You don't expect Morrissey to walk into the lobby of theBeverly Hills Hotel wearing dark aviators. It's one of thoserare Los Angeles afternoons when the Santa Anas blow the smog outover the Pacific and glorious sunlight blankets the city.
Youdon't expect Morrissey to walk into the lobby of the Beverly HillsHotel wearing dark aviators. It's one of those rare Los Angelesafternoons when the Santa Anas blow the smog out over the Pacific andglorious sunlight blankets the city.
We exchange greetingsand make our way past the Polo Lounge (the hotel's landmarkrestaurant/bar), down a carpeted staircase, and through a gilded,underground mini-mall with rows of shops selling alligator valises andsilk cravats. When we step out into the garden, Morrissey smiles. Heseems to drink in each individual plant-the bird-of-paradise flowers,the blooming, fragrant lantanas.
"It's so beautiful," he remarks.
Something about the way he walks as we head toward a privatecabana by the pool implies that Morrissey (the man for whom the term miserablism was coined) is not even remotely brooding. His gait is almost sprightly.
"Did you see anyone famous in the Polo Lounge?" he asks me.
"No. Just a lot of self-possessed rich people," I crack.Later that night, I'll spy Colin Farrell hopping around on crutcheswhile simultaneously drinking and smoking, but the sprawling, pinkpalace (immortalized by the Eagles in "Hotel California") is no longereven remotely a rock'n'roll haven. It stinks of money, old and new(mostly new). The good life is lived here. Sure, it's close to the homeMorrissey has owned for the past six years (a Spanish-style estate thatwas built by Clark Gable for his wife, Carole Lombard, and was laterowned by F. Scott Fitzgerald), but as we sit down beside a pair oftopiary sea horses, order tea, and stare out at the potbelliedsunbathers, I wonder why Morrissey chose this place over, say, theChateau Marmont or his favorite English-style pub, the Cat and Fiddle,both just a few miles down Sunset Boulevard. As he re-engages the mediato promote his first album of new material in seven years, You Are the Quarry(out May 18), is Morrissey trying to project a new image-that of ashades-wearing, sun-worshipping, dare I say, well-adjusted gentleman?Though he was in danger of becoming something of a has-been in the late'90s, Morrissey in 2004 has emerged from self-imposed exile as anexalted elder statesman of British pop. An institution. As far as I cantell, he knows this. And he wears it surprisingly well.
"Amazing to find soy milk at this hotel," he says, lightening his English breakfast tea from a porcelain creamer.
"Maybe they fly it in from somewhere," I suggest. Morrissey laughs. (It feels weird even typing those two words.)
"Are you happier?" I ask him. "Were you ever clinically depressed?"
He nods. "I think I was quite clinically depressed. I feel so much happier now."
"Is it a natural change? Something that comes with age?"
"With age," he says, "you can put things into perspective andrealize how absurd people are. When you're younger, you feel that if aperson is a lawyer or an accountant or a high court judge, they mustactually know something.'"
"But they probably just saw a job opportunity," I say.
"They can still screw your life up, though."
"Unfortunately, yes," Morrissey says. "But that's the fascist society we live in. I don't know why you're laughing."
"I guess to keep from crying."
"Feel free to cry," he says. "You'll feel a lot better."
Aftera shockingly abrupt split between Morrissey and Marr, the banddissolved in 1987, the very year that their closestcontemporaries-R.E.M., U2, and the Cure-broke through to the masses.Marr went on to collaborate with a mixed bag of artists (Bryan Ferry,the Pretenders, Talking Heads), all of whose sole distinction seemed tobe that they were past their prime. By the early '90s, Morrissey was inthe odd position of being able to sell out arenas like Madison SquareGarden and the Hollywood Bowl in minutes, though he never receivedpriority treatment from his American labels and rarely heard himself onthe radio. "My success, if you want to call it that, has never hadanything to do with the record company," he says. "Ever. Ever. Ever."
