Intro from JC.
I’m very proud that a wonderful TVV community has built up over the years, and as I’ve said on numerous occasions, there is every possibility that I’d have given up the ghost by now if it wasn’t for the feedback/contributions from so many people.
I’ve never once turned down an offer of a guest posting, and I’m not going to start now.
Incidentally, it was my choice of music today.
A GUEST POST by FRASER PETTIGREW
The composer Richard Wagner was an unashamed anti-semite, committing the most repugnant prejudice to print in both published and private writings. Decades after his death in 1883, his music was championed by the Nazis and used to glorify the horrors of German fascism. For many people, both Wagner’s own bigotry and his posthumous association with Nazism render his works unlistenable. Despite all this, he is almost universally recognised as one of the most important and influential figures in the history of music, without whose innovations the sound of our world might have developed very differently. His operas are a central part of the canon of western classical music, and he is revered today almost as much as he was over a century ago.
Risking a clang of bathos here, it could be said that Morrissey stands in a similar relation to modern pop music. His influence and innovations are not of comparable stature, but his now undeniable racism places fans of his music in an invidious and depressing position. How can people listen to songs that once defined and enriched their lives without conferring respectability on a man whose every utterance now disgusts them?
Neither Morrissey nor Wagner produced music that is explicitly racist, even though there is much post-hoc reappraisal of songs such as Bengali in Platforms, Asian Rut and National Front Disco. It was possible at the time for Asian fans to read those songs as sympathetic laments, and as I will argue below it is still possible for us all to do so, despite Morrissey’s more recent and unequivocal pronouncements.
All the same, it feels much easier to listen to Parsifal or the Siegfried Idyll than ‘How Soon Is Now’ or ‘Hold On To Your Friends’. The distance of time is undoubtedly significant. Wagner is long dead and not earning royalties from any of my purchases.
But musical genre has a lot to do with it too. It is much easier to divorce Wagner the anti-semite from his operas than it is to separate Morrissey the racist from any of his music because persona and performance are so much more important in rock and pop than in classical. It’s Morrissey himself who is singing to us when we listen to The Smiths and a huge part of the appeal of pop music is our admiration of and identification with the performers. When you become a fan of a group or a singer you buy in to the look, the personality, the sense of who these people might be and how you can make yourself more like them. Every star is a personalised dream of who we might like to be ourselves. Cool, talented, creative, adored by thousands… Nobody feels like that about Harrison Birtwistle or Michael Tippett because they were foosty old nerds. Consider the tragic uncool of Nigel Kennedy. I rest my case.
I am a firm believer in appreciating art without need of biographical details about the artist, or even knowledge of what they intended by their work. If the work enables you to arrive at an interpretation that illuminates, entertains or moves you, then that’s all that matters. But it’s hard to keep that up in the realm of pop music for the reasons above. It’s hard to be completely ignorant and not at all curious about who made this music and it’s natural to want to admire the person who made something you like.
Having said that, I reiterate that instinctively I want to be able to listen to the great creations of these people without guilt, and with a full focus on what the songs themselves make me feel. What we need to realise is that our responses to these songs are personal to us, not actually dependent on the people who made them or what they are really like, despite that impulse to identify. In the same way that young children will request specific stories for bedtime reading because they articulate feelings, anxieties, or aspirations that they harbour subliminally, we reach for particular songs and music because they capture something in our own lives or thoughts and give them expression more perfectly than we could manage ourselves, even though it may not be what the artist meant by it.
Once a work of art is out there in the world it takes on a life of its own. The artist can no longer fully control what the work means, even if they had a very specific meaning in their own minds when they made it.
An example of this for me is the Velvet Underground‘s ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’. This song was on rotation for me as a 15 year old, not because I aspired to be a New York junkie, which is what the song is about, but because I interpreted ‘waiting for the man’ in the sense of waiting to become a man, an independent adult with the freedom of personal responsibility. The song’s agitated, insistent rhythm was my impatience to be grown up and flown from the nest, not Lou Reed‘s strung-out desperation for another fix. It doesn’t matter to me what Lou Reed meant, the song will always be my coming-of-age anthem.
