Why I’m breaking up with Morrissey

As the increasingly problematic British singer's new album Low In High School approaches, it's impossible to go on defending him

What I’m about to write is complicated because I haven’t talked about it much. But I thought it was time to acknowledge it publicly: I have been going through a divorce… with Morrissey. 

Although I’ve tried to deny it, I was in a dying relationship. I knew it was over. Still I clung. 

I write this confession ahead of the November 17 release of his 11th album, Low In High School, and in wake of a long list of problematic utterances I can no longer co-sign.

Our romance began in college. A closeted gay student, I never dated. One of my most significant memories was when friends joked about my seeming abstinence by referring to the line from the Smiths single William, It Was Really Nothing: “I don’t dream about anyone… except myself!” It was my get-out-of-gay-free card. 

Morrissey gave me words to express myself when I had none. So how did we end up at a point where the sound of his voice “rips right through my senses”? 

When Morrissey rose to prominence as the lead singer of the English indie band the Smiths, he stood defiantly against the vacuous synth-pop mainstream of the early 1980s. The band amassed an instant following among the marginalized, the wimpy and the weird. 

As frontperson, Morrissey was outspoken, but also painfully shy. By championing the pitiable and alienated in songs like Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, he made the aloneness romantic. After a four-record run, the band split and Moz went on to a solo career now 11 records deep. 

Initially I wasn’t a Morrissey Person – and we are a people. I was what would later become my pet peeve: someone who claimed to “love the Smiths but hate Morrissey.” Then I realized what lurked beneath that sentiment – anyone who expressed it had obviously never listened to Morrissey. It’s one of those proud and naive social stances similar to hating Yoko Ono under the guise of allegiance to the Beatles.

On the opening night of my late friend Will Munro’s bar The Beaver in 2006, he challenged me to start a Morrissey night. We called it Miserable Monday and I came up with the fabulously grim promotional tag line “Get Dreary, Deary!” The crowds did not come in droves, but every week we played Morrissey and the Smiths almost exclusively to a small group of fanatics.

To be a Morrissey fan is to be part of a lifestyle. We toss flowers and hurl our bodies onstage at his concerts. There is an annual Morrissey convention in Los Angeles, where he now lives. We believe we have private insight that binds him specifically to us. To paraphrase another one of my favourite pop idols, Morrissey made me feel like the only girl in the world. Everyone else was a side chick. 

Admittedly, being a fan also meant shouldering the shady shit he has done and said. He generated accusations of xenophobia by wearing the Union Jack in concert, by writing songs like The National Front Disco (which appeared on his finest record, 1992’s Your Arsenal). Through white-privilege-muffled headphones I wrote off various problematic dramas as social commentary. The songs were about me, so what did I care? 

In the 80s and 90s, Morrissey aligned himself with oppressed and working-class people, noble causes like animal rights and called out Margaret Thatcher and British royalty. 

On the title track of arguably the Smiths’ most popular record, The Queen Is Dead, Morrissey daydreams of Queen Elizabeth’s beheading. On Interesting Drug, he sings, “On a government scheme designed to kill your dream, oh mum, oh dad, once poor always poor!” These were anthems for the downtrodden. 

As recently as 2016, he released a statement calling the monarchy “the face of white supremacy, social repression, tyranny, oppression… minority rule, dictatorship, and… unfairness.”

So, as an animal rights activist from a working-class background myself, I have to ask: where did we go wrong? Has he changed or have I? 

Lately, it’s been evident how toxic and delusional he has become.

From accepting the keys to the city of Tel Aviv onstage in 2012 without acknowledging Israeli occupation, to saying, in reference to their treatment of animals, that “you can’t help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies,” to recent statements about “terror” that were indefensibly racist, it’s clear he’s lost the plot. And the list goes on. 

It got to the point where posting a Morrissey song online felt like showing up to a party with someone I know everyone hates. I could feel the judging question: why are they still together? 

With the rise in unfuckwithable social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, we can no longer make excuses for our favourite artists or avoid confronting the hatred in their art. The public is demanding accountability from our cultural figures. 

Morrissey has had one of the most brilliant, complex careers in recent decades. But my ultimate disappointment lies in the laziness with which he is allowing his history to be rewritten. To be honest, my greatest problem with him isn’t with what he is saying. It’s that, as he refuses to look inward, fans have to make excuses for him. I long for the days when it felt like he was the one defending us, from everything and everyone. 

A good relationship is worth the effort, but a long fight that leads nowhere is tiring. And I’m tired, Moz. Let’s call it. 

I feel better having decided to move on. Still, I wonder if I’ll ever know a closer friend, a truer mirror. But I’m done defending silly reissues and clunky new songs. The queen is dead. 

Love to you all and thank you for respecting my privacy during this trying time.

music@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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