T hey say all cats are French, but that is not true. At least one of them is a well- respected northern English gentleman of Irish descent, with a love of literature, movies and space-alien rock stars. He is Steven Patrick Morrissey, from Manchester.
Morrissey has given the world more than his share of poetry and music, and through them, nursed thousands, maybe millions, of ailing souls. (He has also saved the lives of countless squirrels who played too close to traffic, as you’ll read.) Most likely, Morrissey’s legacy as an artist, and as a person, will have an impressive half-life long after we are all gone.
And if reincarnation is real, in his next life Morrissey will be rewarded for his works, and will return to Earth a real cat. He will walk on cat paws through the neighborhoods of the world, free to snoop where he pleases, looking in any window, undetected if he chooses. He will never again feel unmoored or isolated, because the whole wide world will be his home. He will be free to snub or rub against whomever he chooses, and everyone will understand: That’s his nature.
In this life, Morrissey’s behavior can leave people stumped. That’s not always unpleasant. Only a few weeks ago, we got an e-mail from Morrissey’s manager, requesting an interview to coincide with a three-night stand at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium (tonight, February 1, through Saturday, February 3). Weird. I hadn’t even heard about these shows. (Apparently, they’d been planned last-minute — and sold out just as quickly.) And anyway, Morrissey doesn’t give interviews.
That’s the thing with cats. You never know what they’re going to do.
Moz lived here in Los Angeles for the better part of a decade, and Los Angeles has loved Morrissey from the first moment some lucky DJ at KROQ (Dusty or Rodney or Richard Blade?) played that first cassette tape — according to legend, a demo of an unsigned English band called the Smiths. The music of the Smiths, with Morrissey’s otherworldly voice and poetic lyrical vision, made sense immediately in Los Angeles — a violent, romantic city of poverty, grime, gangs, glamour and streetwise youth; of underground punk clubs that gave way to underground new-wave clubs; a city where kids like me grew up aware that nuclear bombs were aimed straight at us (always a subtext in Moz lyrics). For L.A.’s Mexican-American kids, Morrissey’s lyrical perspective had special appeal: Here was a young, artistic man of Irish-immigrant blood, growing up trapped in the land of his forebears’ oppressor; fascinated by the ’50s (and ’60s!), by the pompadours and Gibsons and screen rebels of that time.
Young Morrissey found a psychic escape route from his desolate surroundings through the pop art of the past, through the pure style of it, in some cases. It’s no wonder glam rock, with its rockabilly musical roots and alien-androgyne stylings, provided him such a personal “revolution,” as he terms it, at 12 and 13. (Morrissey founded a New York Dolls fan club as a kid, and was more recently responsible for their reunion at the U.K.’s Meltdown festival in 2004.)
Fascinated as he is with the low life and the silver screen, it makes sense that Moz hid out here in L.A. when he didn’t have a record label in the early 2000s. This is home to the Morrissey convention; this is where the Smiths tribute bands were born; this is where some of his heroes — James Dean, for starters — worked and died.
Moz finally left L.A. about a year ago, resettling in Rome to record his most recent solo album, Ringleader of the Tormentors, with legendary glam producer Tony Visconti (T. Rex, Bowie). (This no doubt pleased Moz’s longtime guitarist, Boz Boorer, who is said to own the world’s largest collection of T. Rex memorabilia.) But the album is notable in many ways, including this: It contains songs of happiness and lust. The flesh and spirit enjoined — and enjoyed. That’s a neat trick for any recovering Irish-Catholic poet once tortured by nuns — much less a noted sometime celibate. The album has had five Top 10 hits in the U.K., and Morrissey has spent the past year touring the world.
At the moment, it’s unclear where Moz actually lives: He arrived in L.A. last week from Manchester, and he may or may not perform again before ending this touring cycle. It’s his choice now. After so many crises — from the drug and personnel problems of the Smiths (who broke up in 1987, after guitarist Johnny Marr quit), to the legal fights among bandmates for royalties (now sorted), to label troubles, Morrissey has, for the moment anyway, achieved what appears to be a smoothly functioning career. His vast and loyal fan base will follow him, whatever he does now. He’s earned every fan the hard way: one by one, over the years, at times without any label promotion at all. There was never a Smiths Behind the Music, and there never will be. The ’80s revival has hit its peak without a single Smiths song being used in a Land Rover ad. Morrissey’s on a smaller label, and it seems to suit him. We hear occasional rumors of a possible hatchet burial between Marr and Moz, but, to be honest, no one’s holding his breath. Least of all Morrissey.