A young Morrissey’s pen pal letters reveal a man in search of companionship
Morrissey has been monetising his sadness for close to forty years as he turned this state of endless sorrow into something melancholic and beautiful. His ability to make the gloom into something gorgeous came from before he formed The Smiths with Johnny Marr. Before he sang, Moz was a prolific writer and this wasn’t just the casual reviews that he would write for the NME or Melody Maker but through a whole series of pen pal letters. In these words, we may get a glimpse of Morrissey’s genuine happiness.
A 21-year-old Morrissey was more than happy to speak at length about his misery and went on the hunt to find himself a pen pal, which ended up with him discovering a similar soul from Scotland who was equally as miserable as him. They were both eager to exchange the woes that day to day life threw in their direction and found solace in one another. Or was his ‘friend’ just another audience member in waiting for Moz?
At the time, Morrissey’s career as a musician was a little way away and instead he was trying to become a professional writer after running through a series of civil servant jobs. First, as a clerk for the civil service and then the Inland Revenue as a salesperson in a record store, Morrissey even had a spell working as a hospital porter. All before abandoning employment and claiming unemployment benefits before he would begin to have his work published.
It was around this period that Morrissey would frequently write letters to the music press littered with reviews and scathing remarks, hoping to catch the eye of an editor and see himself thrust into the limelight. He would eventually find himself hired by the weekly music review publication Record Mirror. As well as writing articles, Morrissey also wrote several short books for local publishing company Babylon Books and in 1981 they released a 24-page booklet he had written on the punk pioneers New York Dolls, which sold 3000 copies. This was followed by James Dean is Not Dead, about the late American film star James Dean.
James Dean was a figure of immense intrigue for Morrissey who had grown a real fascination about the late film icon. Dean represented an untainted image of Hollywood glory for Moz and he collected icons like him throughout his career. This was a facet of his personality that he was seemingly happy to share. Writing to his pen pal, Robert Mackie, in response to a personal ad he saw in Sounds Magazine, Morrissey wrote his first reply on the back of a Jimmy Dean photo.
The sentiment of the letter obviously struck a chord with Morrissey from his Scottish counterpart as the two of them would stay in contact for the next 18 months, writing letter after letter to one another as they formed a close bond and really got to know one another.
In these transcripts which can be read below from that 18 month period, in which it is clear that although the two hadn’t met Morrissey had fallen head over heels for Mackie as he sought some form of companionship whether this is a friendship or platonic, to put an end to the miserable first 21-years of his life. He’s cracking out of character jokes to his new-found-friend, “Don’t worry about being Scottish. Somebody has to be,” which shows the lighter side to his personality behind the mystique.
The first transcript sees Morrissey desperate for Mackie to come and visit him as he hints at the kind of extracurricular activities they could occupy themselves with. However, the second transcript is classic Morrissey and he is no longer the beaming soul who penned the first letter, see them for yourself below.
HEY BABY, I’M A LAHHV ZOMBIE, MMMM!
Dear Robert Horace Mackie,
So nice to receive a skinned mouse through the post. You have such a refined nature, Robert…. And what’s with the ‘disabled’ postage stamp? Are you trying to tell me something? I’m very sensitive y’know…
Such a treasured joy to hear your cool, clear dulcet tones once more. And spending all that money too! Such flattery. I suppose you had to go a full week without Jelly Babies after phoning me? But still, what’s money? (I always use this sacred phase in relation to OTHER PEOPLE’S money.)
Don’t worry about being Scottish. Somebody has to be.
I really didn’t understand too much of what you said the other day. However, I do remember something about a leather raincoat. Perhaps we should try code? If you agree, tap once for yes, twice for no.
Incidentally, why are you reading this? Have you nothing better to do? Have you dressed your bed today? Why do we write to each other? Who are you anyway?
Please send another portrait. I require them on a monthly basis, to spot any alteration. Here’s a piccy of me trying to look as though I’m auditioning for a part in a 50’s B-movie. Why do I bother? Do you really live in a rabbit hutch? You must find it very embarrasing when friend drop by?
As I pen this epistle I am listening to the lovable Monochrome Set’s “B-I-D Spells Bid”. Did I tell you that I’m presently having a sexual relationship with the Monochrome Set? Yummy! 22 Bowie albums! How embarrasing. I’ve only got 8. Does this shock you?
