“Morrissey: A New Low”
November 8, 2017
Written by Jason Reed
This Sunday marked a new low in the history of Morrissey fandom. And no, I’m not just referring to the temperature.
Eager fans waited with bated breath to see if one of their musical icons would actually show up to the normally idyllic, intimate Vino Robles Ampitheatre in Paso Robles, California (not far away from the memorial of Morrissey’s own idol, Mr. James Dean, who died in a car accident back in 1955). Jokes were aplenty that the acclaimed musician would cancel at the last minute (as he has done many times before), but Morrissey loyalists proclaimed that such cynical forecasting was unfounded. Sadly, it was not. He apparently spent the day in bed. And now that joke isn’t funny anymore.
At approximately 8:13pm, after many fans had waited for hours (and in some cases overnight), a trepidatious voice came over the amphitheater’s PA stating that the event was being “postponed” due to an alleged malfunctioning heating system. After much booing, grumbling and colorful “WTF” comments from the crowd, countless fans were left wondering how this chain of events came to be.
SO WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
In this day and age of fake news and conspiracy theories, it’s easy to ascribe meaning to the mundane or inexplicable as a way of making sense of the irrational world around us. But certain aspects of the night didn’t add up. Here is some of the evidence:
- A week prior, the weather forecast indicated it would rain, and yet the concert wasn’t cancelled. Attendees were even promised that the show would happen “Rain or Shine.” So when it didn’t rain but the temperature fell to 50 degrees, one would think that the powers that be would have prepared accordingly. Chilly weather would seem like a trivial concern compared to the safety and inconvenience factors associated with potential precipitation.
- More than a handful of fans I’ve communicated with were told by event staff, security and food servers “not to hold their breath” that Morrissey was going to perform. These whispers on the wind were swirling nearly two hours prior to the announced cancellation.
- At a little after 8pm, witnesses saw a large tour bus leaving the back gate of the venue. Tour buses that have been unpacked take a significant amount of time to be readied for departure, so this would indicate that the intent to not perform was known for some time.
- From the front row, where I was, the normally stoic security seemed to be acting very tense and jittery, some displaying darting, nervous glances as they peeked their heads out from behind the curtain. In hindsight, one could surmise that they were strategizing and conferring with one another in anticipation of dealing with a bunch of disgruntled fans, if not a potential riot.
- In talking with venue staff (off the record in order to protect anonymity) my trusted sources who worked backstage stated that they received official word that Morrissey was leaving and to start packing up the stage at 7:50pm (nearly 25 minutes prior to the public announcement). This explains one detail that astute attendees noticed: that some of the stage gear appeared packed up when the curtain dropped.
- I was also told that there were, in fact, a couple of industrial strength heaters present that were functioning at full capacity! I was assured that these heating units (combined with the customary heat generated from stage equipment and spotlight) would have been more than sufficient in warming even the most thin-skinned performer. Apparently the admittedly older and more frail musical legend Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys persevered through his concert at the venue three years prior under comparable conditions. So the official proclamation that the stage heating units were not working correctly appears to be questionable, at best.
If Morrissey’s cancellation wasn’t due to lack of sufficient heating on stage, then what else could have explained the (seemingly) sudden cancellation and departure from the venue? Again, we may never know, but many commentators on social media have theorized that his departure was due to a bruised ego, given that the show wasn’t sold out.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?
In and of itself, this incident wouldn’t be particularly unsettling. After all, performers cancel shows all the time (and sometimes during the last minute). But for a performer who has cancelled 123 (oops make that 124) shows in the last 5 years, this pattern of seemingly capricious behavior is unsettling and, to many in attendance, felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back (and breaking a camel’s backs is, presumably, a form of cruelty that the performer would not condone).
Some fans may remember the well documented incident on April of 2009 when Morrissey cancelled a show in Oakland to only be spotted hours later in a San Francisco bar partying, with no noticeable sign of “sickness” to be seen. As a fan who drove hours to see that show, I was admittedly upset when I saw the posts on social media, but thought it an isolated incident. Little did I know just how recurring and widespread this phenomenon would ultimately become.
All of this certainly begs a question of why, given our awareness of this pattern, we should be upset or shocked at his continued cancellations at all. It is my hypothesis that the frustration and anger that fans feel towards the performer is really internal anger turned outward. We are, in essence, mad at ourselves for believing he’d come through this time and for once again being left with proverbial (ironically, non-vegan) “egg on our faces.” Like a loving family member trying to support someone through sobriety, only to be disappointed when the alcoholic goes back to the bottle once again, we too are ashamed of our continued gullibility and faith in something that we hope for, but that may never come.