Listening to Morrissey won’t make anyone a racist. Nobody who grew up in love with The Smiths became racist because of anything Morrissey sang, nor will revisiting that music make you racist just because the mask has now fallen from Morrissey’s face. If you focus on the music and the memory of what those songs meant to you then you will continue to experience the humane, humourous, sensitive exposure of adolescent self-pity, the poignant loneliness, the yearning, the farce, the comic arrogance, the ironic love of life’s great disappointments. You will also continue to understand that Morrissey is a racist fuckwit. In fact, you owe it to yourself and to the rest of the world to prevent Morrissey taking those songs away from you.
That position may well be possible for you to achieve, but will you be able to resist the wrath of others who take a different view? One of the strong distinctions between our time and Wagner’s is the power of ‘cancel-culture’. Wagner wasn’t cancelled because when he was alive, anti-semitism was as socially acceptable as holding a door open for the ladies. Nowadays, if you transgress, you will be tried by a judge and jury of Twitterati and no argument will be brooked. I dislike using the epithet ‘woke’ in a negative sense, but sadly its proponents have made it all too easy for reactionary bigots to turn it against them through their rabid absolutism. To the woke, all is black and white, to coin a phrase, and nuance, subtlety and ambivalence are seen as tools of the fascists to undermine their comforting moral certainty.
So if the forces of the woke decree that Morrissey is to be erased, then good luck with arguing for the need to reclaim his creations of beauty and humanity. You may well end up cast out along with him. Your insistence on the value of anything Morrissey brought into the world will be like Winston Smith‘s happy memory of playing snakes and ladders with his mother, recalled at the end of Orwell‘s 1984. It will be punished out of you, it will be a false memory, a lie.
We should all question ourselves about where our own personal red lines are. What are the things that we find intolerable and inexcusable, and how should we react to them? We need to be able to explain and justify, to ourselves and to others, what our views are, because we have to understand our morality, not simply adopt it wholesale from another’s insistence. Not to do our own thinking is to submit to another sort of tyranny and it leaves us incapable of making sound judgements when confronted by new instances of social or moral transgression.
How else can you deal with the fact that Wagner had many Jewish friends, supporters and colleagues, including a long term friendship and professional association with the conductor Hermann Levi. It was Levi who conducted the first performance of Wagner’s final opera Parsifal in 1882, although in a demonstration of how obnoxious Wagner could be, he tried to insist that Levi be baptised before the performance. More recently, the Jewish pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim attempted several times to perform Wagner’s music in Israel, and did so to a private audience in 1991 and again to a public concert audience in 2001. I doubt that Wagner will be high up the playlists of many woke warriors, because those kind of moral complexities are too hard for them to compute.
Similarly, poor old Morrissey – no, I take that back, Morrissey doesn’t deserve any of our pity – stupid Morrissey. For someone who once seemed able to encapsulate Englishness in a couple of lines he seems incapable of understanding the country’s moral burden born out of its history of colonial exploitation, slavery and cultural oppression. As V.S. Naipul used to say every time someone suggested that immigrants should ‘go back where they came from’, “we are here because you were there.” Who now has more right to declare that “England is mine and it owes me a living” than the children of Indian or Caribbean immigrants whose ancestors were screwed out of their birthrights by English imperialists?
In conclusion, I am against banishing Morrissey’s works to the same dark and soundproof cupboard that holds everything ever recorded by Gary Glitter and R. Kelly because the works themselves still have the same positive humane values for me that they always did. I am against giving any more indulgence to Morrissey himself, and against doing anything that will enable him to profit greatly from his work any more. So, making some of them audible here on this blog seems a perfect way of achieving both of those things.
mp3: Morrissey – Hold On To Your Friends
mp3 : Richard Wagner – Ride Of The Valkyries
28 thoughts on “(BONUS POST) THIS COULD SPARK A DISCUSSION…..”
A reasonable conclusion from someone who has never liked Morrissey or his voice, and thus feels no cognitive dissonance over the extremely hateful racism and nationalism that he has felt necessary to wrap himself in over the last few decades. An artist I struggle with on their political stance is one of my favorites: Bryan Ferry. His penchant for aspirational Toryism is repellent to me.
