(This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post)
Any pre-adolescent who discovered Morrissey at a time when all around were bopping to Wham! was most likely in a weird place – in my case, Bangladesh. There I was, this little Muslim boy unsatisfied with the verses the Qur’an offered to explain the way the world worked, turning instead to pop music for answers, when my moment of apostasy came halfway through tape two of Now That’s What I Call Music Vol II.
“The devil will find work for idle hands to do. I stole and then I lied, why? Because you asked me to.”
No one I’d ever heard of spoke like that. Back then, my pop philosophy stretched no further than Howard Jones asking me to ponder ‘what is love anyway?’ and Duran Duran urging me to ‘picture the lizard mixture’, so it’s no exaggeration to say What Difference Does It Make? blew my tiny mind. I’ve quoted from it throughout pertinent moments of my life. When I fell in love I pledged to leap in front of a flying bullet for her. When I failed I blamed it on only having two hands. To many a bigot, I have scoffed “your prejudices won’t keep you warm tonight”, in many a heated argument, sagely opined, “heavy words are so lightly thrown”.
I won’t pretend for the sake of this article that I instantly became a fan of The Smiths. When my family emigrated to the UK a year later, I had everything from The Cure working all the way back to the Rolling Stones to discover. In the Eighties, my knowledge of the band was comprised of their chart hits and the two best compilation albums ever released: Hatful of Hollow and Louder Than Bombs. Great band, but far down a list made up of Pixies, Stone Roses, Public Enemy and all the other bands that appealed to outsiders who rather wanted to start being cool now, thanks.
But Morrissey, the singer-songwriter? In my books, he’s superior to Cohen, Dylan and Scott-Heron, second only to David Bowie. To be clear: I don’t claim to be his number one fan. Morrissey fans are a diehard bunch that will gladly bludgeon you in your bed for badmouthing him. Me? I love his music, never bought the t-shirt. But to stake my credentials, I think Suedehead is the finest track that’s ever been written. You Are The Quarry the most perfect album of this century. I proposed to my wife by singing You’re The One For Me, Fatty (changing the last word to her old surname Shetty). I could go on. But you’re not here to indulge me in listing all my favourite songs and how they meant oh so much to me.
You want to know how a brown-skinned Muslim-born immigrant can be an apologist for a man the world has officially branded a racist? I’ve been here before. Pointing out Bengali In Platforms actually empathises with the victim, National Front Disco admonishes the perpetrator, while Asian Rut shows that, guess what, the victim can flip and turn perpetrator too. All bases covered. It’s also important, I think, to note that what unifies all three songs is that they are shit. That’s going to happen in a career spanning a dozen solo albums. Bowie, Lou Reed, Dylan and co made countless shit songs we never have to listen to again because no one cared to be outraged by them. That said, does a shit song excuse Morrissey’s questionable social theories, given that he now asserts “they were always one and the same thing”?
This is where I veer from the diehard fans. In my eyes, the man can do wrong. And heaven knows he can say things that are so very, very wrong. I’ve taken his stream of dodgy outbursts since he swapped Thatcher baiting for Muslim bashing with a pinch of kosher salt – I know how journalists and agendas work. But this time round, this is him, ranting freely and unedited on his own blog, and by god, talk about heavy words being heavily thrown. To recap: he tells us Hitler was left-wing, halal meat is certified by Isis, the acid attacks in London are ‘all non-white’, and we should all vote for For Britain, the party even Nigel Farage brands a bunch of “Nazis and racists”. It would be remiss of me not to add that in his very next post, Morrissey pledges, “I despise racism. I despise fascism. I would do anything for my Muslim friends, and they would do anything for me”.
Here’s what I won’t do for Morrissey. I won’t apologise on his behalf. Why the fuck should I? If my friend Chris said something offensive, I might feel obliged to make excuses for him to anyone still left shaken up by it. But Morrissey isn’t my mate. He’s not coming round for Eid and about to spit in my mum’s meat bhuna. He to me is no more than he is to you, an entertainer, who only enters my house through song, and even then only because I choose to play his records. This idea that this means I am now responsible for explaining why he votes a certain way is as ridiculous as asking me why the man won’t eat eggs.
I absolutely separate the artist from his art. The only times I associate Morrissey’s music with Morrissey the man is when I’ve seen him live (he can be both fantastic and crushingly awkward, depending on what mood you catch him in), or while watching him in one his many unremarkable videos. Every other time, the singer himself is invisible. The music is mine, to soundtrack as I please. Isn’t that the same with everyone? When you listen to your favourite song, you don’t really picture the singer in the studio singing it, do you?
To evoke a different debate, if you’re of the opinion you can’t enjoy art because the artist turned out to be a dick, it’s a long list for the dumpster: John Lennon was a wife beater, Caravaggio was a murderer, Byron was a pervert, Bowie and Jimmy Page reportedly slept with underage girls. By all means judge them, hate them for it if you like. But the art itself belongs to you. If you can’t enjoy something without the assurance the person who created it is pure in heart and gold in deed, you’re madder than Morrissey insisting supermarkets no longer sell milk (he did kinda say that too).
Because when I play Morrissey’s music, I’m not imagining him sitting in a corner sticking pins into voodoo dolls of Diane Abbott and Sadiq Khan. I’ll be transported back to being a kid finding work for idle hands to do, the youth feeling only half ashamed, the grown-up singing my own life. I’ve taken from Morrissey what I needed to make my life more colourful. What my chosen entertainer does in his spare time is actually none of my business.
As long as he doesn’t release a track called Actually, I Hate Brown People, Particularly You, Yes, You, Shihab, I won’t take it personally. I’m fine with Morrissey being weird and misunderstood. Which, incidentally, is why those of us allergic to normal were drawn to him in the first place.