David: Your latest album seems to have a running theme. It expresses a feeling that there is a big crisis in the loss of values; treatment of others, of animals and of our own political and social responsibility as a community in general. You have always been outspoken in terms of certain issues within certain songs, but this entire album, particularly, seems to be very strongly political in (almost) its entirety. Have you become more political or do you feel that the times have become even more dire and you have felt more driven to express and question these issues?
Morrissey: I could be wrong but I feel certain that Hitler did not win the war, yet we are all living under the jackboot and every country has its own version of authoritarian dictatorships. Everything has tensed up and people have never quite been so unhappy. Everybody wants change, and this fanatical discontent is obviously most evident in the Arab Spring. It emphasizes an unnerving hostility that most governments have towards the people who have elected them. I think it is time for constitutional reforms at every level because this is not 1940 - at least, not according to my calendar.
Listening to the first song off your new album evokes a sense of questioning the whole voting system.
In England voting is an illusion because of the designed restriction to two main parties - neither of which have the power to make the people feel either happy or even content, and neither of whom listen to the people once the party is elected. Politicians have never quite been so unconvincing, and most appear to exist in a world of pure comedy. Because of this, very few people vote, and England has a Prime Minister who wasn’t even voted into power. It is its own ridicule and it is further away from the people than ever before. Expectations of politicians are now so low that this emptiness of spirit has become the modern face of England. I cannot say the United Kingdom because it isn’t united.
Do you vote?
I haven’t ever voted because my vote is too precious to me, and I will not use it simply in order to get rid of someone if only to replace them with somebody else who isn’t quite so corrupt. All of the power belongs to the people, yet the carnival of politics doesn’t ever mention this fact.
Can you talk a bit about the tension within families as heard in “Staircase at the university”? Where does the inspiration for songs like this come from?
I am aware of constant media reports of young people killing themselves due to exam failure, and of course it’s horrific and stupid, yet it must have its roots in the family or the guardians surrounding the young person. We are all objectified in some way, and once our weaknesses are known then everyone around us preys on those weaknesses. The people who are most strong and most useful are those who do not care what others think. This, I think, is why self-expression is limited to whatever serves those around u
What do you think would drive a family member, (especially a parent) to justify the disowning or rejection of their own child for something such as a grade, a particular professional choice, etc?
In defense of parents, they might not quite understand how close to the line their child is, and a lot of parents wrongly think that pushing their child will make the child robust. It might be true if you’re an athlete, but not if you’re studying physics. It’s also worth considering that some parents don’t actually like their own child, so they have no guilt over making them feel less than worthy.
Personally, did you feel supported or rejected by your choice to create music? Do songs such as these come from your own experience?
It wasn’t much of an issue because I had no education anyway, therefore nothing was expected of me. It’s not as if I was about to become an astronaut and then I suddenly decided to join “The Harlots of 42nd Street
My own future was quite grimly in my own hands, and I think it was generally assumed I’d jump off a cliff, so very suddenly, being on television singing “This Charming Man” appeared to be a very slightly better option.
Likewise, what kind of advice and wisdom would you give to a person in that situation?
I’m not clairvoyant or a medieval magician so I can’t claim to have any gift of projections, but individual existence, I think, is painful for many reasons, and I think we’re all ruled by loss, fear, loneliness, exhaustion, our appearance, our intolerance … so we all shouldn’t be quite so hard on ourselves considering what we’re up against minute by minute. Of course, our societies show only a pictorial and plastic picture of what we should have and how we should be living, even though almost no one lives that way.
I get the feeling, through what we know about your ideas about the UK Royal family, bullfighting, animal cruelty etc, that many things that are often excused by the idea of ‘tradition’ are not valid when it comes to suffering, to the subjugation of one being over another.
Slavery was once tradition, as were public executions and segregation and organized torture and child labour and bear-baiting. When the people spoke up and demanded that all of these barbaric amusements were abolished, the Church and governments opposed the people. Precisely the same thing happens today. The people must lead the way, and have done so where food quality is concerned, and also by raising awareness for governments on issues such as global warming. Just become something is a tradition does not mean that it leads to a useful result. You look to your elected government to be civilized, but governments rarely act with feeling and thought. Their only concern is economics. It is individuals outside of government that appeal to the public’s emotions, whether this be Charles Dickens or Karl Marx. People in power are never poets. But they should be.
