5 September 2014
First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. It’s a big honour for me. I’m not going to ask you anything about the Harvest drama because you already explained it perfectly. Most people seem to not get it but I like the way you have fallen out with your record company. In our society, it is strongly advised to keep our mouth shut if we want to succeed. In my opinion, you are a total antidote against this common notiosn. You are still your teenage self and have the same spirit that always refuses to accept the nonsense of the record industry. There’s one thing I want to ask… You said you pushed the label for a proper video for “Istanbul” but they backed off. Have you had a specific idea/narrative for the video?
Yes, it was based on the opening scenes of “West Side Story” with the band and I actually dancing through the streets. Harvest just wouldn’t do it. It was the first snap in our relationship, mainly because they didn’t have any alternative ideas. I don’t mind objections if someone has a better idea. Ultimately the head of Harvest DID have an idea … which was “let’s get rid of Morrissey”… unfathomably silly.
I read these lines on NME.com: “Can you imagine not having a Morrissey-shaped chapter on this pivotal time for music, when the old forms are dying out and the new ones are yet to be born? It’s unthinkable. It would be like leaving Jesus out of “The Last Supper.” In your opinion, what is the main purpose of the old forms in this age?
I’m not entirely sure what they mean, but I would imagine it’s a reference to the Lou Reed generation – all of whom will probably pass away within the next ten years.
All of the Ramones have now gone. Or else the NME consider the old forms to be the people who wanted to make music in order to enforce different content because they understood the value of change and the power of music, and so on.
Reading your fantastically written “Autobiography” was a great joy to me. When I finished reading it, I felt that it is a great evidence that you are still the outsider’s outsider. You are still the ultimate idol of the bookish, isolated teenagers holed up in their bedrooms. So, in a sense nothing has changed with you. Some might say, considering the large amount of mainstream attention, this might seem like a misnomer. In fact, you always tell the brutal reality because you have the critical mind of an outsider. Why do you think so many musicians lack this attitude towards contemporary culture and abandon their imagination to so called “practical necessities”?
I feel that a lot of people have given up on music precisely because of situations similar to the one I’ve just had with Harvest … that labels cannot cope with artists who are not clichéd. But it’s never been the case throughout the history of music that a label in itself has changed music for the good. It is always the artist, and it is the artist that keeps people who work for record labels in their jobs. Even if an artist has confusing ideas to a label, the ideas should be given a chance because the artists vision might help the label eventually, even if the label are too constricted to understand at first. I don’t think a record label invented Alice Cooper or The Ramones or Patti Smith, or any artist that ever had a vision. Now, I think, other bands will be reluctant to sign to Harvest because of how Harvest has treated me. The vanity or ego of a label can also destroy a label rather than make it appear to be in control.
In “Autobiography”, you tell us about some details of how The Smiths emerged as an independent band in Manchester. Many things have changed over the past 30 years. So many of the people who are making the breaks today seem to be produced by established figures and the internet play a big role in this. If you are an emerging artist, the music industry must be frightening at the moment. If you had to enter the music industry today, how would you go about it? What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
I know a lot of young people who, in another climate, would have made music, but who are repulsed by the way talent is now artificially created. My own view is that it doesn’t matter how you break through as long as you have something to say, but, of course, it can’t be a coincidence that all of the major artists in the mainstream music chart have absolutely nothing to say and are utterly servile! It seems to me that music is no longer a place for individual expression unless you just want to make music for yourself and your friends. Every fact of the modern world is crying out for change and release, yet there is no evidence of this in the mainstream music charts. It’s almost as if no one is allowed through unless they are … well, meaningless.
Although streaming looks to be the future of music ‘consumption’ -I hate to use this word- a while ago some musicians, especially David Byrne and Thom Yorke, got some attention when they publicly complained about Spotify and other digital music services. Major labels love Spotify because they receive a huge amount of shares, but artists are not equal on it. There are indie labels, as opposed to majors, receive no advance, receive no minimum per stream. For years, the major record labels used their monopoly of distribution and their control of radio to prevent independent music from competing in the mainstream. Now with the record industry in disarray, do you think it’d be possible to change the system and let people decide what’s popular, not marketing?
