There has never been an artist who was so utterly difficult, brilliant and defiant as Morrissey. People all around try to figure him out, when really all you have to do is… listen to him.
Born on 22 May, 1959, Steven Patrick Morrissey1 grew up in Davyhulme, Manchester, England, under the watchful eye of his Irish-Catholic immigrant parents. Despite being intelligent he attended a state school and describes his school days as 'barbaric'. His only escape was through music.
As a child I would sing every single night - and the neighbours would complain - because I had this insane desire to sing.
As a youngster Morrissey was inspired by Oscar Wilde's written work, the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Sixties girl groups, Elvis Presley and Johann Wolfgang Goethe. By his 20s Morrissey had also had written work published in the form of a biography about James Dean entitled James Dean Is Not Dead. He also had rock music reviews printed in the Record Mirror and Melody Maker, a book on The New York Dolls and later a website devoted to them too. He also tried his hand at creating unsolicited scripts for Coronation Street, but it was his lyrics and music that would one day bring him fame and fortune.
For a short time Morrissey was the front man of a band called Ed Banger and The Nosebleeds. The head of Factory Records, Tony Wilson, once stated: 'Anyone less likely to be a pop star from that scene was unimaginable.' Then in May 1982 a young lad named Johnny Maher2 struck up a friendship with Morrissey and so the core of the band The Smiths was created. Maher later said of their friendship 'It was pretty phenomenal that we were so in sync because the influences that we had individually were so obscure....This wasn't stuff we liked, this was stuff we lived for really.' Morrissey and Maher were joined by bassist Andy Rourke and the drummer Mike Joyce. It was at this point in time that Morrissey came to be simply known by his surname and Maher changed his last name to Marr.
The first single to be released by the band was 'Hand in Glove', which made way for four albums The Smiths, Meat is Murder, The Queen is Dead and Strangeways, Here We Come.
Morrissey has always been an advocate for the animals, his release of 'Meat is Murder' only finalized that thought. Morrissey has been a vegetarian since 11 or 12 years old (His mother was also a vegetarian). He has mentioned on several accounts that he sees animals as children, 'And I always looked at animals and thought they were very much like children and they looked to us always to help them and save them and protect them'.
For some The Smiths came to be viewed as one of the most influential rock bands to ever exist. With Morrissey's ambiguous lyrics and Marr's melodic guitar strings, The Smiths took the World by shock and awe and inspired the likes of REM, OutKast and Oasis to take on the music scene.
In 1987 The Smiths disbanded spouting the fact that Marr and Morrissey no longer had the same tastes in music as one reason and Marr claiming that the stresses of The Smiths' situation were threatening his sanity as the other. This meant that all band members were free to pursue different things and as Marr created a new band called Johnny Marr's Healers, Morrissey started paving a solo career in singing and making a name for himself in America. His first solo single was 'Suedehead' and his album was Viva Hate, which helped to secure him a solo singing career with a strong American fan base. Despite his successes he was keen to restore the band The Smiths, but although his dream came true it didn't last longer than their reunion at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall on 22 December, 1988.
A Misunderstood Man
Morrissey is known for getting in tiffs with just about, well everyone. If it isn't Margaret Thatcher who he sang overtly political songs about then it's the press. He has even been interviewed by FBI and British Intelligence because they thought he was a 'threat to the government' in short Morrissey's politics are ambiguous: he has certainly flirted with nationalism, yet at the same time he has expressed left-leaning views on subjects like animal rights and the USA.
In 1991 he released the record Kill Uncle, which failed to interest the critics and during the following year he was met with more criticism as he revealed more controversial behaviour - for Morrissey appeared on stage in Finsbury Park, London draped in a Union flag in front of a backdrop that showed a skinhead, while he was supporting Madness.
Finsbury Park was only four years before Ginger Spice wore the Union Jack frock, and Britpop was all about nationalism and pride in your country. Morrissey has always had that very parochial concern about Englishness ... he's the Alan Bennett of pop.
- rock journalist, Fiona Sturges
Morrissey even took up boxing, was seen hanging out with a skinhead called Jake and his album Your Arsenal featured The National Front Disco on the cover. Nevertheless people still listened to his work and this particular album led him to a Grammy nomination for best alternative album.
However, with the release of the album Vauxhall and I came a wane of interest and Morrissey received a further blow when a judge accused him of being 'devious, truculent and unreliable' in relation to a court case that was brought about by his former band members over them not being paid enough while they were all together. Morrissey lost the fight and £1.27m was handed pounds was handed to Joyce. With the wane of interest, Morrissey dropped out of the public eye and made his home in Los Angeles, where he made just a few brief appearances.
Having gone a number of years unsigned to a record label 2003 saw Morrissey sign to Sanctuary Records and during the following year he released his first solo album You Are the Quarry which was a great success as was his next Ringleader of the Tormentors. He has since been involved in Channel 4's television documentary The Importance of being Morrissey, been guest director to the London festival Meltdown, moved to Rome and released a further album entitled Years of Refusal.