Monday, October 13, 2014

NHS Glasses. Do What?

There seems to be a consensus, among our readers, on the U2...that they're vile. These clowns, I'm guessing, are a more complicated proposition. Before we pick up this tar-baby I'd like to explain how it happened that I've posted a picture of The Smiths on this blog.

It's the fault of Swiss Adam at bagging area . Last week he had a series of posts featuring The Clash...the last one coming on Friday.* I spend most Friday's confined to my office with little to do. I watch a lot of videos and documentaries on Youtube. So, a week ago, after reading a post on Rock the Casbah...I found myself searching for Clash documentaries.

I have issues with The Clash that sometimes spoil a listen...these, I believe, are probably mine alone but, I am fascinated by their story and the disintegration of the band. It still boggles my mind that Mick Jones was told to get out. Splits happen but in what dimension is it a good idea to fire Mick Jones? I still don't understand exactly what happened...and then there's Strummer in the Medicine Show what, months later?

Anyway, there are bands, like the Clash, whose story is as interesting to me as their music. I went through documentaries on early Who...then Quadraphenia and the Mod revival in the 70's.. a little bit about The Jam. One on Mods, Rockers and Beatniks in 60's England. On the sidebar...the Smiths kept popping up. I don't know how I feel about The Smiths as a band...I can't decide, but their story, the phenomenon, and the convoluted bits about their break up I knew made them perfect for that day's viewing...then the next and the next.

The more I heard the more confused I became.

Everybody kept talking about how they were unique for presenting themselves as average Northern, working class, your average Mancunian swags around with a fragrant bouquet in his britches?**
Of course, everything has it's context

Compared to the new wave acts they charted's a fair assessment. Besides Marr and the other two do seem right off the road. Even Morrissey with his flowers and Mardi Gras beads doesn't seem that flamboyant. Them glasses. I didn't think anything of them. Then I heard they were a prop...and now I know they were NHS glasses. At the time I wouldn't have understood what that meant. If he had been swinging a block of government cheese...that would have translated. Well, there's no hiding your glasses so, now I can see it as a very decent, or maybe a very clever, gesture. These things we're completely lost on most of us.

A lot of this is hindsight from the late 80's early 90's. I was 9 in 1982 and only bought one Smiths record while they were still together...a 12" single for Panic. (A song that still tickles me). By 1986 I was practically living in a record store and I know how they were thought of generally.  Not only were they grouped in with The Cure...but also with New Order.

So, it made me laugh every time they would talk about The Smiths as a guitar band or when Marr would go on a tangent about New Order. Looking back it's easier to see just how different they were but, at the time, to half of the underground, indie, whatever, record buying public they were just another Depeche Mode.

I don't know how bands like the Smiths viewed their success in the States but, in that world, the college radio world or whatever, they were like superstars. They had catchy songs, videos, and they were used to presenting themselves to wider audiences. MTV did the rest...which actually lagged behind the life of the band.***

There was a level of resentment from certain quarters toward all these "English" bands. On More Fun in the New World, X complains with I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts...

"The facts we hate
You'll never hear us
I hear the radio is finally gonna play new music
You know, the British invasion
But what about The Minutemen, Fleasheaters, DOA, Big Boys and The Black Flag?
Will the last American band to get played on the radio please bring the flag?
Please bring the flag!
Glitter-disco-synthesizer night school"

The obnoxious kid from Salt Lake City Punk (set in 1985) a very foul-mouthed taste.

The funniest and most childish outburst came from The Dead Milkmen...You'll Dance to Anything. If Marr was aware of the song I'm sure he was horrified to have The Smiths grouped in with Book of Love and the Communards. Ha. Yeah in comparison to Human League The Smiths were a back to basics guitar band...but, it didn't really translate and nobody confused them with Husker Du or Sonic Youth.

We still bought the records though. The Cure, The Smiths and Echo and The Bunnymen...Joy Dvsion via New Order were in the collection of every teenage record collector. We didn't share the older kids resentment. Most of us came up on New Wave. Duran Duran is the reason I started going to real record stores as a little kid. It was almost inevitable that the next round of American bands would be steeped in British post-punk or indie-pop. You could see it coming with the Pixies. Nirvana pimped the Vaselines and Raincoats...Pavement were obsessed with TV Personalities, Swell Maps and of course The Fall.

