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Revisit Our November 1992 Morrissey Your Arsenal Cover Story: The Sorrow and the Pity

With some artists, interviews are easy. You book a time, turn up, switch on the tape recorder, and they give you the same old sales pitch that they’ve just doled out to a hundred other reporters. With Morrissey, it doesn’t work that way. I spent a week in Los Angeles and New York, hanging out with his entourage, and observing him as he made a series of appearances to promote his latest album, Your Arsenal. Every so often, we’d bump into one another, but the interview that I’d been promised was like some sort of mirage, always visible in the distance, but never actually there. Meanwhile, a string of magazine and TV journalists were left angry and empty-handed as all their appointments were canceled. Morrissey was unwell, they were told. He was suffering from an upset stomach and near-chronic insomnia. At a signing session at Sam Goody’s in Los Angeles, Morrissey left early, leaving hundreds of frustrated fans on the sidewalk, and a horde of record company and radio station execs fuming in his wake. Morrissey can drive people nuts: He just doesn’t play the media and business game.

On the other hand, his refusal to conform to the demands of corporate rock has its advantages. Morrissey is one of the most honest stars you’re ever likely to meet. When he does meet his fans, he treats them with kindness and consideration. He talks to them, hugs them, and bashfully accepts the flowers, books, and little presents that they always want to give him.

As an interviewee, (he eventually made good on the promised interview), Morrissey is truthful and open. He doesn’t give you standard-issue bullshit; he says what he actually thinks.And since he is intelligent, articulate, and witty, his thoughts tend to be worth listening to.

SPIN: Something that I’ve noticed over the past few weeks is that there’s a funny contradiction between the fact that you are fawned upon, and at the same time, you’re sort of a piece of meat. You’re the object being sold.

Morrissey: I am the thing. You can’t not become a thing.

SPIN: Because the same people who are being sycophantic are also telling you where to go and what to do next.

Morrissey: That’s absolutely right. It’s not quite as fierce as you make it seem, but you do sometimes get bypassed as a living, breathing person. But I wouldn’t complain about that, because it sounds very petty and show biz, doesn’t it?

SPIN: The devotion of your fans is so intense. It reminds me of when [Formula One world champion] Nigel Mansell won the British Grand Prix this year. The crowd went wild and they ran onto the track and surrounded his car. He couldn’t move and there was a moment at which it really looked as if they were going to tear him to pieces.

Morrissey: I’ve been in that situation many, many times—when I’m in a car that cannot move and all I see is flesh pressed against every surrounding window. It’s very unnerving, and suddenly, the temperature in the car rises and you can’t breathe and whoever has sat next to you starts to panic, and … it’s wonderful! [Laughs]

SPIN: Is this how you thought it would be, when you were a kid, alone in your bedroom?

Morrissey: I never thought it would be as hysterical as it is. I thought I would manage to do something quite respectable and reasonably unknown, and I think I would have been quite happy with that. So it’s gone beyond the, uh, boundaries.

SPIN: I was talking with George [Morrissey’s bodyguard] and he was saying that even when he was on the road with Mötley Crüe, when they were shifting millions of records and were the ultimate in hard-rock excess, that even then the fans didn’t have anything like the intensity of the people that follow you.

Morrissey: I wouldn’t, for instance, imagine that George Michael does. Similarly with Madonna, I can’t imagine anyone loving Madonna and wanting to get onstage, and hold her, and squeeze her, and not let go. She doesn’t inspire that. She may sell millions of records—similarly with George Michael or Michael Jackson—but I don’t know that people really, really love them in the way that I feel that I am loved by the people who come and see me. So, yes, it’s baffling.

SPIN: Why do you think that is? I mean, they must be projecting something onto you.

Morrissey: Well, apart from the actual records and what they convey, I think that there is a great sense that I have been always overlooked. I think that the audience is perfectly aware of this and they feel that I have been enormously shortchanged.

SPIN: By whom?

Morrissey: By the entire music industry and all of their relatives! [Laughs] I’ve been dumped into the “out” tray.

SPIN: Oh, come on. You’re sitting here in this amazing hotel suite.

Morrissey: Yes, and I always have sat in hotels like this, but it’s never been documented and I don’t know why. Last year, for instance, I sold out Madison Square Garden. There was no publicity before the concert, no publicity after the concert, and I thought, “I wonder if many artists in the history of the entire world have ever sold out this venue with no publicity.” The L.A. Forum, too. My experience, my career, if you like, is littered with items like that, and it never, ever gets documented. I wonder why certain people are deliberately neglected. Is it a form of censorship?

SPIN: No, it’s just a form of whether you want to play the game or not.

Morrissey: But that isn’t really fair. If you achieve, you should be recognized in some way.

