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Song Of The Month February 2011: “Suedehead” by Morrissey

February 19, 2011

The Debonair Paradox Himself

The band that had propelled the self-confessed loner into the public realm was no more. He had spoken in the final days of the Mancunian band that a solo career appealed to him and on 15th February 1988, the first single of this new era was released. “Suedehead” would indeed do something no single of The Smiths had done before: break into the UK Chart Top. 5 (the nearest The Smiths got to this was with “This Charming Man” which placed as high as No. 8). In just one single, Morrissey had dampened his critics’ vitriol much to their dismay.

The sound of “Suedehead” is no departure from the sound typified by the band he led before. His collaborator on this single and indeed the subsequent album “Viva Hate”, Stephen Street would in essence play the role of the Marr to his Morrissey that Morrissey wanted and that Marr would not comply with. You could theoretically argue that the lack of departure in sound from The Smiths served to illustrate that Morrissey was the true essence of The Smiths and that Marr was merely a tool who Morrissey could manipulate to the applicable desired effect. By the time of The Smiths’ last album “Strangeways Here We Come”, the growth in Johnny Marr’s stature in musical circles served only to undermine the authority Morrissey believed was rightfully his and so The Smiths were doomed. The creation of what would be Morrissey’s debut solo album, “Viva Hate” did not go without some controversy as guitarist Vini Reilly claimed to have written most of the musical content on the album, an allegation denied by Street. Either way as time elapsed it became all the more apparent that Morrissey’s relationship with Street wouldn’t last. The reason has never been disclosed but it is widely felt that Street’s continued contact with a man named Johnny Rogan caused Morrissey to go elsewhere for musical accompaniment. Morrissey infamously said of Rogan: “I hope Johnny Rogan ends his days very soon in an M3 pile-up”. Morrissey doesn’t do animosity by the half measure.

Influencer: James Dean had a profound effect on Morrissey.

The accompanying video to the single is as wonderfully self-indulgent as you would expect from a man who no longer had anyone to quarrel with in regards to creative direction. The narrative of the video can be summarised as being of a pilgrimage for “the Godfather of Gloom”. He travels to the United States and pays a visit to the hometown of a man whom Morrissey bears a stronger admiration and indeed adoration for, James Dean. Morrissey’s attraction to James Dean is obvious. James Dean’s uneasiness with success and subsequent miserable outlook fascinated Morrissey and only served to enhance what Morrissey had learned from his studies of Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s writings have so greatly influenced the lyrical style of Morrissey while he has perhaps adapted the style and manner of James Dean to fit him and the personality he connotes.

“Suedehead” was not released as an isolated track of course. It was accompanied by as many as 3 different B-sides, the pick of these being “Hairdresser On Fire”. It would later feature alongside “Suedehead” on the 1990 compilation album “Bona Drag” which now serves the purpose of being a highlight reel of his early solo work. “Hairdresser On Fire” has an upbeat tempo and its lyrical content is unashamedly trivial in nature as it concerns Morrissey’s concerted efforts to get an appointment with his hairdresser. Unsurprisingly there is a hairdressers named after the song which is located in Copenhagen. However, one quick look at their website reveals that that is where the association ends (not a quiff in sight unfortunately).

Never One To Shy Away From Giving An Opinion

In the bluntest of terms, Morrissey is a complex individual. Often painted as a “miserabilist”, he does nothing at all to suggest anything to the contrary. It doesn’t make him any less of any interesting character, in fact far from it. His personality attracts controversy ranging from his infamous fallout with the NME amid allegations of racism, his refusal to categorise himself particularly in regards to sexuality and to his vehement (bordering on militant) vegetarian stance (with The Smiths, he did after all name an album “Meat Is Murder”). Morrissey doesn’t purposely seek controversy unlike many in the public eye in their desperation for the attention all those precious extra inches in the press generate. Some media sources believe Morrissey to be difficult, aloof and rude but this perception has seemingly no apparent affect on the life Morrissey leads. His ability to enter the public domain and retreat from sight is now nothing less than a finely honed skill. He is an unashamed individual and like every human he still craves a sense of belonging and love. This month show some love for a genuine British eccentric. There aren’t many left and it’s questionable whether there are any more fascinating than the unpredictable erudite individual that is Steven Patrick Morrissey.

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