The labels don’t want the people to choose. Marketing is all that modern music is about, and it is only marketing and not talent or ability that creates success. This is why only the dumbo generation succeeds in pop without much trouble, because synthetic excitement isn’t likely to be a problem for the labels. But because marketing is the only reason why any singer is successful, songs with no merit become huge hits, and consequently the music world is unconvincing, and it relies upon awards to make singers appear to be genuine artists. At the same time, young people who are serious about singing or playing an instrument would look at television talent shows and find them morally repulsive. Which they are!
“World Peace Is None of Your Business” is a stunning record. In the opening track, you sum up the current desperate situation of the world. It’s a powerful anti-war, anti-state song. You openly agree with the anti-voting revolution. The No Vote campaign has been very much discussed in Turkey recently because of the local elections and presidential elections. I totally understand why you support this strategy. Yes, it is time for a form of change. Because the bad guys always win! How do we stop that? Is non-voting system alone enough? How do we achieve a nonviolent change?
Well, a little spark can cause a big fire! It doesn’t really take much to turn the world’s social outlook upside down. I support the No Vote campaign because it is a silent vote for constitutional reform. No vote means you have no confidence in whatever it is you’re served up. The present system is entirely and absolutely authoritarian – and nothing else. Electing the least of a hideous bunch always leads us to precisely the same unhappy place. The idea of a single President or Prime Minister is ludicrous to me, because you are absolutely giving the divine right to a single individual to do what they please to other living beings, and to define rights and wrongs, and to carry out such dealings away from any public scrutiny. Consequently, in the Middle East there never seems to be enough blood. The human race has grown more nervous, not less, under the current regimes, and elected political parties persistently show themselves to want nothing to do with the people once they get the public vote.
The song “Istanbul” has touched my heart deeply. Its lyrics are so poignant that most Turkish people related it to the resistance that took place in Turkey last year. The year 2013 was very tough for the Turkish people. There was a nationwide wave of protests against the oppression of the Islamic-rooted government. The Turkish police used tear gas and water cannon as the primary methods to disperse people. Their response to the civilians was extremely violent. Seven young people died and thousands were injured in the police crackdown on the protests across Turkey. Berkin Elvan, one of those young people who got killed by the cops, was only 14 years old. When you released “Istanbul”, almost everyone in Turkey couldn’t help but think of our brown eyed boy Berkin. Could this be just a coincidence?
It’s a not uncommon story, and you must remember how the Syrian unrest began with Assad arresting ten schoolchildren under the age of 15, and throwing them into prison where they were tortured. Assad did this because the kids had written DOWN WITH THE REGIME on a wall. This incident alone started the Syrian uprising, and the families of the schoolchildren took to the streets, and it was here that Assad’s Security Forces shot at the families and killed some of them. This action then brought 20,000 people onto the streets chanting anti-government slogans, and Assad was free to slaughter whomever he wished. The UK government is now ready to re-engage with Assad! But increasingly we see how civilian murders don’t actually matter at all with governments. The recent Malaysian plane attack is a perfect example. In the first few days the media referred to it as an attack, and then suddenly it became a disaster. By ‘disaster’ they were telling us that nothing would be done about it, as if it were a flood or something. We all see how civilian deaths do not register with world leaders unless a loss of oil or gas is involved, and suddenly there’s no question of military intervention. What enrages me is how people who rise up against corrupt governments are referred to as rebels, protestors or agitators but never ever referred to as “the people”, which is what they are. It is corrupt governments who are the rebels. You will never hear a news report say how “the police shot at the people”, yet you will always hear “the police shot at demonstrators” – as if demonstrators are not really people. By calling the people ‘agitators’ or ‘rebels’ it divorces them from being your mother or your cousin. You suddenly imagine fringe anarchists butting in. The so-called Security Forces cause the most trouble and the most deaths throughout the world – Ferguson in the USA is a perfect current example – and the problem is that the Security Forces are beyond prosecution. Because of this, nonviolent protest is always deliberately made to become violent by Security Forces so that the political issues are overshadowed by the news of violence instead, and this absolutely never fails. So, instead of hearing why the people are taking to the streets in peaceful resistance, we are told of how several policemen were hurt in violent clashes, and this alone becomes the news story, and the plight of the people is ignored. The last thing Security Forces ever want is peaceful protest because then the anti-government message is being aired and heard as loud as a bell.