As compared to Bryan Ferry, Morrissey is artistically less than a gnat to me. Without Ferry, vast swaths of my Record Cell would simply not exist. Ferry’s most crucial work had been made in a tight three year period of his initial burst onto the scene; 1972-1974. With the rest of of his career being simply an exercise in [sometimes agonizing] refinement with scanty artistic growth. On much reflection over the last 20 years, I still have not come to any conclusions regarding how I should react to Bryan Ferry, but it helps that his art is almost completely firewalled from his politics.
Difficult to approach this issue without inflaming passions. Larry David tackled the Wagner question in an amusing episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Dylan’s early 80s evangelist dogma was abhorrent to me, but those LPs feature some pretty compelling music. The Stranglers’ sweaty pub-rock misogyny put me off them from the outset but I know there are many VV followers who will defend and champion them. Warren Zevon was by many accounts a very unpleasant person to know, but some of his music is timeless brilliance.
At the time I thought National Front Disco was a brilliant portrait of an embittered, socially inept misfit desperately looking for acceptance in the arms of the far right. I didn’t know that Morrissey’s future career drift would turn it into a self-portrait.
I always saw Morrissey as a contrarian. Being contrary to Margaret Thatcher was a social good at the time. I bristle when I hear people decrying “political correctness.” Which I consider a dog-whistle coded phrase for simple compassion and empathy for the downtrodden and marginalized. If others can use semantic framing to attack the marginalized under fraudulence and a misappropriation of “freedom,” then they have managed to tell people that “punching down’ is a good thing and proof of their free-thinking independence.
Fraser, this is a glorious piece of writing. In years gone by, I tried to write similar posts that argued the case for separating art from artist in the case of SPM, but it’s become harder and harder for me to find the words to do so in recent times. You articulated this very well, without giving any credit to Morrissey himself… only to his work, which for many of us was a defining part of our musical journey. I’ve rarely seen that distinction voiced so well.
Your argument against cancel culture was also particularly well put. 1984 is the obvious go-to here, but I’ve recently been very taken with the Dave Eggers novel The Circle, which tackles this matter (and so many other problems of modern internet society) in a way that combines 1984 with Catch 22, with a little Gulliver’s Travels thrown in. The book touched so many nerves with me, I’ve been running extracts on my own blog. Here’s one that touches on over-reactionary cancel culture in very amusing fashion…
(With apologies to JC; I don’t usually like to link to my own posts in another blog’s comment box, and I do so here only to highlight the extract from another writer, not my own mindless blatherings.)
Big ups postpunkmonk. Well put.
Feel free to link to anything from your site…..yours is one of the best and most original places across t’internet.
ericfromoakland – There’s a simple rule to my life: always punch UP.
As a black man who grew up with having dog dirt pushed through my letter box. I took solace in the music of first The Specials and then a few years later The Smiths and the Dead Kennedys .
I feel saddened and in my own way betrayed by what Morrissey has become. I agree that listening to him won’t make you racist but continuing to support his tours his records and alas his back catalogue does continue to give him a platform to open his stupid hurtful mouth and spout his vile and dangerous opinions. In the same way that buying the Daily Mail gave Katie Hopkins a platform or watching GB News gives other right wing closest Nazis an excuse to target the ‘lefties’.
But it personal choice I suppose.
There is a difference between Morrissey and say R Kelly, in that the latter has been convicted for his crimes and that is why most people won’t buy his records.
Fraser your piece was well researched, well written and thought provoking and I wish I could separate his opinions from his music but I can’t.
Rol- thanks for that link, great piece! I’ve never been quite sure about Dave Eggers but I think I’ll have to give that a go.
Mr Ed – I totally understand. There’s a personal threshold for everyone in this. I think people should just steal his music from now on though. Share it or buy it 2nd hand so that no earnings ever go to him. And never go anywhere near a live appearance, god no!
Bryan Ferry’s politics I wasn’t actually aware of – probably a measure of how little attention I pay to the lives of most artists. I recall that Joan Armatrading was attacked many years ago for failing to condemn Thatcher and saying she thought it was a good thing that there was a woman in Number 10 at last. But listening to Armatrading’s songs you would realise that there was really no overlap whatsoever between her values and Thatcher’s.
This made for an interesting read. I was particularly affected by the last paragraph. My own feelings about listening to the music of Morrissey remain firmly rooted in the no camp. The joy of then (up until 2017 approx.) is not the joy of now. I couldn’t knowingly offer any finance in his direction – never sure of what that finance may indirectly, or directly, support.
