Nope, this has nothing to do with New York. But it’s Morrissey in Alabama. And since SOTC crack correspondent Rob Trucks was already on the scene, we had to have him report back.
Morrissey Visits The Dentist For The First Time Since Viva Hate And Plays A Show. In Birmingham, Alabama. Or, The Queen Is Southern. For A Night.
By Rob Trucks
Steven Patrick Morrissey, man of rumor, mystery and romantic drama, gets it. And so does his audience.
This calculative painter of a self-portrait hazily defined, darling of the disenfranchised (uniter, it seems, of Latinos, gays as well as some peculiar emo-goth hybrid), gets who and what he is to the legions who follow him. And yet, despite appearances, pontificating pronouncements repeatedly rendered on record (“America, you know where you can shove your hamburger”), he’s not afraid to play with it. Or them.
Still it’s surprising—disconcerting even—to think of this dark figure, a melodramatic blend of Johnny Cash and Liberace (call him The Man in Black with a Wink), taking the stage in, of all places, Birmingham, Alabama.
Or is it?
Sure, the South has served as a seriously solid collection of
blue red [Editor’s note: We just left it in there to see if anybody would catch; getting really fuckin’ tired of all these posts with no comments.] states in each of the past two national elections. For its part, Alabama answers to “The Heart of Dixie” (just check out the license plate). And the entire region—that oft-forgotten, oft-taken-for-granted corner of America—has proudly borne the burden of intransigency ever since the Civil War ended.
So yes, it is surprising to see the one, the only Morrissey take the stage at the Alabama Theater, eighty-year-old “Showplace of the South,” seemingly more suited to showings of Gone With The Wind (yet another is scheduled for August). But maybe the South isn’t so damn different after all.
Between warmup act (Kristeen Young) and headliner, a precursor reel offers long ago black and white backstage film of Moz hero David Johansen firing up “a marijuana cigarette.” Then a screen falls, revealing a Warhol-esque backdrop of double James Dean headshots while a disembodied female voice lists deadpan evils including “rape” and “Jesse Helms.”
The theater crowd, some two thousand strong, eats it up. Like ice cream in July.
They stand at his entrance, cheer when he reaches the second line of his first song (“Panic in the streets of London/Panic in the streets of Birmingham”—sure, it’s a cheap pop, as they say in the WWE, but it works) and don’t stop until he stops, an hour and a half later.
Without any doubt, Morrissey knows who and where he is.
He makes reference to his last appearance in town, as a member of The Smiths, some time back in “those horrible ‘80s,” and renders the highlight of his previous day off, a trip to the Birmingham dentist office of one Betty Lee where he gained “two fillings” and “didn’t cry.”
This depressive, depressing (“come Armageddon! come!”) man whose lyrical output (“come, come, come – nuclear bomb”), by contrast, makes a trip to the dentist something to look forward to, is, well, charming.
He plays the favorites: not only “Panic” but “How Soon Is Now,” “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” “Boy With The Thorn In His Side” and “The Last of the Famous International Playboys.”
“Here’s our version of ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’” he says, before launching into “Girlfriend in a Coma.”
In front of his 4/5ths young backing band (guitarist Boz Boorer has been around nearly as many blocks as the Moz), all fresh-scrubbed and wearing matching white “Bud Ekins Triumph of Hollywood” T-shirts, the man takes on the role of a slightly debauched, wickedly funny uncle. He sucks in his gut (making his already barrelled-chest appear a stave or two thicker) and shows a little hipbone above tenuous tuxedo pants as he flings the first of three sweat-drenched shirts (black, then light blue, then navy) into the audience.
He leans in, this malleable martyr, touching and being touched, reaching out to the people, dammit, while five rows back a verifiable rugby scrum (in case you need a little violence in your Southern short story) breaks out where the last of his garments has landed.
A dozen or so Moz dedicates—tall, short, men, women, stocky, thin—bent at the shoulder with eyes prayerfully cast down, wrestle, grab, twist, and pull until the last of these sacrificial cloths pops up from the pile, fleetingly, like a piece of ejected toast while Morrissey (is he smiling?), likewise, pops offstage, out onto the Alabama avenue, from spotlight to streetlight as it were, changing yet again from coquettish crooner to heroic hallucination, self-possessed in any guise.