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Last New Year’s Eve, I got a decreasingly enthusiastic string of texts from a friend in L.A. who was seeing Morrissey for the first time and, knowing I was a big fan, wanted to share the experience.
First, there was the initial excitement at a ticket becoming unexpectedly available, but then, shortly after the show began, “Why is he wearing dad jeans?” Ah, yes — my friend was being treated to the roomy, middling-blue pants the British singer’s taken to wearing to conceal his generous gut and other bodily ravages of decades of rock ‘n’ roll. Later, my friend sent me his snap of a low-quality photo of Prince William and Kate Middleton paired with the caption “UNITED KING-DUMB,” which Moz had projected behind the stage for a bit; it looked like the kind of meme your most embarrassing high school acquaintance would post to their Facebook wall.
The last text I got that night was this brief revelation: “Morrissey is a dumb uncle.” My friend had clearly joined the ranks of Morrissey fans who, like me, had come to this conclusion long ago.
Yes, somewhere along the way, the former Smiths frontman, born Steven Patrick Morrissey in 1959, had stopped being a lithe, witty wordsmith and morphed into Dumb Uncle Steve, the one you groaningly put up with at Thanksgiving because your dad tells you to grin and bear it. When I saw him last year at Madison Square Garden, he opined that the only two Americans right for the presidency were Bill Maher and Jon Stewart. If that isn’t a dumb uncle opinion, then I don’t know what is.
He’s the oblivious relative whose plunging V-neckline shirts (see above) look like a cross between a toddler’s sailor outfit and something General Zod might wear on casual Friday. The oddball who wears necklaces that clang like those bell collars cats wear to give birds the heads up. The holier-than-thou vegan who snaps open his laptop to show you a barnyard snuff film after you let slip that you’re serving chicken at Christmas.
Not all of his uncle-isms are so endearing, especially not he biggest one: Morrissey is also the uncle who doesn’t show up to the family gatherings everyone else has begrudgingly agreed to suffer through. Notoriously temperamental, he’s at this point almost more famous for canceling shows than playing them. Buying tickets (as I did for his concert this Saturday at Kings Theater) feels like low-stakes gambling — if he actually shows up to the venue on the date printed on your ticket, then great, you won the Dumb Uncle Steve Lotto. If he doesn’t, you get a refund in a few months’ time, and you’re spared the stock footage of cows being slaughtered he always screens during “Meat Is Murder.”
A few years ago I interviewed Seymour Stein, who became a golden-age music industry legend by signing (among others) the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Madonna. I couldn’t help but ask what it was like to deal with Morrissey back when he added the Smiths to his Sire Records roster.
“It’s not easy,” Stein said. He let out a heavy sigh. “But it’s worth it.” He didn’t elaborate.
I’m right there with you, buddy. Moz may have fully transformed into Dumb Uncle Steve, but to thousands and thousands of fans across the world, he’s our Dumb Uncle Steve, and he’s more than worth the embarrassment. He’s still the guy who helped countless depressed, shy teens get through high school and a lot more. Sometimes all it takes is hearing the opening guitar lines from “Suedehead,” a frequent first number in recent live shows, to momentarily forget how annoying and embarrassing his behavior can be. In the chorus, when Morrissey sings “I’m sooooo sorry,” I let myself imagine he’s apologizing for the dumb-uncle persona, which, obviously, he’s blissfully unaware of. Of course, he’ll piss away most of that goodwill a moment later by bantering about, say, how there’s no difference between Trump and Clinton. Or about how he had to endure the smell of meat wafting momentarily through his plush tour van.
That is, if he even shows up in the first place.
Morrissey (maybe?) plays the Kings Theatre tomorrow night.