When the For Britain stramash was bubbling Morrissey’s friend James Maker immediately issued a statement (seemingly, someone who thinks a great deal of himself) in defence of the “contrarian” Morrissey. Apparently, by using this sole descriptor Maker felt it absolved Morrissey of any wrong-doing. What Maker failed to provide was any coherent evidence contrary to the racial statements Morrissey himself had made – strongly suggesting that on the issue of race and immigration Morrissey wasn’t, afterall, the contrarian voicing a potentially changing or opposite opinion. His opinion, on this issue, was rather fixed. It was a bit of an own goal, in my view. Perhaps, Maker’s comments were intended to paint Morrissey as an outsider. If that’s was his intention – he failed in that endeavour too.
Espousing and stoking controversial views so that the world may view you as an arch contrarian seems like a rather empty existence and an existence that can all too easily manifest into increased, dangerous rhetoric or violent actions for those unable to filter the contrarian from the racist. The moron from the fascist. Had you been unfortunate to read comments on Morrissey Solo at the time it was abundantly clear that Morrissey had not only courted a new audience, he had achieved it.
I will add, as I always do, that during the mid to late 2010s when Morrissey was giving an interview, following the racist fallout, he chose to make a number of wholly insensitive contrarian remarks about victims of sexual violence. These views amounted to “they know what they were letting themselves in for”. Me and Morrissey were done.
Whatever Morrissey is he’s not and never has been a decent person. He has done some great work re: animal rights but has also made some racial slurs in support of animal rights. He’s a man trapped in a bubble of entitlement, who’s suffocating on his own methane.
Finding artists that hold opposing views from yourself, the fan, is a net that can be cast far and wide and comparisons drawn between different artists. It’s an exercise that means little to me. I, for the longest time, was entangled in the net of Morrissey and feel lighter, no longer feeling the urge to be a fan-apologist.
Everyone has their own position. I feel this will be my last Morrissey response.
P.S. Fraser. Thank you for your balanced, cathartic piece.
Interesting piece and thank you for the argument- I think like Flimflanfan I’m done with Morrissey. When The Smiths pop up, I can just about separate them and their music/ what they meant and stood for (and that is a huge part of their appeal, what they stood for) from his utterings of the last few years. When it’s solo Morrissey I can’t and what he’s said, for me, tarnishes his work to an extent that I can’t listen to it (not listening to his solo back catalogue isn’t a huge loss to be honest- I don’t think that much of it is that good anyway but that’s besides the point).
A genuine question- why do Gary Glitter and R Kelly’s songs get cancelled when others don’t? Are their crimes worse because of their nature or because they’re actual criminal crimes of which they’ve been found guilty in a court of law? What about, say, Bill Wyman and Jimmy Page (who may have [and I’m being very careful here] committed the same offences?) What about John Peel? There’s an interview with him from as late as 1989 or 1990 where his attitude to underage sex/ marriage is very blithe, to say the least.
Morrissey is no more racist than any of you here, just because he doesn’t agree with your views. Why should he? Anyone born in the 50s, 60s, 70s, can see the UK is now a different and worse place, unless you lived in a big city, your average Brit didn’t see any blacks except on TV. Now we have aliens strutting around as if they own the place, when a 100 years ago they were still living in the stone age.
Most immigants are totally foreign in their looks, ways, cultures, and language. Why are they flooding Europe? Our grandfathers fought two world wars to stop the foreign invader, and now fascist governments are letting in millions, and these immigrants just walk in and complain, rob, murder, lie.
Why should we be flooded with shiftless aliens who hang around ATM machines all day, leering and speaking in foreign tongues. Why should we like everybody, especially when their views are totally hostile? Why should we bend over backwards to help aliens who have done nothing but sent the crime figures through the roof?
Know your enemy –
Just fuck off G.K. Hand
Your ignorant, despicable and offensive views and opinions are not welcome on this blog.
Fuck right off.
Wow, G K Hand – there’s a mess of contradictions in there. Perhaps you need to learn from the original article and think through your arguments a bit better.
I’ll echo JC’s views about GK Hand- go fuck yourself and your fascist views.