As a solo artist, an increasingly marginalized Morrisseytook even more fire. In 1988, "Margaret on the Guillotine," the closingtrack on his solo debut, Viva Hate, made him the subject of apolice investigation for allegedly inciting a bloody coup against thenU.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (no charges were filed). In 1992,the influential British music paper NME branded him a fascistafter he draped himself in the Union Jack and performed in London'sFinsbury Park in front of a backdrop featuring photographs of youngskinheads. In 1996, Smiths drummer Mike Joyce and bass player AndyRourke sued Morrissey and Marr for 25 percent of record royalties.Rourke settled, but the British High Court awarded Joyce an estimated 1million pounds. Possibly riled by Morrissey's courtroom behavior (heheld up a copy of the popular Smiths biography, Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance,and icily informed Joyce's attorney, "There are two names on the cover,Morrissey and Johnny Marr. Did you notice that?"), the presiding judgemade a point to publicly dismiss his Smiths-era financial wrangling as"devious, truculent, and unreliable." (For the record, this is onesubject that Morrissey cannot make peace with. "There isn't enough timein infinity," he says.) Worse, his sixth solo studio album, Maladjusted, released in '97, was greeted with almost universal indifference.
"The last album was not a showstopper," he admits. "Thesleeve was dreadful. I look like a mushroom or a leprechaun. It wasdesigned by the record company [Mercury], and they were collapsing.There was a terrible dark cloud over it. I also find that, in themedia, most writers say exactly the same thing. So, if they recognize acloud above you, then they'll say, 'Oh, yes, there's the cloud.'"
"'He's lost it,'" I suggest.
In 1998, without a label or management, nearly 40, and fedup, Morrissey disappeared. He'd moved from Dublin to Los Angeles in1996, and on rare occasions had been spotted at a rock show (theLibertines at the El Rey, the Sex Pistols at the Greek Theatre) or atthe Cat and Fiddle for a Sunday afternoon pint. While remaininggracious to fans who made pilgrimages to his front steps (I know onewho licked his mailbox), Morrissey has spent much of his time away,promoting animal rights, working closely with the Los Angeles AnimalPolice and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Among hiscauses: protesting the abuses of baby elephants in Thailand; exposingthe experiments conducted on dogs and cats by the Iams pet-foodcompany; joining fellow PETA campaigner Pamela Anderson and a turkeynamed Chloe for a meat-free Thanksgiving dinner in 2002. "A lot ofpeople aren't interested in animals, so I have to tread very lightlybecause I don't want to become a crashing bore about these things,"Morrissey says. "You won't see me being arrested outside McDonald's. Ijust do what I can. I think that animals need all the help we can givethem."
"Morrissey helped put PETA on the map," says Dan Mathews, the organization's vice president of campaigns. "The Smiths' Meat Is Murder was a benchmark in defining animal rights as an edgy youth movement and has created legions of vegetarians."
Morrissey launched a world tour in 1999, called ¡Oye Esteban!which affectionately acknowledged his newly discovered Latino fan base,then was relatively quiet until he appeared twice in 2002 on CBS' The Late Late Show(during which host Craig Kilborn fawned over his visibly uncomfortableguest in a manner usually reserved for the likes of Doritos girl AliLandry). "I'm looking for a deal," Morrissey claimed in a December 2000interview. "And I'm open and free and available-not free, but I'mavailable." A lack of either takers or acceptable offers gave Morrisseythe dubious distinction of being the biggest unsigned act in rockhistory.
"I'm assuming that you express your personal feelings through your lyrics," I tell him.
"Yes," he says. "It's always been absolutely and exclusively about me."
"It must have been hard to lose that direct outlet after so many years."
"It was very frustrating," he says. "But I absolutely believein fate and I knew that it would end. I felt like I was being carriedalong by something, and perhaps it's all the better that there was agap."
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