Tell us about the song “The Bullfighter dies”
In the first place, there is no such thing as a bullfight because nobody fights the bull. The bull is tormented and tortured and then viciously killed. In Spain the bull is slaughtered in the arena, whereas in Portugal they kill the bull beyond the sight of the public. Obviously to murder a bull in the name of entertainment is human stupidity and cruelty at its most base, and it is the shame of any country who allows it. I might be impressed if the matador or the footmen approach the bull without spears, and if they do not wrap the bulls horns in soft leather. But they do not face the bull with any equality because the matadors are cowards. When the matador is traumatically injured it is said that the bullfight has gone wrong. But why has it gone wrong? Because it is not a fight at all, it is simply torment. To kill any other living being in the name of entertainment is inferior on an intellectual, moral, cultural and religious level. We have no right to do what we please with living beings.
That being said, to take it a step further, do you think that the death of the bullfighter, who knew what he was getting into from the beginning, is, in a sense, less of a tragedy than the bull, who didn’t dream of being a celebrity, rich from the event or likewise?
Well, of course, the bulls can’t report to us on how they feel about their drawn-out death, their humiliation, their intense suffering, the systematic torture of its fellow beings. In Park Lane in London there is a large statue for animals which says ANIMALS IN WAR-THEY HAD NO CHOICE, which is all very well, but why doesn’t it say ANIMALS IN ABATTOIRS-THEY HAVE NO CHOICE. Humans always see themselves as the central fact, and they have no pity for animals yet, in the case of the bullring, they expect the pity of the crowd if what happens to the bull accidentally becomes the outcome for the matador. Why is it only the bull that deserves to die? What has it done? It is the matador, not the bull, that creates the situation. It will be abolished by the force of law very soon, but the people must push harder
Not only do you voice your own views on eating meat but you follow through with it - for example the censorship of meat stands at music festivals.
I don’t know why people are so silent because we are all quite moral creatures in the sense that we object to murder and theft and so forth, but why is there little compassion for animals? Wouldn’t we run to protect any living creature that is being abused and is helpless? Why is there such an absence of pity when it comes to the slaughterhouse? Is it just because what happens there is away from public view? In England, badgers are gassed to death because they interfere with the farmers right to earn money.
Why can’t one politician stand up and tell us that money is not the source of life? They just can’t do it. Is any form of cruelty acceptable as long as it makes money for somebody somewhere? Some years ago I played at the Glastonbury festival in England, but the person who runs the festival refused to allow me to show a film clip during the song “Meat is Murder” because he said it would upset children. I explained that the animals in the film did not want to be in the film, and that if the festival sells hamburgers then why can’t we see how they’re made? Isn’t it educational? He (Michael Eavis) explained that he had a dairy farm and that his cows were happy, so this is why he didn’t want the film shown. But how does he know that his cows are happy? Do they dance and sing? Are they happy when they’re sent to slaughter with their loved ones? How can animals protest? They can’t, and they rely on people such as me to speak up for them.
I’m curious to know what you had to go through to do that. Was there as big of a backlash against you and did you feel a stigma then for making that stand?
I’m not concerned about backlashes because you are basically hearing disapproval from people who are not your friends, anyway. So what does it matter?
What was the response from the music industry in this case?
Well, I’ve been on 307 labels in the last few years! I don’t think anyone knows what to do with me. The strange thing is that I do not have exceptional views. I am not remotely extreme. I am simply not a zombie.
Furthermore, I’m also curious to know if there was any particular festival or entity that was surprisingly supportive or backed you that you didn’t expect?
Yes. I’ve been asked to return to two major festivals and they have vowed to have their first ever event without flesh-food. This will be historic if it happens, although obviously it would never happen with Glastonbury because of the views of Michael Eavis. We shall see! The world is changing. Some people lead the way, others follow.
A lot of ecologically minded admire your views towards animal protection and actions to ban grilled meat.
However you are allowed to treat animals is ultimately the manner by which you believe you are allowed to treat humans. My view is that eating animals is to the 21st century, what tobacco was to the 20th century. Eating animals is a disaster for the animal, a health disaster for the consumer, and an ecological disaster for the planet. You just cannot do anything worse than eating meat! Even war, sick as it is, might have a moral aspect somewhere, whereas eating meat is conclusively disastrous on every possible level.
I know that here in Switzerland these actions were very positively received, but were there other places that were supportive as well?