You say when you’re in Istanbul you feel as if I could never die. And you should know that when you sing in Istanbul, we (all of your fans) feel the same. When are we going to experience this wonderful mutual feeling again? In October?
In December. It is a Sunday evening. I’ve always tried to get Istanbul Opera House, but it’s never available… or it doesn’t exist.
Ara Güler, a famous Turkish photojournalist, once said, “Istanbul is Jean Giraudoux’s La Folle de Chaillot. Every since my childhood I always identified the city with the madwoman of Chaillot, a crazy woman of the type you can find in the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations… Now she has grown old, but she never neglects her appearance. She puts on her jewelry, and applies her perfumes. She has caskets filled with jewelry from the old days of magnificent and grandeur. Touch this mad woman of the palace known as Istanbul anywhere you like and a jewel will appear.” You revealed that Istanbul is the second to Rome as your most favorite city in the world. What image appears in your mind’s eye when you touch the city?
I love cities where the people are on the streets because I feel less alone. If you are seen on the streets in England you must always account for why you are outside – I don’t mean politically, I just mean generally. In America, anyone walking along the street is thought to be up to no good. In England we are always enclosed, and usually zombified in front of a television. In Istanbul and Rome I can walk and walk and walk, and I love to see groups of older people sitting around in squares or cafes just … doing nothing. In England you can’t sit anywhere unless you buy something, and America is the same. Unless you buy four bottles of wine you’re obliged to leave. I also love societies where different age groups mix naturally, and I find this so in Turkey, and it’s very important and rewarding. England and America look upon senior citizens as a problem.
When you gave a concert in 2006 in Istanbul, you got on stage and saluted the crowd by saying “Zeki Müren!” It was a nice surprise for us, but nobody knows why you said that. How familiar are you with his music?
Not very. He was introduced to me by an old friend (James Maker), and I found his style to be quite funny and soothing, and it interested me that such a traditionally macho culture could adopt a Zeki Muren without much fuss.
“The Bullfighter Dies” emphasize the cruelty to animals and human selfishness in a very effective way. I hope your new song could help to stop this horrific animal abuse in Spain. I don’t know if I am being too naive but listening to “Meat Is Murder” was sufficient to make me vegan years ago. On the other hand, we live in a society where violence has been very present at the most intimate levels. How hopeful are you that one day animal cruelty will be seen the same and given the same justice as human cruelty?
I think eating animals will be to the 21st century what smoking tobacco was to the 20th century, and because this is becoming evident, the factory farmers are hitting back very hard. I don’t know anyone at all who eats animals, but the dominant animal-haters always make sure they are heard and seen, and this is why people such as I, who do not financially profit from their views, must also keep jabbing away. There is, in fact, no such thing as bullfighting, because no one actually fights a bull. There are bullmurders, but not bullfights. It’s similar to those who call themselves hunters, yet they are armed to the teeth with weaponry that gives them an absurdly childish advantage over the animal. The so-called hunter doesn’t even come within close range of the animal. Everything is done from a safe distance. This is why I despise people like Prince William and Prince Harry who have a paranoid obsession with killing animals. They are so typical of the stupidly cruel killers who never actually get their hands dirty. They are both absolute pests.
We also live in a society where violence is a cultural style belonging especially to men. That’s why I find the song “I’m Not a Man” very brave. Every line in the song is to the point and deadly accurate in describing how society’s definition of men harms the mind and identity. In “Autobiography”, you tell us that Bowie’s androgynous appearance shook the British society in the 1970s. Do you remember the first image you saw that blurred the physical distinction between genders and the text (poem/book/story etc.) you read that did the same?
