- 20 Aug 14
In a world exclusive interview, MORRISSEY talks about the personal and global politics fuelling his World Peace Is None Of Your Business album; explains why the end is nigh for the Royal Family (and possibly Jamie Oliver); also treats us to his thoughts on Messrs. Blair, Assad and Behan and reflects fully for the first time on his health problems.
Even by his own highly eventful standards, it’s been a helluva 12 months for Morrissey. First there was the publication of his instant Penguin Classic, Autobiography, which entered the UK book chart at number one, and has become the fastest-ever selling music memoir there. No blushes were spared – Moz’s included – as confessions were made, scores settled, records straightened and a certain Irish music magazine chastised on page 193 for giving The Queen Is Dead a less than glowing review.
That we’re friends still is evident from the fact that this is the only print interview Morrissey is giving, to accompany the release of World Peace Is None Of Your Business, his new album – which has been conquering charts on both sides of the equator and is as sonically exhilarating as it is lyrically scathing of our so-called leaders.
In sparkling form as he kicks-back in a London hotel, Morrissey is happy to discuss politics, animal rights, sex symbols, sport, child abuse scandals and health – both of his last two US tours have been disrupted by illness – as well as music, as he brings us up to speed with what’s been going on in his life this past year.
Along with familiar names like Pamela Anderson, Jamie Oliver, Bryan Ferry, PJ Harvey, Damien Dempsey, Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Tom Jones and Tony Blair, the conversation also turns to Chivas USA, the Los Angles-based football club beloved of the city’s Mexican population; Barbara Castle, the former grande dame of the British Labour Party who espoused much the same views as Tony Benn and was back in the news recently when it was revealed that a VIP paedophile dossier she prepared in the 1970s was confiscated and suppressed by the British security forces; and Mrs Shufflewick, AKA cross-dressing King/Queen of the London cabaret scene, Rex Jameson, who told both the BBC and ITV where they could stick their light entertainment when they asked him to tone down his act for telly.
By turns witty, charming, coruscating and playful, Morrissey is most definitely in the mood for talking…
HOT PRESS: A song on World Peace Is None Of Your Business that will definitely resonate with Irish fans is ‘Mountjoy’. What are your impressions of the place?
MORRISSEY: The name is so perverse considering what it does to people. It doesn’t sound like what it is, whereas they knew exactly what they were doing when they named Strangeways prison in Manchester. With Mountjoy, well, the name’s so ridiculous, isn’t it? It’s a bit like calling the local maternity hospital St. Killmore’s.
Brendan Behan gets a namecheck on it. What’s your favourite work of his?
You can’t go wrong in choosing anything, and I love people who dodge all the gender-imperative rubbish that society torments us all with. I love the fact that he didn’t think that heterosexuality resolved anything at all, meaning, I assume, that he didn’t think it was enough just to be heterosexual. You read him and you are immediately convinced that the rest of the world is suffering a mass mental illness. I love writers like that.
Not to be morbid, but with ‘Oboe Concerto’ being a meditation on death, are you one of those people who’s wondered who’ll be at your funeral?
Oh, they’ll all turn up... finally ready with praise once I’m out of earshot. Isn’t that how it usually goes? Who cared a jot about John Lennon in the years leading up to his death? No one. I’m not saying I’m as known as John Lennon because obviously I’m not.
'Oboe Concerto' starts with a line of sampled dialogue from Mrs Shufflewick, who I have to admit wasn’t on my radar before. Can you tell us a bit about him/her?
Just about everyone I know is obsessed with Mrs Shufflewick. When we were recording the new album in France it was a daily debate as to who would be the first band member to get a Mrs Shufflewick tattoo. I can only tell you that it wasn’t me. Boz managed to get the two Shufflewick LPs: he’s very good in that way, he haunts the streets until he finds that hidden gem. The late Bob Hoskins said that he saw Mrs Shufflewick five times before he realised it was a man, and that he’d never heard anyone so funny. If you YouTube her name you’ll find one live clip and two albums, and I listen to them non-stop every night in the bath. The timing, the pauses, the originality... he was the funniest thing Britain ever produced, and he wrote all his own jokes – most of which were stolen by the Are You Being Served? types of the ‘60s and ‘70s. He was a chronic alcoholic and an emotional depressive. He had been abandoned at birth, and he dropped dead on Camden High Street in 1983 carrying a bag of Guinness back to his flat. He even went shopping as Mrs Shufflewick. For my recent birthday Boz gave me an autographed photo from 1948 – he was already Mrs Shufflewick back then. When he died he hadn’t had a bath for 25 years. I mean Mrs Shufflewick, not Boz. I’ve tried to urge Universal to issue the two LPs on CD, but they don’t think anyone would buy them. I know at least 38 people who would. That’s a start, isn’t it?