Yes. The public deception of meat as protein doesn’t wash anymore with intelligent people. Mad Cow Disease occurs when farmers feed flesh to their cows, so therefore meat doesn’t help the cow - it kills it. The rhino, the elephant, the hippo are vegetarian … do they seem undernourished and lacking in protein? And what about the bull? People who ate meat might become angry at vegetarian or vegans because they secretly know that they have been duped into believing that animal flesh is good for humans. Most modern diseases are directly attributable to meat consumption, and it is mostly irreversible damage.
What does it say to you about countries that respond well to moves such as this in terms of animal rights?
We all boast of an inborn capacity to recognise right from wrong. Not even the world’s happiest optimist could agree that factory farming is right on any level. It’s no coincidence that people who work in abattoirs are almost always suffering from mental issues. It’s a running joke that only desperate people would work at McDonalds. And it’s true. We never hear of a person of great moral strength and intellectual character saying “my ambition is to work for Kentucky Fried Chicken”, because McDonalds and KFC are thought to be the last employment refuge.
Were there any particular places where you felt or encountered the opposite or even worse? How do you, or could you even, reconcile playing in places that don’t accept this?
I played in Oporto in Portugal many years ago and I noticed in a restaurant window a complete lamb propped up yet shorn of all of its skin. And this was meant to entice people in! I don’t think I have ever seen anything so horrific in my life.
Does that openness to nature and respect of the animal rights come into the equation when you pick a city when touring?
I think it’s more helpful to go to intolerant places because otherwise you’re left mumbling amongst your friends. Having said that, I don’t hand pick touring cities absolutely for their callousness. I just go where I go. Yes, the Nazi influence is everywhere, but there are good people everywhere, also.
You’re due to play in Switzerland soon where different communities with different languages live side by side. There is a domination of the Swiss-German community over the rest (Swiss-French, Swiss-Italians…) As a British person of Irish origins, what do you think is the responsibility of the majority to include the minorities in building a common culture?
I don’t think communities strengthen by inclusion of languages and what might be new cultures. I think the opposite happens because most people fraction off to hang about with the gang whom they feel most understands them. We all feel that we have a divine right to wherever we were born, and we want to preserve it and hold on to it. It’s unlikely, for example, that Buckingham Palace would ever be turned into a mosque. Multi-cultures in England have only taken place in lower-income areas.
Switzerland is a model of democracy that takes decisions locally, regionally and nationally by involving every major parties’ representatives. People also vote several times a year via referendums. Would this be a good model for other old democracies like Great Britain?
It’s a question of what you are voting FOR, not the physical act of walking into a booth carrying a small piece of paper. The British media will not allow a third party to gain strength, and if it does there is automatically a smear campaign that would never be attached to the two mainstream parties. We have no chance for change, and anyone who says “I have a better idea” is laughed off the planet. A central government should consist of members of at least five major political parties, so that views are many and varied and best represent the people. The very idea of one party becoming the government simply because they scraped through with 4 extra votes is ludicrous because a significantly larger number of the population did not vote for them. It is often argued that Margaret Thatcher could not possibly have been the most hated woman in England if she in fact won four elections, but the number of people who voted against her was always staggeringly higher than those who voted for her. Prime Ministers soon realise how much they are disliked, and they then act against the people, if only out of spite. One single Prime Minister or President no longer works. The human race is now too openly varied to continue to look up to the old-fashioned, macho, sexist, married, war-ready male. Life is not like that anymore.
Conversely, do you think that, given the craziness that we see in pop culture, reality shows and all the other sad state of affairs, we should leave the workings of a country in all aspects and on all levels to the voice of the people?
Yes, I do, because you must not judge the human race by what you see on television! TV has become a fluff head cake-baking nation in order to keep people in place, largely because the internet has unlocked everyone. The young contestants on embarrassingly dehumanised television talent shows are not really how young people are. Television generates fiction and provides us with the main task of forgetting… over parodied mannerisms … omg obsessions with diets and divorce … the persistent noise and applause for no reason … the audience roars of excitement at anything that might be considered sexual… television has jumped backwards as everything else races forwards.
The “Suisse Romand” love English and French, as if English was also part of the Swiss-French Culture. As a British person, what makes you sensitive to the French-speaking culture?