SPIN: Yes, but you aren’t seen, in the way that George Michael is, with Linda Evangelista at video shoots, or at all those artfully managed arrivals at airports, and that’s the deal, isn’t it?

Morrissey: Yes it is, but the question in my mind is, which scenario is more real and more natural? I think mine is and it always has been. Everything I’ve achieved, I’ve earned, and nobody has handed it to me, and that kind of existence is hard to understand for the music industry. They don’t understand the language of being your own person. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change it. But I just feel anger, because when you repeatedly do things against what seems like all the odds there comes a time when the size of your audience should be recognized and you should be treated accordingly.

SPIN: What form would the attention take?

Morrissey: Well, it would have been nice to have read somewhere, throughout the world, “Morrissey has sold out Madison Square Garden,” and there were no posters and there were no reviews. That would have been nice, but to my knowledge, I’ve never seen anything that  pertained to that particular night in history.

SPIN: But this year’s tour is going to be that sort of arena on a regular basis, which is kind of hard to miss.

Morrissey: One hopes. I’m going to wear very bright shirts! For the first time it seems as though it’s completely focused. Not just in my way, but in the way of Sire Records, and that’s what makes it quite fascinating to me, because I’ve never been in that situation before. I’ve always been plowing uphill, and achieving nonetheless, but never feeling the weight of anything at all behind me other than self-determination.

SPIN: How do you fill your time on the road when you’re not actually working?

Morrissey: The main preoccupation I have is keeping as physically, reasonably—well, I wouldn’t say fit—but, uh, avoiding illness. I have one suitcase which I try to keep as orderly as possible and that is really, as far as I’m sure you know in these circumstances,is a full-time occupation—trying to get things laundered. Trying to actually get food I can eat, because I have such an incredibly basic intake that it’s very, very hard for me to get food, and when I become ill, it’s always because of lack of food. I can only handle extremely basic food and most menus in most establishments do not deal with basic tastes.

SPIN: What are you reading at the moment?

Morrissey: Well, Oliver Twist and a few peculiar magazines, but just because I’m reading them, I’m not necessarily enjoying them. I’m trying to find out what’s in them. But Oliver Twist is the thing I’m reading on the plane.

SPIN: Why?

Morrissey: Charles Dickens is very exciting to me, because he was a terribly gloomy character, terribly embittered, and quite depressed.

SPIN: Terribly successful, too.

Morrissey: Yes! What a fantastic combination. I love the grim, dim description of the East End, all those murky, winding passages, full of desperate characters—like our friend Fagin.

SPIN: Which of those characters do you relate to most?

Morrissey: The one who’s the most desperate at any one time, whoever that may be!

SPIN: Isn’t unhappiness, to some degree, a matter of choice?

Morrissey: I think choice has a great deal to do with it. I can’t explain it more than that. It may be unconscious choice. I think it’s a result of somehow being traumatized along the way and you suddenly decide upon what’s best for you, i.e., staying away.

SPIN: One of the impressions that I’ve had over the past few days is that there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy going on in your life, which is that you say—to put it crudely—”I’m lonely and nobody loves me,” and then you make it impossible for anyone to disprove that point. But, in fact, you’re a perfectly nice person and you’re perfectly capable of having a charming conversation. But you go to great lengths to try and prove that you’re not.

Morrissey: Well, the way you say it actually sounds almost amusing. It almost sounds like a nightclub routine—but it isn’t. I’ve just simply become adaptable. I was, at one stage, not too long ago, pretty impenetrable. I rarely opened the curtains. I couldn’t think of any reason why. So I have become more adaptable.

SPIN: Do you have depressive periods?

Morrissey: I think I’m always depressed. And I don’t say that in search of a guffaw, but I think I am always depressed.

SPIN: Do you ever have that sense of being encased, like the boy in the bubble, so that all experience is not direct, but filtered somehow?

Morrissey: Yes, I do. I feel that I can have a million conversations, but nobody actually sees me, or speaks to me directly, and tells me something that’s actually valuable to me. But life is … difficult.

SPIN: What disillusioned you? Was it your parents, do you think?

Morrissey: Yes, of course. If, as a small child, you’re in an environment where your own parents don’t actually get on, you believe that this is a microcosm of the rest of the world—that that is how life is. It’s quite crippling. Even if you can overcome it, it’s very debilitating and it stays with you.

SPIN: I’m not sure that parents should take the rap, if you know what I mean.

Morrissey: No, but what happens if you never saw your parents kiss, or you never saw your parents hug each other?

SPIN: Is that your situation?

Morrissey: Well, I’m intrigued, because when I meet people here, they always say, “Can I hug you?”

SPIN: I’ve seen security guys at your singing sessions standing with their walkie-talkies and talking about “the hugging thing” and what they were going to do about it.