Treated drums, Spiders From Mars riffs, Flamenco guitars, a rap element... was ‘Neal Cassady Drops Dead’ as much fun to record as it was to listen to?
Well, the band would laugh if they heard you say Spiders From Mars because that’s certainly not an influence, and Matthew the drummer is exceptionally versatile – no treated drums – he tries every inventive positioning and sound imaginable. Gustavo’s Flamenco guitars are just breathtaking. And, yes, it was great fun to record every single step.
The title-track is shot through with despair in relation to the democratic process. Is that what you feel?
From my own experience England cannot be democratic because it has a self-elected superstructure that has decided that they are to be known as ‘the royal family’. Forty-five per cent of the UK want the monarchy, 55% do not. The Queen is the richest woman in the world, yet still takes £200 million every year from the working British people. Her presence alone symbolises repression, and her work – whatever it is – fails to mean anything. I do not care and neither does anyone I know. If the Head of State is self-elected, then the country is not democratic. How could it be? The 45% who want the monarchy largely claim that a monarchy is preferable to being controlled by politicians. It isn’t because of any love for that family who can do nothing to make themselves likeable, and who put their foot in it every time they open their mouths.
The line ‘each time you vote you support the process’ resonates powerfully. But is there an alternative?
There must be because people are absolutely fed-up with the idea of a Prime Minister whom no one ever likes. British politics has never quite been so unconvincing, with Prime Minister’s Question Time looking like a scene from Brideshead Revisited. And there’s no point in continually batting from Conservative to Labour and then from Labour to Conservative because it leaves the people in a constant state of embittered gloom. There is no indication that things will get better under the present system of voting, and, in fact, very few people actually bother to vote even now, yet we’re faced with a Prime Minister who didn’t even win an election. In that case, I could very easily become Prime Minister without much effort. It would be funny if it wasn’t so silly.
You’ve been making the case against animal cruelty for a long time – the latest musical manifestations being ‘The Bullfighter Dies’ and ‘I’m Not A Man’. What are your thoughts on the progress PETA and Greenpeace have made in pushing this agenda?
Governments are concerned with animals only economically, and we have people such as Princess Anne advocating eating horses and gassing badgers. Why doesn’t she gas herself? That would provide a bit of extra space in the countryside. PETA and Sea Shepherd in particular are changing and saving the world. There’s so much stupidity to fight against, and I despair of societies that produce people who are willing to work in abattoirs. How are these people made? No CBEs or OBEs for animal protectionists, of course, but many for fox-hunters such as Bryan Ferry and PJ Harvey. I am absolutely sick to death of animal cruelty, and I won’t shut up about it.
What do you think might be done to continue this process?
Well, it would be a great help if Princess Anne gassed Jamie Oliver. He’s killed more animals than McDonald’s.
You’ve had an interesting roll-out for World Peace Is None of Your Business, with respective Nancy Sinatra and Pamela Anderson cameos in the spoken word videos for the title-track and ‘Earth Is The Loneliest Place’. I know from talking to her that Nancy’s a huge fan, but was Pamela aware of you?
Of course, I’m not a Tibetan monk.
Pamela is Hollywood royalty. Has that world ever appealed to you?
Yes. It’s all so seductive and full of nice smells and fluffy towels and fake propriety. You can fall right into that aimless life of shops and restaurants and shops and restaurants. Unfortunately it’s also a daily barrage of useless information and it really isn’t a guarantee against depression... I’ve found.
Who is the ultimate sex symbol?