Now that I’ve stopped shaking in anger…..and got my blood pressure under control.
The contribution from G.K. Hand came from a Russian-based address. The name is gkhan, followed by a number.
Of course there are people out there with such views, but it’s quite incredible that they were articulated today on the blog. If it’s a real person, then they won’t be regular visitors…..if it’s a real person who just stumbled across things, then it’s an incredible coincidence.
I’m coming round to it being the sort of automated reply which gets generated by internet postings that happen to be critical of the former frontman of The Smiths.
Now, given that Fraser didn’t go in too hard, certainly in comparison to some of the initial responses, then it just shows the extent and the depth to which on-line discussions and debates can be monitored and manipulated.
JC, the individual in question is most likely UK based and using a VPN. This is the kind of muck – and it’s gentle by comparison – that appeared on Morrissey Solo, in swathes for months and months and months. A significant number posting in real-time informing everyone else about what their forefathers fought for, that all people – except white western males – are of little merit and that to be LGBTQ was the worst of all degridations. Unfortunately, this is what happens when the M word is mentioned. It’s entirely his own fault. I agree, that at times the media have been their usual vile selves no matter who they go after, but M has had plenty of opportunities to put the record straight. He has chosen not to.
Could I just say in terms of historical sexual behaviours – they were just that, it doesn’t make them appropriate for society today but neither should they be excused. Harm has been caused as a consequence. I do believe their is a distinction to those found guilty of sexual ‘misconduct’ (it’s too broad an area for me to do it justice here) and those alleged to have been the perpetrators of sexual misconduct. Equally those who it seemed quite lawfully broke the law in regard to sexual relationships with those under the legal age of consent – I’d suggest mitigating factors. In some situations, and despite the law, despite what others thought to be true – there was no corroborative evidence or indeed the person under age provided a positive testimony.
In the case of M he vilified potential victims of violence all for the sake of a throw-away quip.
I’m pleased this interloper paid the blog a visit. The post exemplifies why I no longer involve myself with M.
You, sir, and your merry band of music lovers have taken the blaggard to task.
Maybe next time will be the last time I mention Morrissey. 😉
Wow. I’m late to this.
What JC said GK. You utter cretin. Mind you don’t trip over your knuckles whilst you are fucking off as well.
Fraser I’m sorry you eloquent and well written piece has been hijacked by that nutjob.
For what it’s worth and it’s no surprise really but I’m in the no camp
I came back to this post today as I wanted to read and absorb it on a large screen, rather than my phone. Boy, the post delivered on it’s titular promise and then some…!
Firstly, thank you Fraser for an articulate and thought-provoking post and JC for sharing it.
Secondly, fuck you GK for presuming to think you represent “anyone born in the 50s, 60s, 70s”. Views such as yours were as abhorrent and archaic then as they are now.
Morrissey’s solo output said “nothing to me about my life” long before the thin veil dropped.
Well, I just popped in to see if there had been any more discussion and, well, gosh, yes there has! No surprise that wee Genghis posts from a Russian server. The Putin project to undermine western democracy is long standing and has developed many ways of working. One of them is providing virtual homes for ‘sceptics’ and ‘contrarians’ and anyone sowing seeds of division in the liberal European consensus. In between stroking his micro-penis, Genghis has probably got himself banned off every respectable internet platform and now spends his long sleepless nights fueled by 2-litre bottles of Mountain Dew, googling for controversial topic discussions where he can jump in and leave a little wank stain to rile the residents. If I could offer him any advice it would be to start hanging around some of the self-harm and suicide forums where he might pick up some useful tips on how to make a positive contribution for once.
April 11, 2023 at 1:32 pm
“Equally those who it seemed quite lawfully broke the law in regard to sexual relationships with those under the legal age of consent – I’d suggest mitigating factors. In some situations, and despite the law, despite what others thought to be true – there was no corroborative evidence or indeed the person under age provided a positive testimony.”
This is objectively worse than anything i have ever read attributable to Morrissey (not idiots like GK Hands, for which he is not responsible). Underage age girls cannot “consent” to sexual intercourse, nor can they be treated as “underage prostitutes”. There is no such thing. Whatever middle class Guardian reading progressives might wish to believe. There are only victims of sexual abuse who are entitled to the full protection of the Law. Trying to justify the perpetrators of these crimes is, frankly, revolting.