Morrissey: Well, in Houston, there was a woman reportedly shouting, “No hugging, no hugging!” and I thought, that’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. No hugging. Why not?

SPIN: Maybe you’re giving them the hugs they don’t get anywhere else.

Morrissey: I thought they were giving me the hugs I didn’t get anywhere else!

SPIN: Well, you’re both giving each other the hugs.

Morrissey: Yes, but my need’s greater!

SPIN: There you go again. You do need the hugs and you want them, but you put this wall around you with anyone other than your fans.

Morrissey: Not necessarily [laughs]. You have to be careful these days! Don’t you?

SPIN: If I were in your position, I would feel extremely angry about having to teach myself things that should have been taught to me when I was a kid. Since you are obviously intelligent and imaginative, and since both of those qualities were denied as a child that must have been a source of frustration.

Morrissey: It’s a very peculiar world. You can’t serve an apprenticeship, really. You just have to go into it with your own private ideas. It’s all a matter of just exorcising private, obsessions—from a record sleeve, to a song, to a stage set. And before you exorcise them, you can’t really even discuss them with anybody else. They’re private up until the very last minute. They’re private until the minute you perform them or sing them or design them. But perhaps the unfortunate aspect of being a pop artist—I really don’t know how else to describe it, because all the terms just sound trite to me—is that, up until the point, where you do fulfill your obsessions, it can only be recognized as madness. When you do fulfill them, it is afforded some seal of, not necessarily approval, but vague understanding. Pop music for pop artist is really salvation. It’s either that, or extreme social ridicule.

SPIN: Or both!

Morrissey: Yes … and a lot of great musicians and songwriters don’t become successful and they actually go mad. Making records seems to legitimize one’s insanity, which is very useful! [Laughs]

SPIN: You’re one of those artists that attracts obsessiveness, not just in fans, but in critics, too. Reading old interviews with you, they’re full of writers who seem to be pressing you to validate their impression of what it’s all about.

Morrissey: This is why, when I give several interviews in the course of a few days, which happens very rarely, but does happen, I do feel a bit unbalanced at the end of it, because it’s so, well, intense is just a fraction of it. [What I do] is not pop music, it’s not rock music, and this is why I feel insulted if I am viewed as a “rock star” or a “pop star” because it’s not that. And you may almost smile as I say that [laughs], but it’s just beyond that. Or it’s not beyond that, it’s actually something else.

SPIN: Do you ever feel burdened by people’s expectations? I remember once interviewing Van Morrison, and he absolutely insisted that his music was just a job, even though though it was obviously much more than that, because he couldn’t bear the weight of responsibility that people like me put upon him.

Morrissey: I do understand that attitude. Because otherwise what do you do? Do you sit at home in a white cloak all day on a huge chair, listening to your own records over and over again. Because in a way, that’s almost what people are, well, not asking you to do, or expecting you to do, but I don’t think they’d be that surprised if you said that’s what you did.

SPIN: Do you still have the demon? The sense that you have to do it?

Morrissey: Yes, and the biggest demon of all is the self-critic, the little person inside of you who’s always saying “No, no, no, that’s not good enough. No, no, no, you don’t look good, that wasn’t great, start again, you’ve not done anything yet.” That, I think, is the hardest part. This is why any pop journalist who wishes to do a savage critique of anything I’ve done is wasting their time, because I get there before they do. I’m not living in some luxurious, glamorous fantasy bubble, where I see myself in a purely successful, glamorous way.

SPIN: Why don’t you give yourself a break?

Morrissey: You can’t, and you know you can’t.

SPIN: Yes, but there must be times when you know that something you’ve done is really good.

Morrissey: Yes, but that’s the first part of the sentence. And the next part of the sentence is “however, if you had done this, it would be better, and that’s what you have to do now.” That’s always a part of it for me. I always look behind me and, personally, I can say, it’s just not good enough, I have to do something more valuable. However, other people can’t say that.

SPIN: Why don’t you play any of the old Smiths songs any more? They’re good songs. You can be proud of them.

Morrissey: I am very proud of them, and they are me. People refer to “Smiths songs” understandably, but it’s almost as though they were done by other people. But they were as much me as Your Arsenal is me. There is no difference really. I have several pretty useless reasons why I don’t do them, and when the Smiths ended and I was being faced with lawyers saying, “If you use the Smiths name we will sue you. And if you carry on, we will sue you. And if you do this or that, we will sue you,” it just seemed like a huge mystical message to me to put on a new hat and so forth.

SPIN: Are you lonely?

Morrissey: Yes, I am extremely lonely.

SPIN: How would you think about solving that?

Morrissey: I don’t think about that now, because when you’ve struck the grand old age of 33, you have to come to some basic conclusions about your life-style and practically every night of my life has been the same, so it’s not as if I’ve had ups and downs. The day always ends the same way, with exactly the same scenario. I’m closing the door and putting the lights out and fumbling for a book. And that’s it. I find that very unfortunate, but then, I could have a wooden leg.

