Many months ago I promised Simon I would write this. I thought it would come easily, a flood of so much bittersweet catharsis on tap. It would be as simple as penning an open letter to an old hero, a very belated love letter written cold, long after the swoon. I would begin with Dear Morrissey and it would all flow unstoppably from there.
It turned out I couldn’t address Morrissey directly. It felt presumptuous, even borderline sacrilegious. The head-on approach was too overwhelming. It was like staring straight at the sun, or addressing the Queen as you might one of your household pets (and I bring the Queen into this here, of course, in honour of Morrissey’s well-documented ambivalence towards all things monarchic). And besides, what if Morrissey got up one morning to check his Google Alerts over a cup of lapsang souchong only to find some out-of-love upstart from the bottom of the earth daring to address him so familiarly? Well, it wouldn’t do. So there went all the planned immediacy and potency and pathos from my story. The mainline to my tales of adolescent moping and idolatry in darkened rooms would have to be watered down and told in coy second-hand snatches, if they made it to the pitiless light of day at all… So.
I made Morrissey’s acquaintance in 1992 when I borrowed a friend’s Viva Hate CD (I don’t remember the month but I have a sense that the seasons were on the brink of change that day, about to spill over into a bleak and irrepressible winter). I played the CD until it skipped, and as much as I remember every desperate word of every plaintive song, I remember buying my friend a new copy of Viva Hate and holding onto that original threadbare copy well into my 20s (actually until Simon, unable to handle the state of most of my CD collection, threw it out and bought me a new one). Even now, on special sad occasions when I listen to Every Day Is Like Sunday, I half expect the intro to falter. To me that ghost scratch will forever be part of the fabric of the song, maybe even an accidental symbol of the Fragility of Things. (And here’s where you begin to see how I so easily fell prey to the delicious maudlin of the Morrissey Sensibility, how those sweet, sad, foppish, earnest tentacles came to envelop me good and proper at the tender age of 14… I was then, and probably always will be a total sucker for the dark and sad and inward-looking. I can’t help it.) Hide on the promenade, etch a postcard: HOW I DEARLY WISH I WAS NOT HERE.
Oh. But it was all so universally true. And for a very long adolescent time every day was silent and grey. I couldn’t have put it better myself, even if I had tried. The trouble was, I did try. I emulated Morrissey as hard as I could (while also channelling Sylvia Plath at the same time – a most frightening combination). The output was prolific, and the tone was positively feverish, for a period of some long years. The expensive cloth-bound journals multiplied and the poems within them compulsively spun themselves out, wan and attenuated as sick children.
And many years later, when Simon and I came to merge our worldly goods under one roof, we both came laden with our own fair share of baggage in the form of swathes of bad poetry. I think he was as embarrassed for me as I was for him; it created a sort of sympathetic equal footing between us. We’ve since jettisoned or buried most of the evidence, but whenever any stray old poetry surfaces on either side, we deal to it quickly and do not speak of it.
As it transpired, I lived near enough to Morrissey at the time when The Smiths was coming to an end in 1987 (at the dawn of Morrissey’s solo career!) but I didn’t realise this until many years later, back in New Zealand. If only I had known, I thought, when I first made this connection. This thought is particularly stupid for a number of reasons (and yet it persists to this day!) For one, I was 10 years old at the time, and even if I had known, what was I going to do… stuff some daffodils in the back pocket of my jeans and make my way to Manchester? For another, when I was 10 I was wearing Laura Ashley and corduroy (not jeans), dancing around bramble bushes, collecting Sylvanian Family woodland creatures and scaring myself rigid with ghost stories in a very red-bricked and cloistered world on the leafy outskirts of Oxfordshire. So I may have only been a few hours’ drive from my not-yet-hero but for all it counted I might as well have been on the moon. And when I first came to scrutinise videos of the Smiths years later (Morrissey et al mincing around oppressive city streets on bikes, etc), I recognised nothing of my clean, manicured England in them whatsoever.
Morrissey accompanied me through boarding school, the truest and closest of companions (the only one who could ever, possibly, know how I felt because – how can anybody possibly know how I feel? as Morrissey himself would later point out), and out the other side into the fuggy all-nighters of my university years, although by that stage our relationship had cooled to a sort of ironic-but-still-quite-fond acquaintance. And then, somewhere in the middle depths of my 20s, we parted company. The very idea of listening to Morrissey depressed me in the same way that the idea of eating Cameo Cremes depresses me (i.e. profoundly). The cracks showed. Suddenly I saw a deliberately evasive, highly stage-managed middle-aged man who levelled mean-spirited barbs and petty criticisms at the world around him and regularly went on the record saying things that were just downright whack.
But, in the scheme of things, our separation was short-lived, and in my late 20s we entered a whole new phase together, perhaps the most pleasant and rewarding phase yet. We don’t spend much time together these days, but when we do it is quality time, every minute of it. It is a beautiful union, founded mostly on high doses of nostalgia, brimming with its shadowy reminisces and its pockets of distantly-remembered sadness and angst. Morrissey is now my perfect slipper-wearing/rainy-day/wine-wielding indulgence. We go back a long way. Where once there was angst there are now fluffy slippers.
Today I received my first piece of birthday correspondence in the mail: a birthday card from Weight Watchers. Ostensibly it’s telling me to have a happy birthday, but really it’s saying: You’re still fat, only now you’re even older… and by the way, here’s a special re-joining discount, just for your birthday. It made me smile. And then, telepathically, in the course of this evening’s Morrissey marathon, Morrissey sings you’re the one for me, fatty (you’re the one I really, really love), and I could be sixteen years old all over again and being sung to like I’m the only chubby teen-aged girl in the world. And that, on its own, all three minutes and five seconds of dulcet serenade, is worth more than a lifetime of Weight Watchers well-wishes. So it seems our love affair lives on.