It depends on what you’re looking for, and I think the failure of our society is the grand assumption that everybody wants the same type. Having met Pamela Anderson and Patrick Dempsey, well, they’re both quite beautiful, and if at least one of them doesn’t turn you on then you’re probably dead.
You must have been offered lots of film roles down the years...
Me? Film roles? Are you serious? I was offered a Rice Krispie’s commercial and a Kit-Kat commercial. Thank God I wasn’t waiting for Macbeth... I’d be very upset.
Could you have been an actor?
You mean in the days when there was hope? Well, no, I don’t transmit sexuality of any kind, and I think there must be a strong sensuality to whatever an actor does. In the life that I live off-stage, I don’t ever attract women, men or white rhino, so I can’t see how I’d be attractive onscreen.
World Peace Is None Of Your Business topped the charts on its day of release in Argentina, Chile and Peru. Apart from their good taste, have you figured out why your music has captured the imagination in Latin America?
There is a generic global sound to pop music now that most people just can’t stand. Most singers and groups sound interchangeable. I still cannot identify certain singers who have had 10 number ones. In Latin America, in Greece, Turkey, Israel, Sweden, I’m seen as the antidote to synthetic excitement, and people appreciate this... I find. Wherever we play is usually fantastic. Switzerland is the only country that has always said “no”. I think in England I’m seen as an object of terror, and I think this is because I sing whatever I want, whereas most people sing whatever they think might sell.
What have been the highlights of your South American travels?
I love being with the band. We get on so well, and at the end of each day we’re happy just to sit in each other’s company and talk and talk and talk and be silly. It’s better than professional therapy. The highlights for me are always the hard cities such as Sao Paulo or Belo Horizonte or Bogota or Guadalajara. There’s a lot of affection for me in places of struggle, and I understand why. We have the same identifications... the same clothes, in fact.
I was impressed that you were able to get Tom Jones to support you in Los Angeles. How did that go?
It was an incredible night. I’d met Tom a few times and – this will sound silly to you – but he’s one of the very few people who treat me like an ordinary man. When my glass gets low he tops it up without fussing about, and he seems to like me, but I don’t think he likes the music and I understand why not.
Was there anything you learned from him?
Yes! You can pass the 70 mark and still sing ‘Thunderball’ and be incredible.
Are there songwriters whose work you hear and think “I wish I’d written that”?
Not modern songwriters, no. Obviously I’d kill for Damien Dempsey, as we all would, and I love Chrissie Hynde, but I don’t envy anyone’s abilities because I don’t think I have similar concerns as a writer to anyone else.
In terms of substance and craft, who are the benchmarks?
Again, in modern terms, no one. The stars, now, are the costumes and the lights and the expense... and all those things that distract you from realising that you’re watching someone who can’t actually sing and has nothing to say.
World Peace Is None of Your Business has been called your best album since Vauxhall And I. To what extent do you consider your past work when recording new material?
It’s important to avoid certain key words that I feel I’ve over-used in the past, and I do my best never to repeat melodies.
Do you feel obliged to do something different?
No, because I’m strange enough as it is.
Are there sometimes threads that you want to pick up again?
Not really. I couldn’t care less if people think I’m neurotic.
Does the fact that so many people consider you to be an icon create any pressure when recording?
Well, I dislike the word ‘icon’ because I think it’s so over-used that it’s become meaningless in much the same way as ‘legend’. These days, just about everyone is apparently a ‘legend’. If you’ve appeared in four episodes of Emmerdale you’re called a ‘legend’. Also icon means stone, and I feel certain I’m still flesh and blood. I don’t feel any pressure recording, because I’m generally already on an unswayable path and there’s not much anyone can do to get me off it apart from kill me. Some try... understandably.
Is World Peace Is None Of Your Business a call to arms or a lament? You’re clearly displeased with many things...
Well, have you watched the news recently? There isn’t much opportunity to laugh.
How does your new deal with Harvest work? Do you go through an A&R process or just deliver the mastertapes?
We recorded 18 tracks in four weeks and the label seemed genuinely shocked that we worked so fast and produced something so good. Steve Barnett, the head of the label, said: “Well, we knew it would be good, but we didn’t expect it to be this good”... which was nice. Not something you hear every day. Or ever, in fact.
