By Tom Sellar
By Emily Warner
By R.C. Baker
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By R. C. Baker
By Alexis Soloski
By Tom Sellar
Can you expand on the significance of being their age at this time, and seeing your peers resist Thatcher?
It's a little bit like if Reagan had been allowed to run for re-election for the third time. The Smiths' four- year reign of recorded releases was from 1983-1987, and that was exactly the same four years that was the second of the three Thatcher governments. The Smiths broke up shortly after Thatcher had gotten elected for the third time. Britain had been through immense difficulties in the 1970s, and I think something did have to change, but Thatcher came along and very wantingly, very deliberately started closing down shipyards, shutting down the mines, closing down a lot of the public nationalized industries and privatizing them. There was a very strong tilt to the right.
These years coincided with Reagan, and people know that Reagan and Thatcher had a very close relationship. There was a lot of suppression of what very little feminist rights and gay rights existed. There was the incredible miner's strike that lasted an entire year through 1984, which was a period when the Smiths became good. That was a miniature civil war going on in Britain. You cannot overemphasize how dramatic that was. The violence that was taking place on the picket lines every day. The police forces being brought up from London to fight the miners on picket lines in the north of England. There was a sense that the country was going through something very dramatic, and the Smiths were very firmly aligned on the side against Thatcher. So were other bands, but no other bands were quite as big as the Smiths. They really aligned themselves with the working class.
When Morrissey did his first interview with Rolling Stone, that was the interview where he said, "[Thatcher is] only one person and she can be destroyed. I just pray there is a Sirhan Sirhan somewhere. It's the only remedy for this country at the moment." His reference to Bobby Kennedy's assassination was very deliberate. That was the very provocative stuff that Morissey was coming out with, and it made him a bit of a public enemy in Britain. He knew what he was doing. He was a public enemy whereby he was willing to be defined as, "I'm okay with calling for Thatcher's assassination. If you don't like that, don't like me. If you do like that, I'm your spokesman."
Do you think he would've said that without the support of the American press?
Yeah. There was an IRA attack on the conservative party [in 1984] where the IRA blew up a hotel. Five people were killed. Morrissey gave the quote, "The sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Thatcher escaped unscathed." That's a very dramatic thing to say when people are being killed. Now that I'm older, I don't know that I actually support that statement, because a few people lost their lives. But that's how radical Morrissey was in that period. He wasn't going to come down. Somebody said, "You called for Thatcher's assassination and she was almost assassinated," and he was saying, "Good, she should've been."
When did you move to America?
I moved to America right around the time the Smiths broke up, which is entirely coincidental. [Laughs.]
How was the band perceived here during that time versus in England?
One of the points I really try to make with the book is that the Smiths were massive in America, and everything that ever gets written about the Smiths gets written by Brits, which I am one [laughs], but Brits who are living in Britain and writing for British publishers. The viewpoint seems to be very provincial, like, "Oh, weren't the Smiths this wonderful British band. The world begins and ends at the English Channel, and whatever success the Smiths had in America must have been by luck rather than design." I wasn't able ever to see the Smiths perform in America. They broke up by the time I came to live, but I very quickly fell into a crowd down in New Jersey, and it was very clear that the Smiths were highly respected and very much understood here.
Brits don't understand how Americans can understand Morrissey and his lyrics and the Smiths, and my point is that he may reference Whalley Range. He may reference Rushden. He may reference Strangeways in an album title. But I liken that to Bruce Springsteen talking about the New Jersey Turnpike. It's who you are. What you are doing is you're a novelist writing about the particular area. You're a songwriter writing about your particular area. That doesn't mean the audience has to have lived there to understand it. I was a big Bruce Springsteen fan long before I came to America. I understood that he was singing about New Jersey. I had a romantic vision of it. And I think Americans have had a certain vision of Britain. And when Morrissey says, "What do you we get for our trouble and pain? A rented room in Whalley Range." Whalley Range could be a fictional place, but you understand. You don't need to have been to that part of Manchester to understand what he's saying.