I don’t think I really need to introduce you guys to Morrissey, but just in case: He’s been an icon for, oh, more than three decades now. He began his career in the early ’80s as the frontman (and heart) of the Smiths before going solo in 1987, and he is notorious not only for his music, but also for his political activism, especially when it comes to animal rights (he cancelled a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live tonight because the cast of A&E’s Duck Dynasty was also scheduled to appear).
Moz has been hugely important to so many of us over the years because his songs are relentlessly passionate, and he celebrates his individuality rather than being marginalized by it. No matter how dark his lyrics get, he never loses sight of the beauty and humanity in other people and himself. His music has saved my life many times, so it’s hard to express just how much I love him, and how absolutely blown away with joy and gratitude I was when he graciously agreed to answer some questions via email for Rookie.
AMY ROSE: You started writing music when you were in your teens, and you published books about James Dean and the New York Dolls in your early 20s. What was your creative process like as a young person, and how has it changed?
MORRISSEY: Those weren’t books, just juvenile essays, and thoughtless rubbish at that. I had no creative process, just pain, which I mistakenly assumed might be creative process. Well, it wasn’t…
I think the way you address alienation in your music really resonates with your fans. Do you think a certain degree of loneliness enriches our lives? Is it OK, or even good, to feel alone?
Everyone is, in fact, alone. Being contractually tied to another person—in marriage, for example—accentuates the loneliness, because you have effectively allowed the state to determine your obligations to someone, as if you can’t trust and manage your own feelings by yourself. Anyway, I see humans as essentially solitary creatures, and this is not changed by surrounding ourselves with others, because they too are solitary. Life is a very serious business for the simple reason that nobody dies laughing.
What were your greatest aspirations as a young person, and would you say you’ve achieved them?
My greatest aspiration was to make it through the coming week. As a teenager I found life to be inevitably disgusting, and I could see no humanity in the human race. When my time in music began, I found all my goals were reachable. For the first time ever in my life, I spoke and people listened. I had never known such a thing previously. My life as a teenager was so relentlessly foul that I still can’t believe I actually survived it. Perhaps I didn’t…
What political causes mattered most to you back then, and are they still important to you now?
War, I thought, was the most negative aspect of male heterosexuality. If more men were homosexual, there would be no wars, because homosexual men would never kill other men, whereas heterosexual men love killing other men. They even get medals for it. Women don’t go to war to kill other women. Wars and armies and nuclear weapons are essentially heterosexual hobbies.
But the most political gesture you can make is to refuse to eat animals. It was so when I was a teenager, and is still the case now.
What music or movies or artists do you recommend to your teenage fans today that they might not know about?
The arts have diminished, because we are now living through a time when we are encouraged not to think. No one making music wants to waste time struggling with art. A group like the Sex Pistols would never again be allowed to slip through, and there is no such thing in 2013 as a popular artist who sets their own terms for success. Whether it be Beyoncé or Justin Bieber, we see singers who have absolutely nothing to offer anyone as they walk offstage clutching three Grammys in each hand.
Many of your lyrics deal with self-preservation in a world that can sometimes be less than gentle. You strike a balance between acknowledging personal hardship and pain and fiercely appreciating beauty. What helps you to see the loving and good parts of life during tough times?
If I feel it, then others surely must. That’s the only thought that sustains me.
At the end of each of your shows, people rush the stage and try to hug you or hold your hand. You’re always very gracious about it in a way that many artists aren’t, but how do you feel about it?
In recent years I saw McDonna live, and no audience member reached up toward her to try to touch her. I see this so often with artists who we’re told are global stars. It is a big lie. Or else, you might possibly be a big star, but you are not loved. My audience has an urgent need to touch, to shake hands, to move out of their seats, to defy so-called security, to make physical contact. They don’t simply sit and observe, but feel the urge to act. It’s a great compliment for me, and one that most Grammy winners could probably never imagine.
One of our readers said that she realized you two were soul mates when she noticed she was wearing the same color nail polish as you at one of your shows. I’m sure our readers want to know: Where do you find good cruelty-free products?
It isn’t difficult these days, because lots of companies have abandoned animal testing, mainly because they know people no longer want animal-tested products—for moral reasons, but also because of the logical realization that a test on an animal doesn’t have any bearing on how human skin will react to the same ingredient. [Some of the major companies] have started to turn their backs on animal torture, and that’s very encouraging. And some companies—Clarins, for example—say they do not test on animals, but they won’t print this information on their products. But if there were any real concerns for public safety, then cigarettes, which kill most of their customers, would never be sold.
How would you describe the experience of writing your forthcoming memoir, and what do you hope readers will take from it?
I think autobiography is mostly self-worship, or personal mythology. In my case, self-disgust is the spur, which doesn’t mean it isn’t poetic or elevated or even funny.
What would you like to achieve, as a person and an artist, in the years to come?
I have no vision of the future. I never have. There is nothing to consider other than today. I’m saving tranquility for when I’m dead.
If you could tell your teenage self one thing, what would it be?
I am still my teenage self. If you think that we all step through a door marked Adult, or that we sign a Grown-Up Document, you’re quite wrong. We remain as we always were, and that, alas, is one of life’s many nasty tricks. ♦