This again is why I despise Prince William and Prince Harry. There’s a crackdown on possession of firearms in England, but the only people we ever see with guns are the stupid Royals, yet nobody says anything! I think violence is ingrained into our societies because of the abattoir or slaughterhouses, and we usually find that however a person is allowed to treat animals is also the way they feel entitled to treat humans. On the subject of gender, I think Gertrude Stein was the first image I saw of someone who just wasn’t prepared to follow on behind. But it isn’t always simply a question of heterosexuality or homosexuality. There are as many variables in heterosexual society as there are in homosexual society. Describing a person in terms of their sexuality actually tells you nothing about that person. The human race is a lot more varied than we are generally encouraged to believe. So, I therefore found such as Gertrude Stein to be interesting because their androgyny seemed to unite male and female in one, and didn’t close off any new or further experiences, which sounds very healthy to me. This is why early David Bowie and Patti Smith seemed like messengers, yet most of us still live in societies that insist upon painfully limited gender roles, and the assumption of male heterosexual rightness is still the absolute face of global politics.
You have compiled the track-listing for the forthcoming Best of the Ramones CD/LP and you have also chosen the slave image. What impresses you most about the Ramones?
At first, nothing! I thought they were terrible on the Monday that I bought their first album, and by Tuesday I was sneaking back to re-listen, and by Wednesday I was playing the LP at midnight, and by Thursday I was shocked at their magnificence. It’s incredible how the Ramones are now so hugely popular. If they were still alive they’d be the biggest band on the planet, yet they died thinking nobody loved them.
The music industry is one of the industries where it is socially acceptable to discriminate against females. In the last couple of years, some female musicians have spoken against gender discrimination in music. What’s your take on this issue?
I don’t think anything has changed, thus you will hear how “she’s one of the best female singers” whereas you would never hear “he’s a great male singer.” In your question you ask me about female musicians, but really, isn’t the term ‘musicians who are female’ because otherwise we’re acknowledging the proper musician as being without doubt male. It’s similar to when people use the term ‘a female doctor’ as if men have the absolute divine right to be doctors whereas women do not. “It was a female police officer” sounds as if we’re saying ‘not a real police officer’. In music, we still look back on early Patti Smith and The Slits as being such radical breakthroughs because they were definitely not fluffy and feminine, whereas it’s now entirely flipped back to the helpless little girl voice being the one we only ever hear on the radio. The Spice Girls were marketed as ‘girl power’, which is exactly what they weren’t. If they’d had any guts they would have called themselves The Slum Mums, and of course, forget girlhood, it ought to have been ‘woman power’ if anything. Could you imagine The Strokes announcing ‘we represent boy power’?
Only the Douglas Coupland book. I also see that there’s a new Swedish TV drama called Viva Hate. A lot of similar things happen. There were films called Mute Witness and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and Louder Than Bombs … and, uh, it’s impossible to list them all. It thrills me, though. It proves that someone is listening.
How do you stay balanced and recharge your battery, given the stress of modern life, and all the things you have going on in your career? Do you ever have to get away from the music or your responsibilities for a moment in order to re-center? If so, what kinds of things do this for you? And most importantly, how is your health in general?
I don’t manage to remain very balanced! I’ve suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for several years, and I feel intensely melancholic every day. But have you ever actually heard of anyone who found lasting happiness? I think human existence is painful… fear, loneliness, physical decay, ill-health, loss … and we must face these things every single day whilst also exercising the most austere self-discipline about work, money, appearance, and so on. It’s confusing also because although money in itself is not the source of life, everything arounds us tells us that it is.
You’ve been in so many people’s lives for so many years. Your music has had such an existential tone over the years, bordering on bitter at times. And you still stand on stage and never get out of people’s consciousness with the years. When you look back over your musical career, is there a feeling that stands out from the rest?
It’s never felt like a career. Not for one single minute. In fact, I have no idea what it is! Certainly I feel unwanted by the music industry, and the recent Harvest thing accentuates that. But it was never different. The fact that I’ve survived for so long is quite incredible.
Thank you very much again. I am excitedly waiting to see you in Istanbul!
Likewise, although I probably won’t spot you unless you look especially noticable. Perhaps if you dressed up as a goat?