I have a vivid memory of a friend—circa 1986—pouting, “‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now?’ Give me a break! The guy could have any woman or man he wanted.” That Morrissey refused to come out as gay or straight or anything, really, other than vegetarian, cemented his idol-worthiness in my mind far before the major press outlets were calling him a legend.
Morrissey (his given name is Steven Patrick Morrissey, but in the reverse of Madonna-style one-name-dom, uses only his surname) was the lead singer for ‘80s band The Smiths, but has been a solo act for more than two decades since the Smiths disbanded in ‘87. No matter, Morrissey’s solo work embraces the best parts of the Smiths: brooding, arty lyrics, velvety-dark drama, a grungy-tech backdrop that, in recent years, has freed itself of dated synth tones.
Still, a listen to tracks from Morrissey’s recent work yields all the same delicious angst. From 2006’s Ringleader of the Tormentors: “I just want to see the boy happy, with his arms around his first love. Is that too much to ask before I die? I have one final dream. For my own life, I don’t care anything,” so goes “I Just Want to See The Boy Happy.” But, on just-released Years of Refusal, there’s also growth and maturity. The gorgeously theatric “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” declares, “Only stone and steel accept my love,” but the older, wiser Morrissey then decides, “In the absence of your smiling face, I travel all over the place.” Seems like a healthy attitude.
Most artists, to achieve icon status, must die young (Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison), preferably prior to the gray hair and crow’s feet of middle age, definitely before they have time to turn out uninspired and disappointing work. So it’s weird how Morrissey (the same who soothed many an awkward teenage year with poppy-sad ballads like “Meat is Murder” and “Girlfriend in a Coma”) now looks both startling similar to his pompadoured ‘80s personage, and startling like my dad. He’s salt-and-peppered, yet fit and well turned out. And his voice has lost none of its smooth complexity.
But more than iconic, Morrissey is tenacious. His career is not a comeback but a steadfast commitment to a sound and a vision. Ten solo albums have stuck it to the naysayers while not only maintaining a dedicated fan base but also steadily attracting new recruits. After all, who among us hasn’t had one of those, “I am human and need to be loved” days? Who could resist a soundtrack to that perfect anguish?
A&E reporter Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
what: 80s pop icon-turned-solo act
where: The Orange Peel
when: Monday, Mar. 9 (8 p.m., sold out at press time. www.theorangepeel.net)