time of his fifth decade on the planet the singer saw nothing wrong in picking music from a very set parameter in time. He focused solely on the seventies and outside of a couple of choices, Morrissey takes his picks from the experimental rock and early punk that swelled in the underbelly of New York in the seventies.
As many will know Morrissey was an avid fan of the New York Dolls and was even the UK fan club’s president. He says in the interview with Kirsty Young that the group, and others like them, were a defining moment in his life. He calls it “the great separating moment” from his family after his father thought he was a “lunatic” for liking the band.
Another selection Morrissey picks up is another NYC export, the brilliant Velvet Underground and their song ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’. In the lead-up to playing the song, Morrissey is wildly affectionate for the “poetry” of Lou Reed and even describes him as the “WH Auden of the modern world”. High praise indeed. Alongside his selections of Ramones, Iggy and The Stooges, Nico is Klaus Nomi, the alternative expressionist who shot to fame with David Bowie, to complete the New York art scene set.
As one might imagine, the selection is largely a downbeat affair with Morrissey choosing the morose over almost anything. But there is one bright spark as he picks up Marianne Faithfull’s 1965 hit ‘Come and Stay with Me’. It’s a song, the singer reveals, that he once performed as a six-year-old something he said was “quite perverted of me if you listen to the lyrics.” Alongside Mott the Hoople, these are the only selections from British rock and roll.
While the interview does offer a few candid moments it is also guided by Morrissey’s professional persona. He relishes telling Young that “nothing comforts me” while juxtaposing that, in fact, he finds comfort in being non-conforming, “I was considered to be unbalanced, which helped me greatly because it confirmed everything I knew. I didn’t want to grow up to be anything I knew.”
Morrissey also shared his feelings about music in a wider spectrum. He muses that he became “completely entranced by the recorded song” in a record shop in Manchester. “I was fascinated by the emotion that came from singing and still am,” he said. That feeling wouldn’t last as soon enough he began to see holes in the music industry. “There was not anyone like me in pop music, so there was no blueprint,” Morrissey said. “The music industry has never grabbed me in the way the sea grabs a sailor.”
Young then pressed the star on a few issues. First up was his obsessive fans to which he replied, “They feel I have been slighted and disregarded and I think they are quite right.” Young also briefly pressed on about The Smiths and the friendships they shared. While Morrissey says he “got on famously” with Johnny Marr he didn’t mention their subsequent fall out. Morrissey talked only briefly about his time with the Smiths. He said he “got on famously” with the guitarist Johnny Marr — “we shared the same drive and ambition”. He did not discuss their falling out. He also talked about taking his own life and even described self-destruction as “honourable”.
Morrissey also spends a lot of the interview discussing his aversion to having a conventional life with a partner. “I don’t want to be any kind of a happy couple with a photograph on the television set. I find it embarrassing. You have to get involved with other people’s relatives and great aunt Bessies and all of that ‑ and I’d rather not. I’m 50 years old now and a pattern emerges and I accept that and I don’t mind at all.” It’s an interesting and often unmentioned aspect of Morrissey and it’s revealing to see him be so candid about it in this situation.
As part of the end of the programme, our host then asks Morrissey to pick a favourite song “to save from the seas”. It’s a proposition that doesn’t excite Moz, “Good grief, there has to be a question I don’t answer,” muses Moz. But Young is a dab hand when it comes to these matters and makes a joking reference to the door being padlocked. “I’m used to that,” he replies, “I will say track number one.” Of course, that song was New York Dolls’ ‘(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown’.
He chose the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde as his book—well, of course, he did. For his luxury item, he dabbled with the idea of choosing sleeping pills before succinctly opting for a bed. “I would have to take the bed because going to bed is the highlight of everybody’s day… we love to go to sleep. It’s the brother of death.”
Below are the eight songs that Morrissey couldn’t live without. You can listen to the full interview below and find out more information here.
Morrissey’s eight favourite songs:
- New York Dolls – ‘(There’s Gonna Be Be A) Showdown’
- Marianne Faithful – ‘Come and Stay with Me
- Ramones – ‘Loudmouth’
- The Velvet Underground – ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’
- Klaus Nomi – ‘Der Nussbaum’
- Nico – ‘I’m Not Saying’
- Iggy and the Stooges – ‘Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell’
- Mott the Hoople – ‘Sea Diver’