“Although I don’t have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. So the price is enormous. If you travel to Germany, it’s still absolutely Germany. If you travel to Sweden, it still has a Swedish identity.
“But travel to England and you have no idea where you are.”
Morrissey then gave a follow-up interview in which he clarified his remarks: “It could be construed that the reason I wouldn’t wish to live in England is the immigration explosion. And that’s not true at all.”
Okay, yes, this is problematic. There are alternative explanations, as there always are with Morrissey, textual glosses to show that if you look closely, his lyrics and comments aren’t racist or anti-immigrant at all. National Front Disco was absurdist humor, Bengali in Platforms was sympathetic.
Morrissey’s lyrical sensibility has always been, first and foremost, nostalgic in the extreme. It’s there in The Smiths’ iconography—worshipful duotones of great outsiders of the past. Britain exists for Morrissey only in old films and older poetry, and held up to that ideal of course today’s multicultural, modern, affluent Britain would be unrecognizable. John Osborne and Shelagh Delaney and Joe Orton would have no idea what to make of Ali G, Chris Ofili, and Dizzee Rascal. To not accept the deepness of that pining is to misunderstand the entire nature of Morrissey’s poetic worldview. Literary exiles are free to live in the past.
And yet, who are we kidding? Deep down the suspicions just won’t wash away anymore. Moz harbors some troubling views, and our assessments of him will have to grapple with that. He shouldn’t be dismissed outright—his influence and contribution is too large—but he has complicated his songs now, and listening from now on might be laced with a tinge of disappointment. A bad taste in the mouth. His vaunted literary forebears will have to include some beyond the canon that he has chosen for himself. He is, maybe, T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound as much as Oscar Wilde.
But, but, we must not forget that this site is really about representations of Morrissey in contemporary art. What strikes me as the most appropriate for today is a loose one but a close one nonetheless, Marcus Harvey’s portrait of the Manchester serial-killer Myra Hindley in children’s fingerprints. When it was shown as part of Sensation it was pelted with eggs and prompted the resignation of several RA officials. “Suffer Little Children,” the Smiths’ own interpretation of the Moors murders, was the first song Morrissey and Johnny Marr demo’d together, and caused widely publicized emotional suffering for families of Hindley’s victims when it was released. Both the song and the painting have clinged to the historical event, interwoven with it, get mentioned whenever Myra Hindley is written about. The painting is now more well-known than the mug shot itself. And as time passes they become the primary sources, the definitive interpretations of an event that’s fading from memory. A history painting and an account in song, just like we had in the days of long ago.