I was an ordinary boy.
A skin full of hollow.
Misery may well love company but I couldn’t find any.
She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen.
I used to sit with her on a wall outside of school waiting on her mum to come and collect her.
I knew she liked The Beautiful South so I asked my dad if he would buy tickets to go and see them in Edinburgh so that I could take her…in a rare moment of bravado and near confidence I had already asked her, in an even rarer moment of someone finding me tolerable enough to spend an evening with she had said yes.
We took the train to Edinburgh.
We watched the concert.
My head was filled with dreams of walking her home and kissing her goodnight on the doorstep.
As we stepped out of the Playhouse Theatre I heard a voice behind us calling her name.
It was her older sister.
She walked with us to the train station.
The two of them found seats together and I was left on my own in a different carriage.
When I got home my mum asked me how it had gone.
“Fine” I said before heading off to my room and turning to the only person who could really understand and offer some sort of twisted comfort.
As ever I removed the record from the sleeve with the care of a Priest passing a Communion wafer…this was my religion.
“Were you and he lovers, and would you say so if you were?”
She wasn’t ever going to be any sort of lover and even if she were to be…it was obvious that she wouldn’t say so. Yet again only Morrissey understood. I was alone and lonely everywhere except sat by my record player with his voice drifting, floating, thundering, plunging and soaring around me and deep inside of me. Every word written and sung only for me…even the ones that made no sense to me.
I had missed The Smiths, arriving late to the party of the forlorn and loveless…which was appropriate really given the fact that in real life I hadn’t ever been invited to a party. Just a few weeks before my Beautiful South “date” a really awful boy in my year had enjoyed an encounter at an “empty” that went beyond the erotic with another girl I had a crush on. I was at home…unaware that there even was a party.
When I discovered that The Smiths was dead after I had discovered them it seemed a very cruel trick for the fates to have played on me, just as I found someone who could love me and whom I could love it turned out that they didn’t really exist. So when news reached the coastal town I lived in (come friendly bombs) that Morrissey was releasing a solo album my heart was full.
“Viva Hate” is everything that one would expect from an album from the lead singer of one of the most important bands of the post-punk/indie era. Long before his court case, long before his teenage diaries were fully mined, long before the bitterness, long before fame, fame, fatal fame turned him into a charicature of himself this body of work arrived and served notice of a charming man, a handsome devil, a joker who was still funny, the son and heir of a shyness that was criminally vulgar, a poet. Every track bore witness to his status as the most important lyricist of his generation and, thanks to Vinni Reilly and the brilliant Stephen Street, the music massaged the aching muscle that was your heart and soothed the ball of confusion that was your soul.
For the casual listener it would be the dent in the charts made by the singles “Everyday is Like Sunday” (John Betjeman’s “Slough” set to music) and “Suedehead” (taking its name from the boot boy pulp fiction of Richard Allen) that would cause the most interest. Each of these singles reached heights in the charts that The Smiths could only have dreamt of. Both are beautifully crafted and are accompanied by (shock-horror-gasp) VIDEOS! “Everyday is Like Sunday” has a promo film that features the true Queen of England, Billie Whitelaw, in a cameo role and “Suedehead” sees La Mozzerina gamboling around the streets and fields of James Dean’s hometown.
The highlight moment of the album and, arguably, of Morrissey’s career though arrives with “Late Night Maudlin Street” which is one of very few moments in pop history where lyrics are genuine poetry. Paying homage to both Bill Naughton and the film “Carry On Teacher” with its title the song rolls and strolls along for nearly 8 minutes…eight minutes that are over far too quickly. It is, quite simply, one of the greatest lyrics in pop music history. There. I’ve said it. Damn you to Hull and back if you don’t agree with me.
“Love at first sight, may sound trite, but it’s true you know.”
“When I sleep with that picture of you framed beside my bed, oh it’s childish and it’s silly, but I think its you in my room by my bed…I told you it was silly.”
“No, I cannot steal a pair of jeans off a clothes line for you”
A stream of consciousness.
A dream of subconsciousness.
A hymn to the past.
An ode to the streets where he played.
There really wasn’t a need for Morrissey to release his autobiography, everything I needed to know about his life story was contained in these words and in every note of every instrument.
Besides this (although what more do you need?) there were other notable highlights, the punk roar in a soft whisper of “Margaret on the Guillotine” which saw him interviewed by Special Branch, the nothing more delicate “Angel, Angel Down We Go Together”, the hilarious “I Don’t Mind if you Forget Me”, the controversial “Bengali in Platforms” and then songs which I’m going to dismiss as “the rest” which would comfortably sit on a greatest hits compilation of most other songwriters.
In thirty years I’ve loved, I’ve lost, I’ve been sick, I’ve been hurt, I’ve married, I’ve divorced, I’ve married again, I’ve become a father, I’ve hit desperate lows, I’ve glimpsed dizzying highs and throughout it all “Viva Hate” has been there…a therapist, a friend, a healer, a doctor, the best friend I’ve ever had.