Do you write when you’re happy/sad/drunk/sober or a combination of all four?
I don’t say this for affect, but I’m never not sad... which is lovely grammar, I know...
How did appearing alongside the likes of Jake Bugg, Mary J. Blige, James Blunt and Claire Danes at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert rate in terms of surreal gigs?
I didn’t know it would be so stately and ceremonious. They were very courteous, but the local mayor fought to have me taken off the bill because he didn’t like my views on mass-murderers. There’s always something, I suppose.
Congratulations on the success of your book...
Well, thanks, but it hasn’t stopped selling yet.
... how long did it take you to write?
Well, I had to live it first, so quite a long time. It was originally 600 pages, but I thought that was a bit too much self-disgust to expect anyone to plough through.
Was it a process you enjoyed?
Living it? No. Writing about it, yes. I wrote the childhood sequence almost as a child might, and the adolescent period as an adolescent might, and the adult section as a... suicidalist might. It’s really just a factual account of how events affected me, so therefore any criticism of it doesn’t make any sense, since I am me, and only I can know what it’s like to be me, and so on. It was never meant to be The History Of The World.
Were you disappointed that your offer to represent the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest fell on deaf ears?
Yes. I was all prepared with ‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris’. But you’ll notice that other countries will not give the UK any points ever since Tony Blair decided to drop bombs on the innocent people of Iraq. Can you blame them?
We – I ought to point out that I’m a South London boy – could also have done with you in Brazil. Why were England such a godawful failure at the World Cup?
I stayed at the same hotel as them in Miami just before it all began... and ended at precisely the same time. I thought it was quite funny when Steven Gerrard appeared on Sky News saying “me and the players take full responsibility for what’s happened.” Who did he expect to take responsibility? The Pope?
Finally it seems the US gets ‘soccer’.
How did going to see your cousin Robbie Keane playing for LA Galaxy compare to good old-fashioned Association Football back home?
He was fantastic and scored within the first 20 seconds. We were already out of our seats. He takes it all so casually and almost slowly. It’s confidence, of course. He really is the best.
I remember seeing you in a Chivas USA shirt. You have a strong association with Mexico. How do you think their people are treated in America?
Oh, like kings! No, sorry, that was a joke. My guitarist Jesse, who’s been with me for 10 years, is Mexican. One night in Los Angeles the police approached us, spoke reasonably civilly to me, and then said to him “which restaurant do you work at?” I think that sums it up! One of the greatest guitarists of the modern age, but because his skin is brown it’s assumed he washes dishes for a living. He will one day, of course...
There’s an unauthorised biopic being made about you by Mark Gill and Orian Williams who previously produced the Ian Curtis film, Control. Are you aware of this?
I only know it’s called Steven – the very name I’ve crossed continents to get away from. Otherwise, no, I don’t know anything about it.
If the British monarchy were ever done away with, who would you fancy as President?
Well, as soon as the Queen is dead, it’s all over. The monarchy will be quietly dismantled. I don’t think there’s any remote doubt about that. Why do you think they spend so much on PR? Because they need to, because they know nobody likes them. Why do they persist? Because there’s tons of money in it for them – yours, basically. I’d be so happy if they were dismantled that I wouldn’t care who became President. Like the Assad family, their time has gone. Kate Middleton being called “her royal highness” has got to be the final straw for all of us. How can a person be royal? It’s impossible. They only became ‘royal’ in the first place because they slaughtered anyone who disagreed with them. How is that worthy of respect?
Would you be sad to see Scotland exiting the UK if there’s a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum?
No. They must cut ties with the United King-dumb. I love Scotland and I love the Scottish spirit and they do not need Westminster in the least – it’s the other way around.
You’ve played Israel on several occasions. What were you impressions of the country?
Very strong. The people are fantastic and have always been very good to me.
Would you go again now given the cultural boycott of Israel, which is supported by the likes of Talib Kweli, Sinéad O’Connor and Stevie Wonder – and has the blessing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who likens Israel to apartheid-era South Africa?