SPIN: But isn’t the point that everyone is, just by nature of the human existence, so incredibly lonely, that the only thing you can do is try to mitigate that somehow?

Morrissey: Yes but most people try to do that by pretending that the word “lonely” doesn’t exist in the dictionary. The strain for me is that most people don’t talk in a personal way. I don’t want to sit down with head bent and shoulders arched, with a crack in the voice, 24 hours a day, talking about every human ill imaginable. But I would like people to talk to me directly. And I would like people to say, well, “Why do you live this way?”

SPIN: But I just have!

Morrissey: But nobody else ever does.

SPIN: Maybe they’re just frightened.

Morrissey: But what of? I know what you’re going to say [laughs], but I just don’t want you to say it.

SPIN: Because, for example, people are constantly telling me all the things that Morrissey doesn’t do. You know: “He doesn’t want to talk about the Smiths. He won’t discuss the Rogan book [Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance]. He doesn’t have drinks. He won’t come out to dinner.” And one thinks, what the hell am I supposed to talk about? And all the time there’s this self-fulfilling prophecy going on: “I’m incredibly lonely, but could you please fuck off.”

Morrissey: Very elegantly put [laughs].

SPIN: But if I were your therapist, I might say that, at some point, it might be advisable for you to break that cycle for your own peace of mind.

Morrissey: Well, yes, I do actually realize that. I realized that in 1970. However, well, it’s only life.

SPIN: Yes, but it’s the only one you’ve got.

Morrissey: Yes, but it will end. And all this will seem so frivolous.

SPIN: Do you like yourself?

Morrissey: No, I don’t. That is the actual truth, but I know that there is no way that that sentence can be printed and not seem like anything other than extreme nonsense.

SPIN: But, objectively, it doesn’t seem to me that you have a reason not to like yourself.

Morrissey: More to the point, I don’t have a reason to like myself. I did an interview once with Mavis Nicholson. And after the interview, she whispered to a friend of mine, “There’s nothing he likes about himself, is there?” And it was a crushing moment. I thought, well, Mavis, 30 minutes is all it took you to find out.

SPIN: Oh come on. You’re indulging yourself.

Morrissey: Why?

SPIN: Because it’s a security blanket to say that. You’ve got the parameters of your life all laid out. It’s like your suitcase.

Morrissey: Yes, but if I worked for British Rail, I’d just have another suitcase. So you shouldn’t pick one!

SPIN: Fair enough, but if I were interviewing the guy from British Rail, I’d ask him the same questions. It’s just that, if you were just another person in a pub, and we were talking, I’d think, “He seems like a decent bloke, let’s have a drink, or grab a bite to eat.” But because of the job you do, and the authorized version of your life, that option is closed off. And actually, it’s closed off for you as well.

Morrissey: It’s true. The things I have to work hardest at in life are the things you’ve just described, and I don’t exactly know why.

SPIN: But everybody finds that stuff difficult. It’s like when you’re a kid and you dance for the first time—you think you look awful, but since every other kid is thinking exactly the same thing about themselves, it doesn’t really matter and you shouldn’t worry about it.

Morrissey: I know, but you can’t really tell yourself that. It’s like with so many interviews: Once the tape recorder is switched off, there’s complete silence. And it’s the silent handshake and the silent walk to the life, and the silent walk to the lobby. It’s almost as if there’s nothing else to say, or no other language or conversation to be had.

SPIN: At what point in your life was your innocence lost? And I don’t mean sexually, but psychologically.

Morrissey: I never, ever felt innocent in the way I think you mean. I never felt open in any way. I would never impulsively ring people and assume that they’d want to see me, or just go ‘round. I always had to sit down and think very hard before I knocked on anybody’s door. And consequently, I never really knocked. There was no sense of frivolity in my young life at all, ever. There was no such thing as going crazy, or getting drunk, or falling over, or going to a beach or—well, the list goes on. That never occurred. Everything in my life was just hopelessly premeditated.

SPIN: Can you be spontaneous now?

Morrissey: No, not at all.

SPIN: Is that a control thing?

Morrissey: I think it’s because you assume that your personality, as it stands, isn’t really naturally acceptable to most people—that you have to control it or fashion it slightly, and similarly, your language. It’s just a matter of being obsessively self-judgmental, which is completely ruinous, because I think you eventually find that people with whom you feel most close or think are the most like you are the ones with whom you can say anything that comes into your head, and be as silly and useless as you like. 

SPIN: Do you think that, at some level, you’re just not capable of trust?

Morrissey: I don’t know, I don’t think I am. It’s a bit too late, really. It’s simply come too late.