A society with widespread racial discrimination, characterised by post-war austerity and deficiency was never prepared for the gladioli-waving spectacle adorning Steven Patrick Morrissey. Born on May 22nd 1959 in unforgiving Lancashire, Morrissey or ‘Moz’ as he was dubbed by bandmate Johnny Marr, is probably one of the most eccentric figures in the music industry. Given the conservatism of the Thatcher years, the emergence of the Smiths in the 1980’s was a rebellion of sorts, against meat, monarchy and Maggie. The legacy of their revolution remains undiminished as the BBC rightly acknowledged in 2007: there was no other group making music quite like The Smiths in 1985. What Morrissey brought to the table was an effete yet wholly sincere attempt to challenge the perception of what a ‘pop star’ was expected to be. Yes, there were other eccentrics at the time, namely Bowie and Mercury and yet Morrissey appealed to the masses in a way they couldn’t.
Morrissey’s plea to the cemented minds of the period was met with pockets of adoration while lashings of scorn and disgust were continually perpetuated a right-wing media seemingly afraid to accept the idea that indie rock could ever have an intellectual bent. Accusations ranged from incorrectly accusing Moz and his entourage of paedophilic lyrics to dismissively shunning Morrissey’s ambiguous sexual orientation. The caricature of the masculine and nonchalant frontman was challenged by Morrissey through his idiosyncratic mannerisms. Shunning drink and drugs for Wilde and Hardy, Morrissey appealed to the inner intellectual of the rock audience and exploited this gap perfectly through his exquisite lyricism. The superb Queen is Dead demonstrates this as The Smiths tackled a whole host of concerns: plagiarism (Cemetry Gates), the press (‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’) and loneliness (‘I Know It’s Over’) among others. Morrissey’s incisive attacks on the established order were certainly unpopular among the elderly and right wing yet now we see the likes of David Cameron claiming to be a devout Smiths fan, proof of Morrissey’s ability to tap into all echelons of society through his eccentric ways.
Aside from his lyricism and political messages, Morrissey’s fashion was a huge element of his success. Morrissey adopted the daring quiff haircut which, since the late noughties, has seen a huge upheaval along with the popularity of ‘NHS glasses’. The sight of Morrissey swaying with his shirt provocatively unbuttoned as beads draped his abdomen was quite a sight to behold. This effeminate imagery was also encapsulated through Morrissey’s unique choice of accessory: the gladioli. Moz endearingly explains “I think flowers are very beautiful things, very nice and innocent things. They don’t harm anybody, they don’t burp, they don’t do anything ugly. So why not? It’s better I think than waving socks about”. The impact of this was to empower a marginalised sector of youngsters who refused to buy into the fading hooliganism culture of the 80’s, thereby Morrissey’s eccentricism helped to make intellect fashionable. I still see pseudo-Morrissey looks today and it’s remarkable how well the aesthetic has aged. Watch the music video for the Smiths’ ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ and notice how Morrissey and his entourage wouldn’t look out of place in an Urban Outfitters *shudders*. Of course, Morrissey’s eccentricism and the Smiths’ downcast themes has made him quite the polarising figure, many dub him the ‘Pope of Mope’ and accuse the Smiths of facilitating the perception of depression becoming fashionable. However, these accusers often treat the Smiths superficially, for example the press’ attempt to hijack the excellent ‘Heaven Knows Im Miserable Now’ by overlooking the ironic humour of the song, demonstrating how Morrissey’s eccentricism was often manipulated to potray him as a trivial moper.
Morrissey unlocked a new form of popstar. Bowie and others had toyed with an intellectual bent but never quite utilised it in the manner that The Smiths did. With huge numbers of my generation still avidly following Morrissey, its no wonder given his unique, eccentric and enchanting personality.