It’s Morrissey’s fault I even knew about the special Smiths inspired episode of The Simpsons. Somehow I hadn’t got around to unfollowing Morrissey Official on Facebook, so the news appeared on my feed, promoting what seemed to be a wonderful tribute to one of the greatest pop groups ever to emerge from the neon lit ’80s music scene. The Smiths will always be essential to me. I still listen to their albums, playing their songs at least several times per week. Right now it’s Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, which is often repeated in the background, yet is never ever background music. I found The Smiths at a very young age, that period we all go through when we’re in our formative years of finding ourselves through music. My father, a factory worker with a hatred for ‘the guvnors’ (anyone in a position above him or anyone helping the bosses), passed The Smiths down to me without even trying, playing their music routinely as he got ready for work. When he emerged in his red overall, it was time for the music to stop and nine hours of clocking in/clocking out misery to begin. When he left, the music started again. I listened to those songs all night long while everyone at school had 2 Unlimited passing between their ears. Hatful of Hollow was one of the first albums I played on vinyl and I threw myself into the inhibited cult of The Smiths. Here was the music I needed at the time I needed it most: literate lyrics, beautiful instrumentals, all perfectly placed against each other.
The music reached places most pop simply couldn’t reach in me. I became obsessed. The album covers of Smiths albums unlocked entire new worlds, giving me access to people like Shelagh Delaney, Joe Dallesandro, and Alain Delon. The vinyl single sleeves were also populated by a cast of icons too. There was Viv Nicholson, the working class mother who won the pools. She vowed to spend, spend, spend, and became fabulous in the process. Billy Fury. Pat Pheonix. Yootha Joyce. Candy Darling. Truman Capote years before I read In Cold Blood. All of them there to be discovered, and I was more than willing to discover them all.
The Smiths have always inspired an obsessiveness in their fans. No matter how much you love your favourite band, Smiths fans love The Smiths more. I discovered them long after their split, which means Morrissey was well into his time as a solo artist, while Johnny Marr was in Electronic, who released some superb songs. Also, he played guitar for Beck and Girls Aloud. What a legend. Of course, I listened to everything Morrissey put out, even the albums I didn’t really care for. November Spawned A Monster is a high-point in his career, as good as anything from The Smiths. But…
Sometimes you can love something or someone so much that it isn’t their music that deafens you, but your own adoration. Morrissey, as we know, was always a contrarian. But he also had values I respected: he fought against Thatcher during his time in The Smiths. He supported The Red Wedge. His attacks on the rich in defence of working class people made him someone I supported gladly. But even I had to acknowledge how problematic he was becoming throughout the years. Some of his recent comments as reported in the press are appalling, just hateful. The ‘For Britain’ badge he wore on national television? It hurts. It really does.
The Simpsons is a mainstay of television. I’m more of a South Park fan, but of course anything about The Smiths is going to draw my interest immediately. Actually, I found the episode rather moving at times. Despite what you might think, it *is* a tribute to The Smiths. A wonderful, glorious reminder of just how special they were…and still are. Also, the thought of Morrissey from The Smiths being confronted by Morrissey as he is now is wonderful, if only because you know they wouldn’t like each other. Lisa Simpson, who like me, threw herself into this band she discovered, is horrified by what ‘Morrissey’ has turned into – more importantly, so is ‘Morrissey’. Satisfyingly, this episode of The Simpsons gave me an opportunity to reaffirm my love of The Smiths, almost give myself permission to love them again, after years of associating Morrissey’s horrid polemic with them. Similar to a blog I wrote a while ago about Roald Dahl in the wave of JK Rowling’s stance on the trans debate, I almost forgot that The Smiths were more than just one person. Though this episode positions them as Morrissey’s backing band, that wasn’t the case at all. Johnny Marr was just as brilliant as Morrissey, just as talented. The Smiths were perfect and not even Morrissey as he is now can ruin that for me.