This post might be in bad timing. Especially when the COVID-19 pandemic is in full force over here in the U.S. Then again, perhaps people need some distraction. Regardless. This entry is about Morrissey.
One of the first ‘Post Punk’ bands I was exposed to. I was maybe 14, 15, listening to a program on WNEW-FM. The program focused on (at the time) the latest Alternative music from the U.K. (Might have been the first time I heard Killing Joke as well.) The DJ spun The Smiths‘ classic ‘How Soon Is Now.’ It left an impression. In 1986, I saw The Smiths in concert at Pier 84. Now that I’ve admitted this, you can guess my true age.
Anyway, The Smiths concert was one of the better gigs I saw that year. Throughout my high school years during the ’80s, I owned most of The Smiths albums. In 1991, I had floor seat to Morrissey‘s sold out concert at Madison Square Garden. It was his first U.S. solo tour. I distinctly remember him doing a cover of The Jam’s ‘That’s Entertainment.’
As the ’90s went on, my life changed direction. Got more interested in the later Industrial bands, the Madchester bands from U.K., and had a brief affair with Rave culture. Hadn’t kept up with Morrissey too much. Although my Welsh friend did inform me about how Morrissey was slagged in the British press for a few things he said. Now thanks to social media, some of Morrissey’s views got the U.S. spotlight. Of course, in the age of ‘Cancel’ culture, people online were blasting Moz. Cancellations of his own shows weren’t helping either. Figuring I was content to coast on Smith memories, the last thing I expected was a chance to see Morrissey at one of my favorite venues, Forest Hills Stadium.
As fate would have it, tickets to Morrissey’s Queens gig were sent my way. At first I got razzed by associates for even considering going. But after two conversations over the summer, I decided to attend.
I’m glad I went.
No, I don’t agree with everything Morrissey says. Yet, I’m not going to deny the influence Morrissey had during my teen years. If it wasn’t for Morrissey, I wouldn’t been introduced to vegetarianism. During The Smiths glory days, Morrissey resonated with the introverts, the forlorn, the misunderstood, the chided. Wearing flowers in his jeans’ back pocket, he would dance onstage wearing NHS issued glasses. He represented the misfits who looked up to luminaries such as Oscar Wilde. The clues were in the iconic sleeve designs.
Prior to forming The Smiths with guitarist Johnny Marr, Morrissey was a fan, just like you and me. He wrote books about James Dean and The New York Dolls. Morrissey shared his obsessions with poetic abandon. With The Smiths he reached the same adulteration he previously gave.
Late summer, early fall 2019. I decided to accept the tickets for Morrissey at Forest Hills Stadium. As a NYC resident living in the borough of Queens, I don’t live far from the venue. What a difference times makes. Growing up in Queens, everyone in my immediate neighborhood knew who BonJovi was, but had never heard of The Smiths. Now Morrissey was slated to play which could be considered my backyard. It was a bit of a weird feeling. Similar to when Culture Club performed at Forest Hills Stadium the year prior. My friend and I made it in time for opening act Interpol’s set. That was after security searched everyone’s bag as we were instructed not to bring any meat inside the venue. This was true. Security at the entrance were searching bags for meat, and making announcements that no animal based dishes would be sold at the concession stand. Occasionally a few security members snickered as they informed the crowd.
The seats my friend and I had weren’t the greatest. Soon after the Interpol set, my friend spotted two associates of hers, who invited us to sit with them. Their seats were center, with a much better view. Since it was the end of the season over at Forest Hills Stadium, security and ushers didn’t seem to care one bit. A lot more chill than the employees were last year. Ironically, no meat was allowed, but the smell of pot lingered everywhere.
Despite what the music press reported in the U.S., (lack of ticket sales) by the time Morrissey got on stage, Forest Hills Stadium was packed. On stage the screen flickered British nostalgia, ranging from ’60s fashion to early U.K. Punk. There were even shots of James Baldwin and Bruce Lee. Those images comforted me. You see, my mother was British, and part of her youth was spent in ’60s England. She passed away in 2015. Seeing those images flickering on the screen was personally appreciated.
Halfway through the concert, I was reminded why I became a Smiths, and a Morrissey fan in the first place. There were sparks of the same intensity Morrissey had way back in 1986, when I saw The Smiths live. The best part was when he performed that one song which introduced me to Morrissey’s world. That same song I heard way back on WNEW-FM, ‘How Soon Is Now?’
It’s still one of my favorite Smiths songs to this day.
Now that it’s March 2020, I don’t regret seeing Morrissey live.
Now that I have some downtime (thanks to COVID-19), I can post this Morrissey sketch. Hand drawn in pen and ink, digital color.