What happens when you mix big hair, big words, plenty of eyeshadow, press publicity, flowers, beads, with a healthy balance of some death threats? What you get are two of the ambassadors of dark, introspective pop from the 80s, who perhaps should have existed in separate parallel universes.
Morrissey, the quiffed Oscar Wilde of the 80s, and ex-singer of The Smiths, has a propensity to really stir the pot at times. His most recent achievement in further self-fulfilling his prophecy of constant alienation, were his disparaging and alleged racist comments he made in an interview with his nephew Sam Esty Rayner for morrisseycentral.com. “Everyone ultimately prefers their own race … does this make everyone racist? The people who reduce every conversation down to a matter of race could be said to be the most traditionally ‘racist’ because everything in life is NOT exclusively a question of race, so why make it so? Diversity can’t possibly be a strength if everyone has ideas that will never correspond.”
Or, consider this severe comment Morrissey made in an interview with the German paper, Der Spiegel, according to Fiona Sturges of The Independent: “There was an interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel in which, discussing allegations of sexual abuse related to Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein, Morrissey said there were times “when the person who is called the victim is merely disappointed”.
One of the sexiest — in an existential dread kind of way — feuds in the music press, was when Morrissey made an insane comment about shooting The Cure’s leading man, Robert Smith. While the father of goth, Smith, was not necessarily looking for a duel with Morrissey, he himself is not quite the angel some people like to paint him as. To give you an example, in an interview he did with Bill Wyman in 1992 (not the same as the ex-bass player for The Stones) for Creem, Smith ripped into Simple Minds, “Think about Simple Minds. That they’ve been taken seriously for the past seven years is quite incredible to me. Jim Kerr is just a plump Scottish git. And he does these awful things, like marry Chrissie Hynde. He marries these hideous women and still people like him!”
While Smith, despite his effeminate public profile, his dermis layer contains an infallible edge. The singer also provides some valuable insight when interviewed the following year by Simon Reynolds for Pulse, “Most confrontational gestures are so shallow that they’re laughable. The KLF carrying machine guns at the British record industry awards — you have to look at the front page of any newspaper to put that kind of gesture in proper perspective. There should be confrontation in pop, but I think the people doing it often believe they are achieving a lot more than they actually are. The premeditated, Malcolm McLaren idea of confrontation is lamentable.”
Despite this, the exchange of harsh words between the two singers began in 1984, when Morrissey was asked by Elissa Van Poznack forThe Face, “If I put you in a room with Robert Smith, Mark E. Smith and a loaded Smith and Wesson, who would bite the bullet first?”
Morrissey, not missing his chance to get that sordid attention he craves, replied: “I’d line them up so that one bullet penetrated both simultaneously … Robert Smith is a whingebag. It’s rather curious that he began wearing beads at the emergence of the Smiths and has been photographed with flowers. I expect he’s quite supportive of what we do, but I’ve never liked the Cure…not even ‘The Caterpillar.'”
The feud would fully mature, so to speak, throughout the 80s, with the two morose singers exchanging insults, tit for tat. Among the better ones fired off by Robert Smith, would have to be from his 1997 interview with The Rolling Stone, “I’d much rather have our fans than his — our fans are generally quiet, well-spoken and friendly and not pretentious in the slightest. Hopefully, that reflects the nature of the Cure. Despite what the mainstream media would have you believe, we’re a very natural group. The people who have been in the group over the years have been there because they have been friendly with each other.
“There has been no sense of purpose other than making music together. I think if Morrissey’s fans reflect what Morrissey is like as an individual or the way he projects himself as an individual then … uh … I’ll stop there.”
It’s been suggested that Morrissey has since made amends to Robert Smith. The irony, and perhaps another interesting insight into Moz’s highly dramatised style of communication, is that the two have never truly met in person. To put Morrissey’s initial remark — that he would be ok with shooting Robert Smith — into new context, consider this pithy remark that Robert Smith once made about The Smiths’ singer, “I have never liked Morrissey and I still don’t.
“I think it’s hilarious actually, what things I’ve heard about him, what he’s really like, and his public persona is so different. He’s such an actor. There’s one particular photo of Morrissey in his swimming trunks sitting by the pool in Los Angeles. I bet that one hasn’t been approved!” While we search for the photo in question, it’s a fine reminder that while we love some of the more tirbal moments of 20th century rock music, perhaps we’re better off in 2020 without it.