I have always loved the high-surface drama of French music … Charles Aznavour singing “Take me …” and I love the fanatical discontent of French film. The arts are best, for me, when failure is expressed magnificently. I do not like the sexlessly smiling sterility of artificial talent, which, of course, is modern pop-dance techno twirl. It is ridiculously unconvincing. Edith Piaf wore a little black dress and sang on a bare stage without much amplification and she made the walls shake. Most modern singers cannot appear onstage unless they have 500 dancers around them… no one can stand up there alone and just … sing.
For all of the sympathy that Switzerland has shown towards various issues such as animal rights (discussed in part one below), it is still viewed as a place where the rich and corrupt are sheltered, secure and welcomed; how do you see Switzerland in these terms and how do feel about coming here? Did you feel any reservations about playing here?
I visit Switzerland at least five times every year and I feel very content. It is not my view that simply because a person is rich that they automatically should be drowned. My only sadness with Switzerland is the cat-skinning trade, where cats are obviously skinned for their fur. I don’t need to elaborate. It spoils Switzerland, as it would spoil anywhere. It is not necessary and it should stop. Let animals live their lives and you feel you have a right to live yours. They feel that too!
The region of Lausanne is a place where a lot of French authors found the region inspirational. Would you consider living in a place like Lausanne for the beauty of the place, the calm and safe daily life, the respectful environment?
I know Lausanne very well. You have never spotted me walking up the hill to Lausanne centre? I am the person who sprays red paint across all of the McDonalds and the steak house billboards. I am fascinated to note that other people have started to do it, too. On his autobiography and his fans.
You saluted the intelligence of fans who understand the meaning of your songs and posted videos to promote songs from “World Peace is None of Your Business” on the social video platforms. How do you view the role of the web and especially social media in terms of your career today?
It has helped ‘World Peace Is None of Your Business’ in a way that the record label just could not. The people understand, even if the oh-so-clever executives at Capitol-Harvest … refused to. It proved, though, that the label will not be led by the record-buying people, but instead the label want to shape the pastiness of the Top 50 and keep it sterile.
How would you have imagined this whole online world of social sites, music distribution, etc. would have affected the Smiths if it were around and as prevalent then as it is now?
It would have been perfect because Smiths songs cover so many different topics whereas most bands will just sing about one thing only. The Smiths’ world went for the throat, but was expansive, and led people to investigate film and literature and so on. I don’t think Abba ever did that.
Do you think that, with all you had to go through with Harvest, labels in general are really interested in the artist signed for what they are bringing to the table and what that ensues or merely for the signing of the contract and that the details particular to the artist, in this case you, are unimportant?
Harvest wanted to re-launch the label with a credible album, but they didn’t want anything to do with me as a living, breathing, opinionated entity. Once they had a Morrissey album, then they would hopefully sign younger bands who will want to be on the label because of the Morrissey thing. I wish those bands much luck … not to mention fortitude.
Is there an alternative to this for artists looking to be signed?
I think the industry is locked into the control of the 5 biggest labels, and these labels trade with one another for the number spot and for Grammy Awards and Brit Awards, etc … the idea is to use the artist to plug the label.
The artist is, in flesh and blood, nothing. Like a dairy cow, once the artist fails to yield, the throat is slit. There is no friendship at all between label and artist.
Did you find that writing and publishing your autobiography and sharing your story provided a sort of therapy for you? What do you think the you of 1983 would have made of your music, your persona as it is now?
I think the me of 1983 would have very much relied upon the me of 2014. I’m what I was always looking for.
Likewise, what do you feel about your music, your persona of 1983 now? Is there any particular song from the past that you feel especially close to after all these years and if so, for what reason?
In 1983 I was very sexless, and chronically depressed. These two go together quite well, but aren’t terribly helpful. It is unusual, I think, to be suicidal, yet to suddenly find success because you ARE suicidal.
You had to cancel a few concerts due to illness last year, that must have been disappointing for you.
There is nothing worse than having to cancel, and the decision isn’t always made by me. The recent U.S. tour was fantastic until the encore of Boston when I collapsed and was rushed to hospital with acute fever. It took me 5 weeks to recover, and during those 5 weeks of recovery Harvest Records dropped me! So I wondered if life could get worse.
If you could describe your ideal concert- type of venue, audience, etc., what would it be?
It’s impossible to say because whether it’s a stand-up hall or a seated opera house it could go either way. The night depends upon certain electrodes that either spark … or just don’t … and if they don’t, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Above interview conducted by David Glaser, published in both French and English. English translation by Amy Araya.