To say that Steven Patrick Morrissey is a divisive figure is a colossal understatement. The “marmite analogy” is brandished around too regularly in my view but it is certainly appropriate with Morrissey. Morrissey has enjoyed a glittering career and notable success in the music industry, firstly with the Smiths and later with his solo work. He has been a solo artist for twenty-six years and spent five years (1982-1987) with the Smiths. In this time he has achieved eleven Top 10 albums plus a further nine with The Smiths. On the surface then, Morrissey is a legend of the music industry and one would expect to see him uttered in the same breath as legendary figures like David Bowie. Indeed he is by his fans, if anything Morrissey has his own pedestal and enjoys hero-worship worldwide that would be the envy of most of his peers. In 2006, Morrissey was voted the second greatest living British icon by viewers of the BBC losing out only to Sir David Attenborough. Evidently, Morrissey has had an immensely successful career, so why is he such a controversial figure?
Despite his success and undeniable popularity, to some Morrissey is a figure of ridicule. His critics accuse him of taking a “glass half-empty” approach to life. It is the same old story. Time and time again, you hear it said that “Morrissey is miserable” or that “The Smiths are depressing”. In my experience, statements such as these are made by the ignorant. It is people who have little or no familiarity with Morrissey’s music who brandish these criticisms. It seems to be the pre-programmed response if ever his music is mentioned. It is such an easy condemnation and frankly, it is boring. For those people who have listened to The Smiths or, indeed, Morrissey’s solo work and decide that it is not for them, I cannot argue and would never intend to do so. On that basis, why are Smiths fans so often ridiculed?
To be fair to the critics, if you were to describe Morrissey’s style it sounds very odd and perhaps it is surprising to think just how successful he has become. This is particularly apparent if we were to draw the comparison with contemporary music. Skrillex has become a very successful musician in the 21st century with his brand of Dubstep and electro-house. I must confess that I am not even remotely a fan but that is not the point, if we are to take this blueprint and compare it to the political messages in Morrissey’s lyrics it is quite astonishing that Morrissey has achieved such a level of success. He must be doing something right! Perhaps it is the very fact that he is so unusual that has propelled him to such levels of success, fame and fortune and it is a natural and expected consequence for him to have ruffled a few feathers along the way.
Let us now return to the point that Morrissey, according to many critics, approaches life as if his glass were “half empty”. A song that is so often mentioned in relation to this point is “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”. So many people make the point that this song is depressing. Again, I think that this view is often born out of ignorance but that is not the point. Whether or not “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” is depressing is all in the eyes of the beholder. For me, the song is funny and it makes me laugh. To quote;
“I was looking for a job, and then I found a job and heaven knows I’m miserable now”
This lyric is brutally honest and a genuine reflection of what life is like for a young person. I think it is this brutal honesty that people can find unsettling and part of why Morrissey has become such a divisive figure. Now we get to the crux of it, critics accuse Morrissey and his fans alike of approaching life with a glass half-empty approach. I disagree, for me the typical Smiths fan is a glass half-full kind of person; one who appreciates that life isn’t perfect and chooses to make the best of it. Indeed, the ability to laugh at yourself is a remarkable quality. Unfortunately, I feel that this view will fall on deaf ears. The fundamental problem is this; if Morrissey’s glass is half-empty, then the typical Morrissey critic hasn’t even got to the bar yet.