WHAT’S ‘WRONG’ WITH MORRISSEY?
Many terms and theories have been bandied about to explain Morrissey’s unpredictable behavior. He has vaguely admitted in prior interviews as well as in his own autobiography, not unsurprisingly, on his own struggles with depression and his receiving of psychiatric help in the past. So fans are quite aware of the singer’s propensity for morosity and, in fact, have forever associated him with the cliche of the psychologically “tortured artist.” Even mental health professionals have offered up potential clinical diagnoses to explain his behavior, including “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” which is a medical condition marked by grandiosity, unstable personal relationships, reactivity, impulsivity and (surprisingly) a deeply entrenched sense of insecurity to be compensated for. Perhaps there were some traumas in his early working-class Irish family that shaped young Steven Patrick Morrissey’s personality that we are unaware of, some disconnect in his attachment to his mother and father that shaped the development of his psychosocial identity. Seemingly autobiographical songs like “Used To Be A Sweet Boy,” “I Know It’s Over” and “Still Ill” certainly hint at this reality. And like many brilliant musicians, perhaps this early trauma and psychological instability added to the voyeuristic appeal and relatability of his emotionally cathartic music to which we have been the selfish beneficiaries of.
One of the sad ironies of Morrissey’s legacy is that, on some level, he has taken up the torch of being the “champion of the downtrodden” (a trait that most fans, myself included, cite as one of his most admirable traits) and yet his behavior exhibits an elitism that seemingly disregards the marginalized. Whether they be abused animals, exploited working class Brits, oppressed Latinos or repressed LGBTQ people, Morrissey has frequently shed light onto their respective plights. And yet, his behavior is so much more akin to the people that he claims to despise (Trump, Britain’s Royal Family, etc.). He, no doubt, would use terms like “narcissist” to describe these demagogic public figures he criticizes but would he genuinely accept a diagnosis by a professional were such a label used to describe his own behavior? One could imagine that the cognitive dissonance therein would be immeasurable.
In a thought experiment and speculative flight of fancy worthy of a John Lennon song, imagine the reactions of supportive fans if Morrissey actually came out and admitted that his instability was due to a personality disorder, anxiety disorder or some other mental health or substance abuse disorder? Countless other musicians who have done so (Daniel Johnston, Brian Wilson, Matthew Sweet, Andy Patridge, Joey Santiago, etc.) have been met with an outpouring of support and patience and there’s little reason to believe that criticisms of him would not lessen in light of such expressed vulnerability. Such a disclosure would temper the, well…for lack of a better term, “tempers” of his detractors to a great degree. Ultimately, such a disclosure would allow fans the much needed closure and understanding that they deserve in order to continue to support a musician through his own self-care (whether that be last minute cancellations, mood swings, etc.) and recovery from whatever condition or disorder is plaguing him.
MORRISSEY’S GREATEST HITS
Morrissey’s portfolio of work through the years is rife with examples of confessional revelations. Like a comedian begging audience members to heckle them, many of Morrissey’s best works feel like self-deprecatory, non-sexual “that’s what she said” jokes when looked at through the reflective mirror of his own behavior. Let’s take a peripheral look at the evidence, particularly as it relates to his pattern of impetuous concert cancellations.
- “I Don’t Owe You Anything” (the official anthem to narcissism if there ever was one)
- “Stretch Out And Wait” (in which his professed Eskimo blood in his veins allegedly gives him increased tolerance to cold)
- “Miserable Lie” (a scathing critique of confabulation, not too dissimilar to promising to perform “Rain or Shine”)
- “Still Ill” (a song reflecting the singer’s professed fragility that has allowed him to call out from work without a doctor’s note)
- “What Difference Does It Make?” (a beautiful track replete with nihilistic shoulder shrugging indifference to life’s obligations)
- “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” (or perhaps better entitled, conversely, “I Finished Something Before Even Starting“)
- “Trouble Loves Me” (no comment)
- “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby” (a song directed to fans who he deems not worthy of seeing him perform)
- “Our Frank” (Morrissey’s critique of a “frankly vulgar red pullover” sweater, which no doubt could have benefitted him on Sunday)
- “I Can Have Both” (referring to his receipt of money bereft of any associated obligation of reciprocation)
- “Boxers” (an admission that he should have worn some nice insulated flannel ones instead of those made of imported silk on Sunday)
- “We’ll Let You Know” (a truncated version of the original title “We’ll Let You Know When I Feel Like Performing“)
- “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” (another IOU to his fans eager to see him perform)
- “Ouija Board Ouija Board” (relying on supernatural soothsaying to predict the likelihood of Moz showing up for a gig, this track could just have easily been entitled “Magic 8 Ball“)
- “I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me” (his track about preparing for the inevitable abandonment by his fans)
- “My Life Is A Succession of People Saying Goodbye” (yep)
- “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s On Stage” (a new track released yesterday, the title begs the question of whether Jackie is planning on wearing a sweater)
- “Spent The Day In Bed” (indulgent languishing when there are promises to fulfill….like performing a concert)
MORRISSEY VS. MARR
Inevitable comparisons are often drawn between the behavior of Morrissey and his old bandmate Johnny Marr, indicating their contrasting dichotomies. Both have published eagerly awaited autobiographies in the last couple of years, with Morrissey’s being more obtuse and less revelatory while Marr’s version humanly portrays his progression as an artist and his healthy attachments to family and colleagues, bereft of bitterness.
