In 1987, I was listening to '80s fluff metal the likes of Poison, Ratt, and M tley Cr e and I loved every hair-banging minute of it.
Then something happened. I met a gang of punk rockers that loved getting suspended from school and going to all-ages hardcore shows at the now defunct Rat in Boston's Kenmore Square. I tried to keep up with these ruffians, but ultimately settled into the more "sensitive" side ofalternative bands like The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain. I hung around the mall with my new group of gothy, punky girl-friends (i.e., friends that were girls. Not "girlfriends").We sat around darkly lit bedrooms, smoking clove cigarettes, drinking peach schnapps, and talked about INXS, Depeche Mode, and 10,000 Maniacs amid posters of said bands until all hours of the night.I still hung around with my neighborhood buddies who smoked weed and listened to classic rock like Boston and Bad Company, which I still liked, but they knew I was veering off into different, and to them, strange territory.
It all came to a head when, one summer afternoon, a friend of my older brother gave me cassette and asked me, "Have you ever heard of these guys?"
Those guys were The Smiths.I didn't get it.The art work, the name of the band, the song titles--yet I was extremely interested. I was strangely drawn to it. I went to my room, popped the tape in, and hit play.
From the first strains of The Queen Is Dead, I was hooked. I had never heard anything like this. It was at once alien andthe exact truth of how I felt at the same time. Sort of liked jvu, it made feel like I had heard them before in another time or place. It defined a lot things for me in a series of three-minute songs. What I was thinking. How I was feeling. I was a teenage kid that was kind of lost and slightly sad. This band was the perfect companion to the drama in my little life.
I ate it up. All of it. I had to know more. To have more. I ventured to Newbury Comics record shop on the subway on a Smiths pilgrimage. Once there, I found a plethora of records and singles with colorful covers splashed with obscure movie stars gracing the fronts. I wanted them, but could only get one at a time. This was kind of fun, though. I couldn't wait for each weekend to spend my pizza parlor job money and spend it on a new Smiths album that I didn't have. Soon, I had them all.I used my dad's record player for the 7-inch vinyls. I stayed in my room for hours playing and re playing the music. My father thought his son had become a recluse. I wanted to tell him I was a recluse, like the songs told me to be.
My whole world became about this band and its elusive lead singer--Morrissey. Who was this guy? From what I could tell, he had already staked claim as an iconic figure. A mysterious poet to disenfranchised youth like myself. I realized that there were others like me that worshiped this man that we had never even seen or met.
Then the real blow came.
1987: The Smiths broke up that summer and I would never see them or my new folk hero Morrissey!I was at a loss. I could only take refuge in my recordings. The songs that came to mean so much to me. That burned meaning into my mind and soul. These lyrics that somehow summed up how I felt and saw the world. Now he was gone and I was depressed like the man himself. But that would all change.
1988: Morrissey released a solo album. He was back! My world was right again. Viva Hate was everything a boy could hope for. It had all the standard Smiths tones while introducing the fan base to the man who fronted the Smiths in a whole new light. Some say the old band and the man are the same, but with the solo work, we got a new level of Moz-dom. It's everything he couldn't do with Marr in tow and all the nostalgia of the original seed of The Smiths included.
My obsession grew to new heights. My walls were now plastered in Morrissey posters. My dad and older brother may have been thinking that I was gay at this point. I walked around in Morrissey tee's or floral patterned dress shirts that hung loose and low on me, like my man-crush wore. I adopted his glasses and even desperately tried to fashion my hair into his floppy, Byro- age pompadour. Every fiber of my being wanted to be near him, listen to him, talk to him, be him. I was now a fan boy, one of the many hidden masses that holed up in bedrooms, quietly playing the poet on their headphones. Then it happened .
MORRISSEY IS COMING!He was coming in concert. Everything was colliding. I had to be there. To see him. To be witness to his glory. To shake and shuffle to his gospel. Maybe I would bring him flowers?! So much to do.
My Morrissey cohort Jason (see JASON essay) and I got our tickets and drove my 1980 Chevy Malibu down to the concert. When Jason got in the car, his hair was better than mine and I was pissed about it, but played it off. The whole way down, we kept the windows rolled up so an not to ruin our hairstyles in the 90-degree weather with no air-conditioning. We were sweating buckets and, by the time we arrived at the show, our Morrissey hair had fallen flat, wet, and stringy.
After fixing our moppy manes in the bathroom, we took our seats. The show was everything we could hope for. I was in my possibly gay glory. Others like me were yelling, screaming, and crying for this man on stage. They threw flowers at him.They wanted to be with him. They jumped on the stage and hugged him, always pulling him to the ground and holding tight until security pried them off of him. He seemed to like it. He welcomed it. I, however, was too far away to be a part of this love fest.
After the show, I fell deeper and deeper into my adoration of Morrissey. My friends didn't understand. They called him Morri-SISSY! I defended him fiercely, but when I said things like, "You don't understand him!" it only made their case and made things worse for me. More and more, I started hanging out with "alternative" kids that also worshiped Moz and other bands of the sort. My friend Jason and myself got closer and spent afternoons in Morrissey heaven--listening to records, reading the books he read, and shopping for Morrissey-esque clothing like colored jeans and floral-patterned dress shirts that we shared with one another. Kids at school found this strange and thought that maybe we were dating. We also spent hours in the bathroom, trying to perfect the Morrissey hair.