Still, Morrissey was a special case. Try for a moment, to imagine that he isn't in the music papers, that all you know of him is on the records. The public spats, the punch lines, the self references and...none of it translates. There was little nuance and humor for an audience so far out of the loop. He just seemed like a self-obsessed, melodramatic, bore (which I suppose he is everywhere to some extent). As far as I know, in the States, Marr is still held in the highest regard while Morrissey has no presence to speak of except among a small obsessive following. I was completely taken aback to hear that his most obsessed fans in Britain were male...that point kept coming up. I liked the Smiths alright and I knew other fellas that liked them but, the obsessives were always girls.

Anyway with some distance and reams of context...a lot the songs seem more clever and even funny.  I still can't listen to the songs that are driven by Morrissey meandering through a maudlin melody...or the songs where the band fades to background music but, I have developed a new appreciation for songs I hadn't thought about in years.

"the grease in the hair
of a speedway operator
is all a tremulous heart requires"

That's pretty good...I can't deny it.

That's also enough of this rambling mess.


P.S. It was the sweet Southern husk of Mary Huff's voice that also made this post possible...she broke the noise lock that morning on the way to work...when this one slipped past the censors.

Not entirely inappropriate...if only Morrissey had actually been a girl. They may have been the perfect band.

* It's actually the week before last now.

**As a Southerner...Morrissey is obviously Truman Capote (don't be fooled by the exotic surname...he was born a Persons). Not in any way typical but, still a legitimate Southern character. If you're wondering Mark E Smith is Mary Flannery O'Conner.

*** See Perks of Being a Wallflower for an example of how The Smiths were still a living entity in the minds of U.S. high schoolers as late as the early 90's.


  1. Friday video day in your office - I want your job!

    1. It's the nature of the business I'm just dies dead on Friday afternoons. In a sane world we'd be gone by dinner time.

      I'm on the road for most of the week. I much prefer that.

  2. This is fascinating, Erik. Seems to me that, on the whole, the US take on The Smiths is entirely different from ours. As you acknowledge, context makes a whole world of difference. I do think The Smiths, for all their 'college radio' popularity in America, don't really translate. Of course, they were very popular in parts of Europe, too, and I'm sure they never 'got it' in the way we did but maybe they 'got' something else. There is no way in the world that we would ever have lumped The Smiths in with (ahem) Depeche Mode (a group which is far more despised in its homeland than in the USA). Of course The Smiths were a prime example of a 'guitar' band but not in the way most US rock fans would understand - they were a million, billion miles away from Sonic Youth or The Minutemen - not only did thye come from another country and culture, they came from another planet. The Smiths, lyrically, were always chock full of humour and irony and it really was not such a surprise that they most appealed to British men - we do all yearn for the opportunity to prance around with some gladioli stuffed down our jeans whilst proudly donning our NHS specs. The question of how representative of the working class male they truly were is another issue. The band really did come from the back streets of Manchester but it's probably true to say that their biggest constituency came was based among literary types and students. Having said that, form a British, working class, perspective, for all Morrissey's solipsism, they made a pretty powerful political statement in the times of the evil Thatcher. I suppose you had to be here. Certainly one of the greatest British bands of all time.

    1. Dee Pesh they're called in You'll Dance to Anything.

      Without the politics politics and without the politics of the British music industry and're just left with a suicidal, self-centered teenager...who seems a little fruity. Still, they were able to create obsessed fans here.

      One thing...only The Fall had a better aesthetic and then only for a specific period. It's been funny looking for videos. Evidently, most people think any ole black and white photo on a neon backdrop will do...and they fail. Morrissey obviously had a very keen eye for that stuff.

    2. Morrissey? Fruity? Never! ;)
      Good pointy about The Fall. I think they had most cultural impact between about 1978 and 1982 - well, they did for me. The music has continued to produce the goods, though - from time to time.

    3. The covers for Hex and Room to Live...Slates has a great cover...early to mid 80's..but those Smith's covers, especially the singles, are hard to beat.

  3. This Northern English Kid is weighing in EF ...and I've just worked a 10 hour late shift and had a bottle of red for my tea, so apologies for the lack of sense you will find here in.

    First up, with you on U2..... the man wears Sunglasses indoors, does not pay his fair share of tax whilst pontificating to the rest of the world about charity and his real name is yes VILE (ALTHOUGH I did like Achtung Baby...)
    Now the Smiths... well I can only remember Morrissey appearing on Top of The Pops with flowers sticking out of his arse, so I am not a fan

    It would appear amongst friends, that the only females I know who like the Smiths are those with older brothers who insisted on indoctrinating their siblings with the 'beautiful misery' that would appear to be Morrisseys calling card

    Meanwhile as the oldest of three I had the job of persuading my younger sister that those jokers Kajagoogoo where NOT WHERE IT WAS AT........ I had mixed results

  4. and I managed to spell pontificating correctly...MORE WINE !!!

