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 video...like 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 kids...so, your average Mancunian swags around with a fragrant bouquet in his britches?**
Of course, everything has it's context
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)...gives 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.