Morrissey on His Hatred of “Cell Phone Nation,” His Skin of “Perished Rubber,” and Why He Loves System of a Down


Although Morrissey doesn’t have a record deal, he hasn’t slowed down one bit. Tonight, he will perform a sold-out show at Radio City Music Hall, playing hits from throughout his career as well as a few numbers that might surface whenever he releases the follow-up to 2009’s Years of Refusal. (He also has two sold-out shows at Terminal 5 Friday and Saturday.) His most recent release, as it happens, is a remastered reissue of his solo debut, 1988’s Viva Hate, which is available stateside only as an import. Interestingly enough, since he recorded it in 1987, it coincides with the 25th anniversary of his departure from the Smiths, a band he says will never ever (ever) reunite. Nevertheless, when he answered our interview questions below — via e-mail, as he won’t do other types of interviews with the press after being burned by the NME a few years back — he was cordial enough to answer questions that covered his entire career, as well as some about his current state, beginning with this tour.

See Also:

A Look Inside Morrissey’s Mind
Morrissey Nude, Still Depressed
Live: Morrissey Gets Stoned at Bowery Ballroom

So far, you’ve played some new songs and many of your greatest hits on this tour. What songs have you enjoyed revisiting the most and why?
I enjoy all of them, otherwise I couldn’t sing them. Songs are like lie detectors — you can easily tell when the singer doesn’t mean it.

What is the status of the new album you’ve written? Why do you feel like you’re better off holding out for a label instead of recording and releasing it yourself?
I like to be institutionalized behind a great big wall. I’m independent enough without selling CDs out of the back of a van.

A few years ago, you had to cancel some concerts due to throat problems. How have you had to change your life to keep your voice in shape these days?
I usually contract throat problems from others, who don’t bother with prevention. The stage is a hotbed of wafting germs, and with so many air-conditioning blasts coming at you everywhere you go in the U.S., it’s difficult to keep your body balanced.

It has been 25 years since you embarked on your solo career, and you recently reissued Viva Hate. What do you remember about your mind-set when you were making that album?
I was a zombie. I didn’t want to be a solo artist. But when the Smiths split took place, I was served with legal papers from EMI in England and Sire-Reprise in the U.S. saying that I alone was responsible for clearing up any financial Smiths debts. There were no calls for 25 percent equality at that stage from any ex-Smiths! Let Morrissey carry the can, and we’ll carry the cash . . . uh. Anyway, like an idiot, I trotted along, and under such pressure came Viva Hate.

In her liner notes for the Viva Hate reissue, Chrissie Hynde talks about how you sing in a way that makes her feel as though you’re singing just for her. Many of your fans feel that way. What artists these days make you feel that way when you listen to their records?
Well, none, because I don’t think that type of singing is encouraged. It’s thought to be quite a disturbing factor these days if you sing in a personal tone. If Billie Holliday emerged in 2012, the music press would probably dismiss her as a daft, old bat.

You recently said that “Lonely Day” by System of a Down is the last song you absolutely loved. What is it you like about it?
It caught me in the right way at the right moment. I like the band generally, and the main vocals (by Serj Tankian) always have interesting tunings, almost Arabic, sounding like ancient codes for bewailing the dead or something. Although “Lonely Day” wasn’t sung by Serj.

The idea of a Smiths reunion came up in the press again this week. You haven’t abandoned that band’s repertoire in recent years at your concerts. Which of the Smiths songs that you still perform mean the most to you today and why?
I don’t feel that they are somebody else’s songs. The sentiments in songs from the Smiths period were always mine, and mine alone. I wasn’t the voice of a collective. I don’t even think that the other three Smiths even liked the lyrics.

I recently read a story about you aiding an elderly woman at the Strand bookstore, here in New York. If that is true, which books were you browsing through the time, and just what happened with the lady?
I’m no physician, but she seemed to be suffering a mild stroke. She fell backwards, and her eyes rolled into the back of her head. I didn’t know what to do other than to rub her arm gently and speak softly to her. I knew she could hear me, but she seemed to be traveling inwards . . . in that mid-state. It’s such a sin to fall ill in America and everyone’s petrified of medical bills, so I left it to the Strand to consider calling an ambulance. They didn’t, and I think it’s that fear of getting embroiled in something that could cost you money. I was by myself, and I later recalled how several customers actively zoomed away from the woman when she fell. Aren’t people weird?

In Rome a few weeks ago, a pigeon was zapped by a passing motorbike, and people just stepped over it as it writhed in agony in the center of the road. I ran into the road and picked it up and carried it to a dark corner. It was bloodied and dazed, but I returned later with bread and it responded very well. The point is, nobody would help the pigeon. People are so embarrassed to help. It’s as if they can’t forget about themselves for a split-second.

I read in another interview that you like to underline books as you read them, specifically words you don’t know. What are your favorite recent additions to your vocabulary?
It’s the simple words that trip us all up. It’s probably best at this point if I don’t draw any attention to the gawping gaps in my vocabulary, thanks just the same.

When you are in New York, where do you like to go and what do you like to do the most? What makes you the happiest here?
I think the city has gone back to how it was in the 1970s when I first came here — abrasive and a bit dangerous. None of the taxi drivers speak English, and none of them have any knowledge of central points of interest in the city. I find it difficult to move around because of cell phones, cell phones, cell phones–everywhere you look, people are transfixed by their own cell phones, or shouting their business so that you’re forced to overhear. The cell phone nation is grotesque and irritating beyond belief. I miss the large record stores. I think it’s so sad that they’ve been wiped out. I mean, who would ever have thought it likely? Yet Bed Bath & Beyond survives. Why?

Finally, you’ve said that you’ll do only e-mail interviews now after being misquoted by the British press. With that in mind, what is your favorite rumor that you’ve heard about yourself over the years?
Most of what is written about me is absolute rubbish. You need skin of perished rubber to get through it all in one piece. As you can see, I have just such skin.