May 22, 2018, Summit, NJ - Teenagers of the 1980s fell in love with the New Wave
revolution, but no infatuation was quite as strong as that between The Smiths and
their fanbase. With a striking dichotomy between lyrics and melody, their musical realization transcended previous notions of the alternative rock genre, somehow reshaping it without ever truly being emulated. Their music has been empowered to provide a refuge from
teenagehood – unmatched by any other rock band.
Any Smiths fan can deduce that the band’s immeasurable success and creative
heights could not have been reached without the workings of lyricist and natural
leader Morrissey. His poeticism raised the caliber of their songs, introducing raw and
relatable messages to the original songs. Despite his usual reluctance to share
new lyrics, Morrissey’s fellow band members, Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke,
Mike Joyce, Craig Gannon, and Dale Hibbert, were always blown away with
the recondite prose or poetry that he had to offer them.
In an interview with Lori Majewski, a favorite radio host of XM Satellite Radio, she
reflected that “bands don’t often keep the lyrics a secret from other members of
the band.” But perhaps this unusual, and altogether unintentional
ritual contributed to the unique sound pioneered by The Smiths, who
diverted from antiquation without fail. In any case, Morrissey’s
unrelenting insecurity affirms that he remained a teenager into
adulthood, making it no surprise that he could connect to them with
The depth of emotion expressed in Morrissey’s lyrics was unprecedented for its
time because it was self-deprecating, poetic, and seemed to walk the
line between our concepts of lucidity and insanity. Every lost teenage
soul could relate to Morrissey’s lyrics; they echoed thoughts of madness
that artists and non-artists alike so often struggle to put into words.
They were outrageous, yet just enough to be authentic and poignant.
“The lyrics are sardonic. Who had ever put that sentiment in the words of
a song before: ‘And if a double-decker bus, Crashes into us, To die by
your side, Is such a heavenly way to die?’ It makes you laugh and go
‘Oh that’s awful,’ at the same time,” Majewski noted, reminiscing of
the first time these radical words touched her own impressionable, teenage self.
On January 26, the Film Society of Summit opened its 2018 season with
England is Mine, a biography and commemoration of the teenage years of
the legend himself. An insight into Morrissey’s early years and the
profound creation that follows the throes of adolescence, his music
comes to life with the unraveling of the man behind it. Directed by
Mark Gill and filmed in Manchester, England in 2016, it’s a portrayal
of the epitome of teenagehood and angst - no question that this is
Morrissey’s connection with teenagers of the 1980s and onward is
powerful. After all, to many he was the first to validate their
struggles, thoughts, and pain. In effect, Morrissey is met with
incredible loyalty and influence, and for this reason his fans have
stood by him through his most radical albums and ideals, like Meat is
Murder. “No public figure has said things more to defend the animal
rights cause than Morrissey with Meat is Murder. I’m a vegan, after
being a vegetarian for many years. It never occurred to me the way
animals are slaughtered, but coming out with such an incendiary
statement as Meat is Murder changed my life! Changed a lot of people’s
lives. To this day, I owe him that. Even if I get upset with him for
other things, I credit him with this,” Majewski reflected.
Majewski’s popular show Lust for Lists on Sirius XM First Wave
often focuses on the impact of Morrissey’s work internationally.
Considering his unflinching clout, it is important to recognize that
Morrissey contrasts with other musicians who suffered for their work
in that he did not commit suicide. (Ian Curtis, Sid Barrett and Kurt
Cobain, to mention a few.) “I don’t think Morrissey would ever kill
himself, he thinks too highly of himself,” Majewski said. Morrissey
did not need to die to create a legacy for himself, despite that he
often ruminates on themes of death in his music. A powerful message is
sent to his fan-base through his music and the way it informs his
In context, it is evident that The Smiths intended to take a more
serious approach to the flowery and at times maudlin music coming
out of the United Kingdom of the late 1970s and early 1980s, including
David Bowie and Roxy Music. The Smiths were almost the antithesis to
performative rock, to bands that lacked the prerogative of depth. To our fortune,
they did serve to steer rock music in a more sober direction, with Nirvana mirroring
The Smiths’ sincerity for a meaningful and original raw sound.
Yet it remains The Smiths did not create a new music genre so much as
they did alter an existing one, because they were so original. Nobody
could replicate their style, and and they will live in infamy for what they’ve created.
As we see in England is Mine, adolescence and pain are often the
foundations for true artistry, and the most iconic musicians of our
time are not born of success and self-assurance. “It’s a coming-of-age
story, of someone we now think of as this great musician, ” Majewski
said. Everybody starts somewhere, not even exempting the voice of a
Special thanks to Lori Majewski for sharing her expertise on New Wave music
and the legacy of The Smiths in writing this article, as well her informative book Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s.