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Sunday night, fans of all ages congregated at Hollywood's Music Box Theater for The Smiths/Morrissey convention. The event, which has been held annually since 1997, isn't what would be considered typical for music gatherings.
There's no expectation that Morrissey will be there, though you might see a lookalike. There's definitely no chance that the Smiths would play, but you can catch Irish tribute band These Charming Men playing the hits and more.
Despite being a Smiths fan since grade school, and a fairly die-hard one at that, I had never been to the convention. This might sound even stranger when you know that I go to a lot of cons — in fact, most of the Southern California comic book and anime events that exist. The Smiths/Morrissey Convention bears more in common with those events than one might expect.
Vendors sit at booths filled with memorabilia, Morrissey-themed crafts and boxes of vinyl. Trivia contests abound. And all around the venue, you'll see hundreds of fans boldly proclaiming their undying love of the Smiths and Morrissey through T-shirts and, yes, tattoos.
If you consider the guy who looks so much like Morrissey that cameras immediately began flashing whenever he walked through the crowd, then I suppose there's an element of cosplay too.
Fans can find a sense of comfort at a convention that doesn't exist at concerts. A concert is the big moment: You're waiting for the band to hit the stage and, when that happens, you start screaming, singing, dancing, whatever it takes to fully express the ecstasy of that exact place in time. It's about you and the band.
The convention, however, is about you and the fans. There's room to mingle and time to discuss the intricacies of subjects. On Sunday night, I asked people whether they preferred the Smiths or Morrissey.
Vicki Leon answered, “Morrissey — definitely. I appreciate him more now that I'm older. I know I'm in the minority. Oh well.”
Over on The Smiths side, L.A. radio legend Richard Blade perhaps said it best with his Beatles analogy: “I love Band on the Run, but it's not the White Album.”
My own answer? The Smiths. I'm a nerd for them. I can provide a point-by-point argument on why Strangeways Here We Come, not The Queen Is Dead, is their best album. Sadly, I had never heard the band until after they split. I didn't get to see them live and, most likely, I never will. I pine for the band, yet, I find solace in the knowledge that I will likely never be disappointed by a reunion show.
“I would love for them to get back together for one night,” says actor Michael Rosenbaum, who played Lex Luthor on Smallville. “It would be the biggest concert ever.”
At the con, though, there are These Charming Men, who have been playing in tribute since 1995. Their singer, Lee Brady, matches Morrissey's voice quite well. As an added bonus, they play songs from Strangeways, which members of the band point out were never actually played by the Smiths in concert.
There's a passion inside the convention — a true fandom that seems to be less evident in the music world on the whole. Bands come in and out of fashion so quickly that most will never have the chance to accumulate the sort of fanbase that the Smiths and Morrissey have.
That much is evident not just among the attendees, but with the organizers as well. Ray DeVries put together the first convention in Monrovia in 1992. A few years later, he joined forces with fellow fan Elliot Marks to turn it into an annual event. DeVries doesn't say much, except, “The Smiths and Morrissey are why we do it.”
As we edge closer to the anniversary of The Smiths' debut album, the band and its charismatic former frontman have all but disappeared from radio (save for the occasional spin of “Bigmouth Strikes Again” or “Panic” on Jack FM). Stickers have vanished from the bumpers of cars and T-shirts pop up less frequently out on the streets.
Inside the convention, though, it's a different story.