A few months back, a work colleague brought my attention to an article on Page 38 of Volume 416 Number 8949 of The Economist (published since September 1843). The subject matter isn’t all that new….various t’internet boards have mused on Moz and Mexicio for more than 15 years now…but I thought it was worth passing on to TVV readers.
“The lugubrious strains of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now waft across a sunny beach in Acapulco. If that song in that setting surprises you, then you do not know about the strange affinity between Mexicans and Morrissey, the morbid, underdog-loving front-man of The Smiths, a British band of the 1980s, who then went solo.
In Mexico City a band called Mexrrissey is hard at work recording an album of his songs in styles ranging from trumpet-blaring mariachi to throbbing norteño. Its creator, disc jockey Camilo Lara, calls it Girlfriend in a Conga, a play on one of The Smiths’ wickedest songs (which puts the girlfriend in a coma). It’s not a tribute album. Morrissey’s lyrics, dripping with black humour, are translated into the mischievous Spanish of Mexico City. Morrissey’s First of the Gang to Die, about a murdered gangster, fades out in its Mexican version with ay güey, pobre güey (“hey dude, poor dude”).
Mr Lara says the bitter melodrama of Morrissey’s poetry strikes a chord in Mexico, where even in soap operas the poor make it up the social ladder only through lies and deceit. In Mexican street music, the exuberant melodies overlie bleakly funny lyrics about loneliness, depression and self-pity. The jubilant trumpets, like Johnny Marr’s guitar in The Smiths’ heyday, can strike hammer blows to the heart. Among Chicanos in the United States, Morrissey fandom is even more intense.
He returns the affection with almost ludicrous tenderness. Famously, he once described Mexicans as “so terribly nice. They have such fantastic hair and fantastic skin and usually really good teeth. Great combination!” As the son of Catholic Irish immigrants to Britain, he appears to empathise with uprooted émigrés to the United States. In “Mexico”, Morrissey sings of breathing “the tranquil cool lover’s air/ but I could taste a trace/ of American chemical waste/ and the small voice said: ‘What can we do?’” Chicano concert-goers sport “Moz” tattoos.
In his autobiography Morrissey describes the Mexican gait with the bemusing eccentricity that is one of his trademarks: “There is a certain Mexican movement of the head, telling we from elsewhere that they know very well how they are thought not to matter. Because of this they have abnormal strength and love, with anchored hearts beyond the imaginations of royal dictatorships.” That makes Mexicans swoon. “There is this violent country. And then there is this Brit from Manchester who sees us with eyes of love,” Mr Lara says.
Morrissey has not endorsed his album. Nor did he comment on Mexrrissey’s sold-out concerts this year in London’s Barbican theatre and elsewhere, where fans sang along in English over the Latin rhythms.
Lovers of Mexican music hope the album will build an international audience for it, as the Buena Vista Social Club did for Cuban pop. Mexrrissey might be happy with viral Gangnam-style success. Either way, the bond between Mexico and the melancholy Mancunian can only get stronger.”
And with that….here’s some tunes:-
mp3 : Morrissey – First Of The Gang To Die
mp3 : Morrissey – Mexico
Incidentally, I still haven’t gotten round to buying Moz’s debut novel far less reading it. The various reviews indicate that I’m not missing much.
Quick reminder that I’m looking for readers to e-mail me lists of their Top 10 LPs for 2015 so that I can submit a collective entry for the BAMS 2015. Click on this post for more background.