Anxious as the first time we saw him live, grateful for his fragile presence, we come to terms with Morrissey and perpetual disappointment.
I had jumped on the Morrissey bandwagon when he was cool again, during that short and somewhat lame renaissance of 1980s Brit pop a few years ago. Hip DJs were kicking off set lists with hits by the Smiths’ like “Panic”, “Big Mouth Strikes Again”, and “This Charming Man” -- all danceable and melodic, but in retrospect, the superficial tunes I’d spend years forgetting. Because I got all the albums and listened alone, sure that the dance floor could not do the music justice, greedy for a personal and solitary connection to the lesser-known tunes and the lyrics that no one heard in crowded clubs.
I sometimes felt it necessary to precede mention of the Smiths with a general disclaimer that I loved them more, differently from that brief renaissance suggested anyone our age did. My friend, Dar and I cultivated a loyalty that got more intense and quiet, led us to cultish Morrissey dance nights that every year swelled with older, stranger people dancing in the distinct style of the 1980s underground, seductively and scantily clad in black. As I understood his music to be ever more clever, selfish, and darkishly funny, my burning conceit and possessiveness was soothed by the fact that the cool kids forgot about Morrissey just months after they remembered him.
When I first saw Morrissey in concert, it was on his You Are the Quarry tour in 2004. I had just bought his greatest solo hits, cramming before the concert, wanting to make the most of what I would be getting. And I had a lot of guilt. I sat in my seat at the show, waiting for Morrissey to come onstage, wondering if anyone in the crowd could tell that what I really wanted was to see the Smiths. But he was indulgent. He played what we wanted to hear and I blessed him, unable to entirely comprehend the significance of “How Soon Is Now” or “Bigmouth Strikes Again” being performed in my presence. But his solo work incited an unexpected affection, too, as a very different but congruous extension of everything I adored about the Smiths. I came away from that night with a new love for Morrissey’s solo work, and a surprising sense of completion that was inextricably intertwined with regret that he will never tour with Johnny Marr.
But I never loved/despised Morrissey more than on the morning last year when I heard he was boycotting Canada, my country. The baby seal hunt that occurs in our North had recently garnered international outrage, photo ops with Paul McCartney in the Yukon and Paris Hilton in pink protest tees. But Morrissey’s tour shun was the final annoying icing on the cake. In a small rage, I tried to articulate my frustration on message boards and his MySpace profile page. But my words always ended up full of love. I felt too much affection for a persona that would never disappoint, even though Morrissey the person might. Because I knew I loved him for potentially annoying quirks -- his doubtful and probably nominal animal rights agenda, the wimpyness that would have him cancel so many shows for physical ailments.
Dar and I tentatively schemed to go to some town in Michigan to see the momentary bane of our existence. But the shows in Michigan sold out before we knew the tickets were on sale. In a fit of mania I suggested seeing him in Manchester, England, actually believing it was a possible despite the cost. So when we heard he was playing at Madison Square Garden in New York six weeks later, we bought tickets before we had time to think about money; it seemed suddenly affordable, compared with flying to the UK. Then, once we had the tickets, we had no choice but to book a train ride and a hotel.
The night before we left for New York, Dar read about several cancelations. He’d nixed concerts up until the one directly preceding New York because of a throat infection. Several sources assured us that our show was still going to happen. But we were cautious on the train. As Morrissey kept us in suspense for 14 hours as went traveled across the border, we were filled with a nervousness and urgency reminiscent of the first overwhelming time we heard his tunes.
We got to New York after dark. Tired and hungry and happy, we checked into our budget hotel, got some pastrami. We didn’t doubt that the show would happen in less than 24 hours. In the morning Dar left for a few minutes, at my urging checked the status of the show, and returned to our room with stupid and unfortunate news. Still sick, Morrissey had postponed the concert indefinitely. I’m ashamed to say that we cried a bit, but we did. Mildly disappointed, Dar’s sister snapped a few photos of us in our grief and went back to her book. But Dar and I swore, ranted, and got quiet.
It seemed an undue degree of disappointment over a pop cultural event. Morrissey was not Jesus, I thought, and suspected a religious wake-up call about false idols. Dar spoke of vacation time and rent money, her student loans. As the idea sunk in, I suddenly became aware of my surroundings, the whole unreal situation. How odd that I was so far from home; so much time, money and faith spent on a middle-aged stranger that kicks us each time we attempt to adore him.
Surprise and regret continued to wash over me as we came to terms with Morrissey's no show in New York City. We saw commercials on TV and huge posters in Times Square advertising the show that never happened. Dar called home and spoke with her roommate, Edgar, threatening to abandon the Smiths because of Morrissey’s failure to show. Edgar urged her to remember that Morrissey was a mere person. And he was getting old. We agreed, and it made sense to me, but some deep, dark recess of my mind could not understand how Morrissey got sick, and I suspected that part of me really did not believe in Morrissey’s humanity. On an intellectual level, I understood that New York was not collectively anticipating or mourning the concert, but it was easy to believe the millions of people were mired in disappointment with us. That the cancelation made no ripple in the movement of the huge city was confusing. We were in a great place with lots to see and do, but we wanted to reject it all, make rejection the dominant theme of the trip.
The night of the canceled show, we visited Junior’s, a famous deli in Brooklyn, consoling ourselves with some extremely meaty sandwiches to give the finger to Morrissey and his vegetarianism. But even in my anger and feelings of abandonment, Morrissey's lyrics were running though my mind, and I realized I was trying to pick the precise one that accurately described what I was feeling: “Heaven knows I’m miserable now”, “I started something I couldn’t finish”, “You have killed me”, “You just haven’t earned it yet baby.” There were too many to choose from. All of Morrissey’s lyrics are about disappointment.
By the time of the train ride back home, we’d been up for 40 hours straight. Tired, traumatized, and full of pastrami, I watched the buildings diminish with the unexplainable hope I’d managed to retain for our entire stay in New York, hope that somehow the concert would still happen. I skipped every Morrissey song my iPod shuffle stopped on, wincing. The disappointment persisted after we got home. We returned to our debt, now several hundred dollars greater, and told everyone what happened. Dar kept getting emails from Ticketmaster telling her the show had been postponed. In a last attempt to make good, we used suspect logic to assess whether we could afford to return to New York for the reschedule. By the time Dar got the email that the concert was cancelled once and for all and there would be no reschedule, the tiresome and constant false hope and thwarting had become funny.
And my devotion is only renewed. For better or worse, I understand it now as a love inseparable from false hope and thwarted expectations. Morrissey has attained a perfect persona of imperfection, half supernatural rock star god and half human, delicate and selfish. He keeps us vulnerable and nervous by indulging an audience with Smiths’ hits just as often as he cancels appearances. So we are wincing at the sound of his voice for 14 hours across the border, blinded and pained by love. And we are as anxious as the first time we saw him live, grateful for his fragile presence, but wishing, too, for Johnny Marr.