Similarly, Johnny Marr has been known to express generous gratitude to his fans (I witnessed him coming outside after his performance at the Fonda Theater in LA a couple years ago in which he, I kid you not, spent at least two hours shaking hands, autographing items and meeting fans). While this may be a bit extreme on the musician altruism spectrum (and probably not sustainable from the perspective of a musician’s self-care), it does make for a pretty dramatic contrast between two iconic artists who were often described as the Lennon and McCartney of the 1980’s for their fruitful and prolific partnership. Additionally, Johnny Marr has persevered in performing his scheduled concerts in the face of formidable challenges, as he did in 2014 after breaking his hand (which, to use an analogy, would be like Morrissey attempting to sing after breaking his vocal chords). There is perhaps a reason why Mr. Marr has been given the expletive “F word” for his middle name as a descriptor of his tenacious “badassery.”
BUY MORRISSEY A SWEATER
If the official story of why Sunday’s cancellation happened is accurate, it’s clear that the beloved singer needs to be prepared to bundle up the next time he performs. Our friend Manuel Barba (organizer of the San Luis Obispo Record Swap) has launched a GoFundMe campaign to purchase Morrissey an organic, fair trade “frankly vulgar red pullover” with the extra proceeds going, appropriately enough, to animal rights causes. Please contribute if you can here: https://www.gofundme.com/help-buy-morrissey-a-sweater
THE FINAL VERDICT
Although one may think otherwise by the critical tone of this article, like countless other fans, I sincerely wish Morrissey health and happiness. He is a musical icon who has brought into the world a much needed blend of introspection and sensitivity that has enriched many lives (my own included). I would love to see him continue to tour and release compelling material. It’s also indisputable that he has been a major emissary for other notable musicians, wearing his heart on his sleeve when professing his love of the artists he idolized during his own formative years (going back to his teen years when he submitted numerous album and concert reviews to British music magazines). No doubt, some of his fans might otherwise not be as familiar with such musical luminaries as Sparks, Angelic Upstarts, Buzzcocks or New York Dolls were it not for his ambassadorship. He has also been known to attend concerts faithfully, especially in Los Angeles (see footage of him in the audience when I interviewed legendary British punk band The Damned last year here).
In many ways, it is Morrissey’s adoration for other musicians that is his most endearing trait. In a 2012 email interview to the Columbus Dispatch, Morrissey said, “Whenever I listened to music, I was ready to cry, usually with relief that someone understood and that I was no longer alone in knowing whatever it was I thought I knew.” He also described his early formative years in a 2006 Mojo interview thustly: “I was incredibly clumsy, and determined, but knew, deep down, that I was reasonably glamorous, even if nobody else could see it.” In this insecure, emotive and (ever so slightly) less self-centered version of Morrissey we get glimpses of the relatable and authentic person that even his most ardent and outspoken fans furtively want him to be: the uncompromising anti-establishment idealist and devoted music fan with a burning hunger to make his mark upon the world (and change it for the better) before becoming defiled by the vulgarities of hypocrisy, mediocrity, and self-indulgence that he originally railed against.
No doubt, the world is, indeed a better place with Steven Patrick Morrissey in it. But he needs to realize that he’s “not the only game in town” and that his market value will continue to drop if he doesn’t address his own intrapsychic demons and idiosyncrasies that appear to be creating an irreparably widening chasm between himself and his still loyal fans to whom he should have nothing but the utmost gratitude toward at this point in the nadir of his career.