One thing I still had to do was quit the wrestling team. I had joined the state champsto be a part of something and to impress my dad and brother, maybe get a girlfriend, but since I had joined Team Morrissey, I had to weasel out of being beat up, teased, and pushed to my lung-bursting limits every day. I knew the team hated me when they caught me in the locker room listening to the Smiths on my boom box one day while they were practicing. After this, I was ostracized by the team and knew that it was time to move on.
From that moment on, I marched to the beat of my own Smiths song. I dyed my hair black, ripped my jeans, and bought as many Brit pop t-shirts that I could. I started going to shows. I started listening to the local alternative station WFNX and reading The Boston Phoenix. Who knew that it would be the wrestling team, the thing I despised most, that would lead to my teenage awakening? Life became clearer and more fun. I fell in with a set of like-minded kids in and out of school. We traded tapes. We talked shop about the bands we loved. This led to books and movies and so on and so on and so on
Morrissey started it, but I took the reigns.
Now I was actually, finally sure of who and what I was. I no longer needed to prove myself or explain who I was to people--friends and family included.
In my years of Morrissey fandom, I have been lucky enough to meet the man a few times. I mean, who gets to meet their idol? More than once! I stood in line to meet him at a record release. I chased him down in a Los Angeles parking garage, and even sat at his table at an eatery he frequented. Every time, he was kind and cordial.
THE BIG MOMENT: If you know anything about him or The Smiths, then you are aware that he is always rushed while performing--by his fans, especially men. It's not a homosexual act (I mean, for some, it may be) as much as an outpouring and show of love, and he welcomes it. There are huge musicians and celebrities, but no one since Elvis commands this kind of excitement in his fans. The kids bring flowers and letters and jump up on stage if they can, not to attack, but to hold, hug, touch, love Morrissey. It's an emotional cleansing. A shared experience of cataclysmic adoration, excitement, and harmony. I was once a part of this. This would be the culmination of my love for Morrissey.
Springfield 1992. The Your Arsenal Tour. My friends and I scored tickets and made the two-and-a-half hour trek west of Boston to see the man himself. The energy was potent. The air hung heavy with sweaty Moz love, James Dean wannabes, and flowers. I was in heaven. It was like a convention of lonely bookworms. It had been a while since my first concert and now I was a full-fledged, set-in-stone fanatic. The night couldn't have started off any better when we sneaked out back and met the back-up band known as The Boys. Four oily haired handsome Brits on bass, drums, and guitar. They signed an Oscar Wilde book for me (which I lost a week later on the subway.)
Once the show started, we made our way to our not-so-greats seats, which I immediately abandoned along with my friends while in the process of maneuvering my way down front to be as close as I could to the main event. Once Morrissey took the stage, the place went berserk. This was still only a few years into his solo career and seeing him was very much like seeing The Beatles or Elvis for us fans and stalkers. I was so excited to be down front and I could have kept it to that, but at some point, I wanted more and my brain made the decision to get even closer--as in, on stage with him. I wanted to do what I had seen so many times in videos by other fans of his and/or The Smiths. I can see my moves now in slow motion. I looked around, no security in my eye line for a split second, and I made my move. It all happened so fast. I threw all caution aside and, in moments, I was on stage. I was next to him. In front of the whole audience. It was exhilarating. I felt like Morrissey myself. In that moment, I melded with him. I became him, and him me. We became MARKISSEY.
Morrissey looked at me and me at him. I put my arm around him like the pals we were. He looked at me as if to say, "Well, you're here. What now?" I looked out at the crowd going wild. I was part of the show with my hero. It was surreal. Like a movie.
Then in a moment, as fast as it began, it was over.
I felt a tremendous push from behind me. I was shoved right off the stage by security. I landed on my ankle, breaking it. I couldn't move, but I was still in a euphoric love zone. Inside, I was till on stage. Then reality set in. Pain! The show was stopped. It came to a screeching halt as security ushered Moz backstage while the EMTs came into the venue with a stretcher to take me out. Yes. This happened. I ended up stopping the whole show. The crowd, who seconds before loved me, were now booing me. I was brought out of the concert and to the hospital. This wonderful moment of me connecting with my hero that I had desired for so long, that was the definition of happiness to me, had come crashing down around me. I had ruined the night not only for me and my friends, but for 2,000 others and for, most of all, Morrissey.
At the hospital, I was administered pain-killing drugs and was so out of it that I thought Morrissey himself may come and see how I was. The nurse kept assuring me he was not there. Instead, my friends showed up, pissed that I ruined the show for everyone. One of my buddy's suggested I sue Morrissey for damages. I was appalled. I could never do that to him! The ride home was silent to say the least, but I was in my own world, drugged out, with a big smile on my face after sharing the stage, if only briefly, with my idol.
POST SCRIPT: People joke about my love of this man, but there comes a point in life when we realize who we are and what we want. It was The Smiths' and Morrissey's music that did this for me. Yes, it's slightly goofy how much I love this, as a grown man, but life's to short too give a shit. I know that I will forever be "16 , clumsy and shy."
*Written while listening to Morrisseyof course.