    1. In the words of Paul 'Bear' Bryant..[You] ain't nothin' but a winner.

      That is so funny...because, if I close my eyes, the stereotypical Smiths fan...real my mind is a female teenager. Like I said I liked 'em...lots fellas liked 'em but....

      You know it is my cumbersome, wearisome, burden to have taken on a Cumbrian as a close friend. I don't think he has a fragrant bouquet in his dungarees.

  5. Ha, thanks EF I had to google him, that guy had ALL the style with the hats.

    Cumbria is not to far from County got the Northern vote my friend, with or without the fragrant bouquets!

    1. I will gladly take it.

      There's one thing he and Morrissey had in common, other than being trend setters, he was absolutely bigger than life while at the same time being quintessential product of his culture.

  6. I didn't read this post because it was far to wordy. I did, however, see where you said something about all your readers hating U2. Well am I the only one who feels like U2 totally highjacked their playlist????? I mean I'm cleaning the house, got the music going and low and behold some track from their crappy new disc that they forced on us pops up. It's an abomination

    1. That's what started all this. Those bastards.

  7. This is all very interesting! Thanks for the plug. As commented above the Smiths were obviously received very differently here compared to the US. Morrissey was a compkete outsider hence the regulation NHS glasses, very non rocknroll. With a guitarist who clearly loved rocknroll.

    1. I spent the second half of the 90's going in and out of England and I've known Brits for years now but, I hadn't seriously thought about The Smiths in years...decades. It was amazing how much more sense things made to me.
      It struck me that there's a harder shell to some of those songs than I remember...The Queen is Dead for instance.

      Marr's untouchable and I'm not a big fan of the jangly guitar but, he was delightfully all over the place...the rockabilly lines in like Is It Really So Strange are just fantastic...see Peel Session from Louder Than Bombs.

  8. Pity that a really terrific guitarist had his best work ruined by a droning, self-obsessed, pretentious prat with a truly terrible voice.
    Try this:
    and this:

    I had to wear NHS specs between the ages of ten and 16, which practically amounted to child abuse. Ever since then it's been a thill to walk into an opticians and know I can choose any damned frames I want.

  9. Haha.

    I was beginning to think I hadn't posted about the right Morrissey. You can't have a character like him and not have a portion of the crowd call bull shit on the whole thing. That has to be a universal.

    I've soften on him's possible. And there are rockabilly tunes in there.

    Do you remember Kurt Cobain doing Morrissey on Top of the Pops?

  10. Bono and The Edge were interviewed on 6Music this week, as part of a media blitz attempting to reverse the negative publicity they've accumulated with their recent shenanigans. Irritatingly, they initially came across rather well, speaking with passion about The Clash, Buzzcocks and The Ramones. Then of course they blew it all by trying to justify the whole iTunes fiasco, saying that they merely wanted as many people as possible to hear the new LP. Fair enough. So why didn't they just put it up on Bandcamp or Soundcloud? Bah!
    Morrissey has long since lost his lyrical lightness of touch, but at his best he wrote stuff that could make me laugh out loud. He still sometimes shows good taste in covers though (see ). The Smiths were a rare example of a band arriving out of nowhere, fully formed and with no obvious antecedents, at least at that was how it felt at the time.
    Have you seen 'The Rise and Fall of The Clash' yet? Supposedly a 'warts & all' look a the Mark II line-up and final split. That's a mystery I've yet to solve actually - America (I'm generalising here obviously) seems to retain a fondness for the post-Mick line-up of the band that isn't shared by many in the UK, myself included. Why is that?

    1. All I could find that week was trailers for I'm gonna have to hunt it down. That has to be one the most awkward and bizarre episodes in Pop Music.

      I had one friend that used to carry around a copy of Cut the Crap and insist that it was better than we all thought.

      The only explanation I can think of is that Combat Rock really made them stars in the States and people weren't ready to give up on them. The songs aren't hideous but they're destroyed by the production (Rhoads?). If you consider that and the outstanding songs on the first Big Audio Dynamite records...they obviously had another classic left in them. Pity.

  11. I like Morrissey and I'm a happy middle-aged woman, it doesn't fit, but still....

    I like the fact that he winds people up, I like the fact that you can always rely on him to make controversial remarks, I like his lovely soft speaking voice and his quiffy haircut, and his penchant for succinct lyrics that paint immediate pictures and moods in my mind ('under slate grey Victorian sky' being a favourite).

    What's not to like? Oh... ok.... but still.....

    1. He did have great hair....there's no denying that.