Basslines and Protest Signs Part 17: Morrissey is a Little Man – What Now?

By | July 17, 2019 at 2:30 PM
Morrissey (photo by Charlie Llewellin)

Last week, I ploughed through a list of redneck rockers — those bands and artists on the conservative side of the aisle with deeply problematic views. The thing is, there are no surprises when learning about the personal politics of Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Nobody is saying, “What? I thought Nugent was a liberal”. It’s pretty much impossible to feel disappointed when the bar was set so low to begin with. 

Maybe, maybe, there are some fans of Nugent’s ’60s Detroit garage band The Amboy Dukes who long for the days when they assumed he was on the same side as the likes of the MC5, who had their own far left group called the White Panthers (more on that in a future column). Maybe there are a few who still remember Kid Rock’s early work when he was closely associated with the Detroit hip-hop scene. But, no, we all know what these people are about. And because it’s generally considered to be meathead music, we don’t look at them for incisive commentary. It’s just accepted that they’re going to say dumb shit.

It’s different when it’s somebody that we have long considered to be one of the sharper minds the music world has offered. Morrissey fans don’t just “like” him, they don’t just enjoy his work. They hang on his every word. I have friends and colleagues, in England, who have referred to Morrissey as the “greatest living Englishman”. His lyrics have inspired downtrodden poetic misfits since The Smiths first formed in ’82. 

Of late, Morrissey has come under fire for wearing a For Britain pin in support of the party which is outspoken in its hatred for minorities. There’s no wiggle room here — he didn’t accidentally wear that pin on national TV — he knew exactly what he was doing and exactly where he was placing his support. 

“For Britain has received no media support and have even been dismissed with the usual childish ‘racist’ accusation,” he told NME. “I don’t think the word ‘racist’ has any meaning any more, other than to say ‘you don’t agree with me, so you’re a racist.’ People can be utterly, utterly stupid.”

Photo: Anne Marie Waters

That probably sounds familiar in Trump’s America. The notion that the word “racist” gets thrown at non-racists is a common defense, usually used by those who have just said or done something terribly racist. But let’s take a closer look at the hill Morrissey is keen to die on.

For Britain was formed when Anne Marie Waters left the UKIP party, with Nigel Farage calling her and her supporters “nazis and racists.” Dwell on that for a moment. How fucking racist do you have to be for Farage to call you out?

They aim to reduce the Muslim population in the UK to nothing (or as close to nothing as they can) while also ending Britain’s association with the EU. They are dangerous, filling the gap left by the now-inconsequential BNP.

And that’s the mast that Morrissey has nailed his colors to. Great British punk-folkie Billy Bragg was quick to call him out after Morrissey posted a problematic video recently on social media.

“Worryingly, Morrissey’s reaction to being challenged over his support of For Britain, his willingness to double down rather than apologise for any offence caused, suggests a commitment to a bigotry that tarnishes his persona as the champion of the outsider,” Bragg wrote. “Where once he offered solace to the victims of a cruel and unjust world, he now seems to have joined the bullies waiting outside the school gates. As an activist, I’m appalled by this transformation, but as a Smiths fan, I’m heartbroken.”

It would be too easy to say “Wow, Morrissey has gone mental in his old age” but the truth is he’s been saying dumb-ass things for decades. Relatively recently, Morrissey raised eyebrows when he said that people who eat meat are the same as child molesters. That’s a gross and irresponsible thing to say. But ok, he’s passionate about his veganism. “Meat is Murder” and all that. Many of us took it as the alarmist bullshit that it was, rolled our eyes, and carried on. Incidentally he uses his animal rights views as justification for his Islamophobia and that doesn’t wash either.

Early in his career he said, “I don’t hate Pakistanis, but I dislike them immensely.” He also said, in ’84, that “all reggae is vile.” That last comment, taken by itself, could be read as a statement solely about the music but the use of the word “vile” is telling. If you don’t like a style of music, don’t you generally call it “crap?”

He has song titles like “This is Not Your Country” (about the Irish troubles), “England for the English”, and “Asian Rut”. In ’92, he told Q Magazine that black and white people will never “really get on or like each other.” In the early 2000s he complained that, when you travel to England, “you don’t know where you are.”

That’s ugly language. It’s also worryingly familiar to this writer — having grown up in England, the language of the British National Party / National Front is all too recent. It’s something we don’t need to see dragged up again, certainly not from a pseudo intellectual.

Because that’s the key point here. People listen to Morrissey. They pay attention at a greater level than they do for, say, Kid Rock. We have expected better but that’s on us. That’s because we’ve been naive. No more.

Morrissey is a racist piece of garbage and should be treated as such going forward.