I think it’s important not to assume that the government represent the wishes of the people. This is actually very rarely the case, hence the Arab Spring. It’s not the case in England, and it’s not the case in Israel. All presidents and prime ministers love war and conflict, because they see it as an easy way to garner patriotic support. Thatcher was never happier than when she was killing Argentinians, and Bush was delighted to bomb just about anyone. War is great business for governments, and the people usually have no say. I had an offer to play in Damascus, but do you turn it down because of the Assad regime? As we now know, Assad’s control over Syria has been Hitleresque, and the people have no basic human rights.
How did you react to the recent revelations that M15 confiscated a paedophile dossier naming VIP figures, drawn up by Barbara Castle?
I didn’t even raise an eyebrow. The fact that the dossier is supposedly missing is immaterial. People read it and know what it says, and they couldn’t possibly forget the names that they read. Similarly, the ‘royal’ family have determined that the file on the famous Profumo case not be opened or made available to the public until 50 years after Prince Philip’s death. Draw your own conclusions from that. What becomes farcical is the way the modern Conservative government dictate to the public about tax and recession and recycling, and we’re expected to listen and obey, whilst that same government apparently has a history of paedophilia which they go to excessive lengths to hide, whilst telling us how naughty everyone else is. Last week the Pope announced that 2% of priests, bishops and cardinals in the Catholic church are known paedophiles! And this was the fifth story on the news! And we’re asked to have faith in the Catholic church! The world has officially gone mad.
A 1978 radio interview has just been unearthed in which John Lydon accuses Jimmy Savile of being “into all kinds of seediness that we all know about but aren’t allowed to talk about”. What were your impressions of Jimmy Savile?
I’m naïve on the subject of child abuse. I can’t even imagine what it is. My brain doesn’t lock into it. So, I think the Savile case has profoundly changed British society and obviously depressed everyone, but we’ll soon have a sterile Hollywood epic with Johnny Depp in a blond wig holding a fat cigar. Jimmy Savile worked a lot at the BBC in Manchester, and on the club circuit in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the older members of my family would always heave a sharp intake of breath at the mention of his name. I never knew why. But I think Operation Yewtree is unsurvivable for Britain. Imagine what the rest of the world is thinking. Imagine what small children are thinking. Once again, there’s no concentration on the police commissioners who ignored reports from Savile’s victims. They’re just as guilty – why not smoke them out?
Bill Clinton described the ‘War On Drugs’ as “the worst mistake in the last 50 years of American foreign policy” – and joined Richard Branson’s campaign for drugs to be decriminalised. What’s your take on the drugs war?
It’s confusing because heroin and cocaine and opium are natural plants, so they must be here for a reason, and one loosely assumes to aid the human race. They are also a base ingredient in most major painkillers, so we obviously need them. The ‘War On Drugs’, I think, should be a war on modern medicine because it’s largely to blame for all forms of cancer. Every pill that you take does you some damage. Even pills that you take for cancer actually kill you before the cancer does. It’s interesting how most people are now on some form of prescribed psycho-drug, yet the world is unhappier than it’s ever been.
There have been a lot of rumours about your health. How upsetting is it to have people speculating about personal things like that?
Well, it’s not surprising considering the number of hospitals I’ve been rushed into in the last 18 months. It all seems to have hit me at once, which I expect is just the way it goes. Acute fever, a bleeding ulcer, food poisoning, Barrretts Oesophagus... it’s hardly believable. The worst was in June in Boston when I was hospitalised with acute fever. I was delirious for six hours... talking absolute nonsense and unable to stop. I’ve never been so frightened in my life. Then of course you get bitchy comments for having to cancel shows. The hospital actually gave me a heroin-based medication to calm me down. But, so what? I’ve been in so many hospitals lately that there’s hardly any point in me leaving.
What are your plans tour-wise. Are there Irish gigs on the horizon?
Is there a horizon? That’s the question.
I hate to use the R-word but has retirement been an option?
Well, of course, all these physical failings are warning signs, and we’re all heading towards death, and of course death is a subtle way of telling you that the way you’re living is probably not for you.
World Peace Is None Of Your Business is out now on Harvest