Equally Dour

And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure – the privilege is mine
from “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”

Words & lyrics by Johnny Marr & Steven Patrick Morrissey

For those of us who were tormented teens of a certain age, there is no greater angst- ridden, black- t-shirt-and-jeans-donning, awkward-arm-holding, guitar-bass-and-drum-driven-band than The Smiths.

Violently independent sound.

Rejection of the punk of the late 1970’s.

Rejection of the dance and synthesized pop of the early 1980’s.

Burn down the disco! Hang the blessed DJ!

Brilliant lyrics

She said in the days when you were hopelessly poor, I just liked you more.

Pass me a cigarette

Such bon mots as

They said “There’s too much caffeine in your bloodstream and a lack of real spice in your life”

Call me morbid, call me pale

I got confused. I killed a horse. I can’t help the way I feel

I wear black on the outside ’cause black is how I feel on the inside

What she said to me at the end of the day, Caligula would have blushed

Now I know how Joan of Arc felt as the flames rose to her Roman nose and her Walkman started to melt

Since you asked, you’re a flatulent pain the ass

Writing frightening verse to a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg

Girlfriend in a coma, I know, I know, it’s serious

Oh Manchester so much to answer for

The dream is gone, but the baby is real

Give up to lust; Heaven knows we’ll soon be dust

The alcoholic afternoons we spent in your room

I was bored before I even began

You just haven’t earned it yet, Baby

You just haven’t earned it yet, Son

Some dizzy whore, Eighteen Hundred and Four

I’ve got the 21st century breathing down my neck

 

I am the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar

Oh, I know, I’m un-loveable; you don’t have to tell me

 

Great guitar

Pain

Privileged upbringings gone wrong

Messy fumblings

Running away

Unwanted pregnancy

Cross-dressing vicars in tutus

Churchyard meetings late at night

Welcome no more

Equally dour

A yodeling coda for boys with thorns in their sides

Please save your life because you’ve only got one

Mixed tapes begged to be filled with such goodness.  Only 73 songs total.

Quietly, I listened to The Smiths in the semi-reclusive space of my room on Bayard Street on The Point in Beaufort, South Carolina. How fitting. There weren’t many of my peers in Beaufort listening to The Smiths in 1985.  No judgment there, just a fact. May be that was another reason to go off to school.

And if you have five seconds to spare/Then I’ll tell you the story of my life/Sixteen clumsy and shy/I went to London and I……..

Upon arrival at a certain school in Massachusetts, there were more musically kindred spirits. Tons of fans of Moz and Marr and crew.

We loved them.

We knew they didn’t love us.

We knew they hated us.

Part of the charm.

Why do I give valuable time to people who don’t care if I live or die?

At least three Andover friends had that large The Queen is Dead poster in their dorm rooms our Lower year.

Alain Delon in repose from 1964’s L’insoumis (The Unvanquished)

“The New LP. Released Monday 16 June 1986”

A few more friends hung the Meat is Murder poster in their rooms. It was the one with the picture of U.S. Marine Corporal Michael Wynn on the cover.  The Smiths had changed the peace movement’s “Make Love Not War” originally on Wynn’s helmet to “Meat is Murder.” Early PETA supporters.

They provoked with their album covers.

Viv Nicholson, the British lotto winner who squandered all her winnings, graced the covers of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and Barbarism Begins at Home. They loved the story of her venally tacky fall from grace.

Stills from Jean Cocteau films

Terrence Stamp with a chloroform pad

Truman Capote jumping

Elvis Presley in bow tie

A couple members of Andy Warhol’s Factory in poses

Stills from Coronation Street

James Dean on motorcycle

Playwright Shelagh Delany on more than one cover herself.  She was Moz’s Muse.

Even these days, as I work in the yard, I listen to the witty, charged lyrics.

I have been known to sing them aloud. Badly.

Oh…sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking/When I said by rights you should be/Bludgeoned in your bed

Through an open window this October, I heard the laughter coming from inside my house as I dug up the summer’s caladium bulbs and replaced pine straw.  I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but that didn’t stop me from letting anyone within earshot know that

[m]y only weakness is a listed crime/But last night the plans for a future war/Was all I saw on Channel Four

I went inside to get water and saw my wife and two daughters howling laughing at me, my earbuds, my Manchester mantras.

Shoplifters of the world, unite and take over!

My friend Perry Poole actually attended one of their concerts in 1985 at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C.  The Meat is Murder tour. Damn. He told me it was surreal.

I am not a jealous person, but, I am jealous of his being with less than 2,000 other like-minded fans. Perry told me that at the end of the set he and his fellow concert goers quietly left the hall.  No raucous applause.  No screams for encores.

Another friend, David Brown, also a fan of Marr and Moz, and I had the following text exchange this past Spring:

Is there anything more depressing than listening to The Smiths on this rainy cold Sunday morning?

Yes. Living on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs of Atlanta

Channeling Moz’s disdain. Just the type of retort he would have given.

I take comfort in knowing that my local pals Laura Dukes Beck, Acey Boulware, and Chisolm Coleman share the same affinity for the lads from Manchester.

When Rolling Stone came out with the ultimate ranking of all 73 songs written by Morrissey and Marr on August 1, 2017, well, let’s just say it was a day killer.

I had to appear before the City of Charleston’s Board of Zoning Appeals that afternoon promptly at 5 p.m.  Thankfully, I had prepped a day before the ranking appeared.

I was looking for a job and then I found a job and Heaven knows I’m miserable now.

We won before the BZA that night, and, frankly, Mr. Shankly, I think Mr. Marr’s guitar spurred me on to victory buoyed by all those great memories of songs that spoke to me as a young teenager.

Please, please, please, let me get what I want. Lord knows, it would be the first time.

Fans of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off viewed the Art Institute of Chicago with The Smiths through The Dream Academy’s instrumental version of “Please, Please, Please Let me Get What I Want”.  A lullaby played as we all went into that Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte on the banks of the Seine.

What a perfect use of the tune.

Five Hundred Days of Summer employed “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” and the same song as Ferris.  Forgetting Sarah Marshall needed “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” to set the scene in that break up flick. Some claim that Pretty in Pink started it all for The Smiths in the U.S. when the ultimate arbiter of teen drama, John Hughes, included “Please, Please, Please” in the soundtrack. He also directed Ferris & Co., which was released four months later, so may be it is a correct assessment.

Good times, for a change.

I’m glad that their 73 songs continue as a part of my personal soundtrack.

I rewind and replay. Spotify. Pandora. Playlists. All my playlists and preferences include The Smiths.

I’m still in possession of my cassette of Louder than Bombs, released in 1987 after the break up of The Smiths. Moz’s Muse, Ms. Delany, leans on the cover, cigarette in hand.  I think I’ll go play it on my yellow Walkman, which Sony released as a personal music player in 1988, a year after Louder than Bombs.

Big mouth strikes again.

And my Walkman is starting to melt.

One thought on “Equally Dour

  1. For retirement, I gave myself the privilege of leaving the caladium bulbs in the ground. In upstate SC, they do not survive. I just order new ones each spring. Very liberating!

    Like

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