I’ve got loads of books, more books than waxings. I’m dead intellectual like. Do you like books? I’ll have those written in brail ready for you.
Well monsieur, I shall dash over, on my little Oliver Hardy legs, to meets you, and welcome you to Ohio. I’ll have these details tattoed across my chest, but I really do need to know what time your plane lands. Can’t you phone the bus company and ask them? And make sure you know where you’re coming in (probably Chorlton St.) Get this info otherwise we’ll be all at sixes and sevens (local dialect).
Bed and breakfast? Tommy-rot! (more local dialect), you’re more than welcome to stay here, but we run a respectable house mind, no hanky-panky.
You ask what we’ll be doing, well, after we’ve tied you to the rack, the bizarre Texan sex ritual begins. You’d never believe what my sister can do with cotton wool and a tennis racket! Have you got a strong stomach??
Ah-ha! That record sleeve! Those drawings! Ah-ha! Probably Ludus, whom I pinched the idea off. At least I’m honest. You’ll hear lots of Ludus when you come here. My record player is a museum piece, so don’t expect any dazzling technology.
You’ll have to describe yourself, because, as I may have mentioned, I’m blind as a bat. If you see someone being helped across the street by an old lady, that’ll be me. I’ll be wearing an overcoat (groovy!) if it’s cold, and if it’s not cold, I won’t be! So, if you see someone who isn’t wearing an overcoat, that’s me!
What do YOU want to do when you get here anyway?
As for trendiness, does it really matter? “Conversation is the bond of companionship” to quote some 19th century fag. I don’t expect anything of you, and if you don’t expect anything from me then we won’t be disappointed. It might turn out to be quite funny. However, I hope you’ve shaven your moustache off (I’m serious, they’re so un-hip, baby.) I can’t have the neighbours talking. Oh yes, I’m sure you’ll interest me very much, in fact I’m polishing my microscope right now.
Jesus thinks you’re O.K, Steven
I’m glad you wrote (eventually.) I thought I had scared you off, but obviously you’re a glutton for punishment. I was astounded by the sketch — and everyone I’ve shown it to agrees that there’s a great resemblance. Why have you kept your talents hidden? I had no idea I was writing to a genius. I’m sorry your visit here ended miserably, but that was your own fault. I will say that I did enjoy meeting you, but I often felt that you seemed to wish you weren’t here. And often you seemed very uncomfortable. But I never promised you that you’d have a good time, did I? Accept me for what I am — Completely unnacceptable.
Yes, poor Ludus are having a hard time of it, desptie making heavenly music. The world is cruel. I’m waiting for Nico’s album too — AND she’s doing lots of live dates. Such joy. Encouraging to see you’re collecting the Monochrome Set 45’s. You are improving, aren’t you! Just in case you’re befuddled, here’s a discography:
1979 45 – ALPHAVILLE/He’s Frank 45 – EINE SYMPHONIES/Lester Leaps In 45 – MONOCHROME SET/Mr. Bizarro
Would you buy the albums? If you’re not too sure, I’ll gladly tape them for you. I’m especially ecstatic about “Lester Leaps In”. I had a letter from Bid the other week. His writing is really strange, medieval almost.
No, I haven’t been listening to Hazel ‘O Conner, so please don’t insult me with such an insane question — and if YOU’VE been listening to that [vile gorgen?] then you should be well punished for your morbidity.
I always suspected you were a Duran Duran fan. You ARE asking for trouble, aren’t you. I’m sorry to hear that you’re losing all your friends. I recommend “Right Guard”…..
Life with me is as ludicrous as ever. I’m busy doing nothing. What can I tell you? Life goes on. Have you seen “The Funhouse”? A lovely film, but less lovely is “Chariots of Fire” which bored me to death. I’m listening to The Fall and Sandie Shaw. Have you got any Sandie Shaw records?
Presently in mourning over the death of Magazine. So tragic. My life will change. Have you heard their “About the Weather”? Go out and buy it at once.
Did you read your Shakespeare? I expect not. I always hated him. You should have let ME choose your books dolt.
Went to London for 4 days last week, lots of fun. Do YOU ever have FUN? Please answer. You should stop all this dancing — it’s not good for you, you know. Oh well, I’ve written enough haven’t I?