Similarly, Billy Bragg’s misogynistic twitter pile-on stance on Women’s Rights and safe spaces, and his abusive targeting of those who have the audacity to disagree with him.
G.K.Hand’s comments are abhorrent
That is it. That is the one
@ Charles Hodgson
There’s seems to be some confusion. I did not state that girls under the legal age of 16 can consent to sex nor did I use the term that you seemingly attempt to attribute to me in quotes “underage prostitutes”.
I agree entirely that those who have experienced sexual violence or sexual misconduct deserve the fullest protection the law affords which is specifically why I’m no longer a Morrissey fan. My point, in the comment you quote (it seems you may not have read my previous comment which may have provided you with some context), is that the law does entertain shades of grey ‘mitigating factors’ in its deliberations. I illustrated this with two examples, no corroborative evidence or positive testimony. Perhaps my point lacked lucidity but I stand by the points I made.
There was no attempt, on my behalf, to justify the actions of those who carried out acts of sexual violence or sexual misconduct. However, Morrissey has made several justifications for sexual violence and sexual misconduct…
Comments in relation to Kevin Spacey (Der Spiegel, 2017)
“As far as I know, he was in a bedroom with a 14-year-old. Kevin Spacey was 26 and boy 14 was wondering where the boy’s parents were.”
“One wonders if the boy did not know what could happen.”
“I do not know about you, but I’ve never been in situations like this in my youth. Never. I always knew what could happen.”
“When you are in somebody’s bedroom, you have to be aware of where that can lead to. That’s why it does not sound very credible to me.”
“It seems to me Spacey has been unnecessarily attacked.”
Comments in relation to Harvey Weinstein (Der Spiegel, 2017)
“People know exactly what happens. And they play along.”
“Afterward, they feel embarrassed, or they do not like it. And then they turn it around and say: I was attacked, I was surprised, I was dragged into the room. But if everything had gone well and had it given them a great career, they would not talk about it.”
“I hate rape. I hate attacks. I hate sexual situations that are forced on someone. But in many cases, one looks at the circumstances and thinks that the person referred to as a victim is merely disappointed.”
“Throughout the history of music and rock ‘n’ roll there have been musicians who have slept with their groupies. If you go through history, almost everyone is guilty of sleeping with minors.”
Frankly, I find those comments revolting.
I can’t really can’t comment on what a middle-class Guardian reader may, or may not think, for I am neither.
How strange you seem to make excuses for the perpetrators.
“no corroborative evidence” (provided by other victims, surely?) or “positive testimony” (from the groomed [brainwashed] victim?!).
You expressed no concern for the victims, which is telling. Assuming your Morrissey quotes are correct, you appear to have more in common with the man than you realise.
@ Charles Hodgson
I’m inclined to believe that you and GK Hands are one and the same – the attack line is somewhat different but no less repugnant. Therefore this will be my last response.
Had you read and understood my comments you would have grasped my position in regard to those who perpetrate actions of sexual violence and sexual misconduct. For reasons known only to yourself you have chosen to ignore what I have said in deference to the sexual-violence-apologist, Morrissey. That is, of course, your prerogative.
If you are unsure as to the credibility of the Der Spiegel quotes I can only question why you haven’t done your research by either reading the interview or listening to the entire audio of said interview. You know, the interview Morrissey said he’d sue Der Spiegel over. The interview Morrissey goaded Der Spiegel to publish in full or release audio so that it would exonerate him. The interview Der Spiegel did publish in full including full audio only for Morrissey to drop his alleged law suit because the audio proved categorically that Morrissey did say what had been published.
In future you might do better to avoid the word objective when making wholly subjective comments.
You? Morrissey? You’re welcome to each other.
By an interesting coincidence there was a guest on Radio NZ’s wonderful Saturday Morning programme today called Claire Dederer, who has just published a book called Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, dealing with precisely the issue of my original post. If you’re into podcasts, or would just like to hear and think more about this topic then you can listen to or download the broadcast here: https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday/audio/2018886224/claire-dederer-admiring-the-art-of-monstrous-men
There aren’t too many musicians mentioned, though the segment opened with Michael Jackson’s Beat It in full-length 12-inch version(!) and they also mention Wagner.