Morrissey: "Your Real Home Is Your Body – Not Your House Or Your Apartment!" - Vegan Logic (November 28, 2014)
Interview by Zülâl Kalkandelen
Some images are included in the original interview, see original post or the archived screenshot.
It is a pleasure for me to interview the one and only Morrissey for the third time. This time, I conducted this interview for my Vogue Turkey piece focusing on Morrissey and gender roles, sex and love. Here are his fantastic answers! (If you are interested, my second interview with Moz: My second interview with Moz; and the first one: and the first one.)
30 years ago, in “Pretty Girls Make Graves”, you said, “I’m not the man you think I am.” It was a tale of losing faith in womanhood. And in your new album, there’s a song called “I’m Not a Man” detesting Casanova and Don Juan. “Sex and love are not the same,” you sing in “Smiler With Knife’. There’s always a search for purity and the meaning in this world, and a preference for a desire for love over lust in your lyrics. I’d love to learn your thoughts on the idea of separating love and sex.
Well, of course, we can love our friends without wanting any physicality, and we can also meet someone who means nothing to us on an intellectual level yet we’d love to have a physical wrestle, shall we say. The problem is, I think, that most of us think there is only one very firm side to our personality. We can’t accept that there are many versions of ourselves within, many composites that make up what we are. We lock into our likes and dislikes at the age of 15, and we stay there forever. Then, at the age of 28, you find yourself saying to someone “well, I’d like to, but I can’t”. We all seem to be petrified to say exactly what we truly feel. In reality, of course, everyone is fascinated by the sexuality of every other person, but we must all die saying nothing because life exists only under specific orders, and if we ignore those orders then we are accused.
Is “Smiler with Knife” based on the book by Nicholas Blake?
I’ve never heard of such a book. I’m disappointed because I thought the title was original. Oh, hell.
Years ago, Leonard Cohen wrote one of his most acclaimed songs "I'm Your Man". Unlike him, you sing "I’m Not a Man’ ”. If isolating yourself from genders or being beyond gender is a liberating thing, why are most of them are shy about it?
I’m not shy about it, otherwise I wouldn’t stand on a stage and sing it as I do. At the root of it all, you really don’t want laws and other people’s standards making any punishing claims on your body or your gender. That attitude is old now. Humans are far more complicated and interesting than they have ever been allowed to express or believe, even though we still take steps to our final death-bed with more assurance than we do towards someone whom we’d like to ask out on a date.
As an artist, you can take any character / personality you want. But it is interesting that in your songs you are always yourself, you are the subject telling us stories about yourself, the people around you and the society you live in. Of all the songs you have written, is there any that has been shaped by a female point of view?
All men existed within a female body before we functioned in a male body, so it seems obvious to me that there are less secrets to being male or female than we are trained to accept. Because there is so much profit in the division of the sexes ... heterosexual divorce is a huge business, and so on ... babies calm down even the most strident political activists ... the social certainty is always marriage and children because this makes people easy to govern and easy to scare, whereas if we were all encouraged to be mobilized and unmarried social thinkers then we could no longer be controlled by politicians. The fact that most people who marry actually step into hell, and the fact that millions of people are unmarried and perfectly happy, well, neither are images you’ll ever see on television advertising.
"A PROPHET FOR THE FOURTH GENDER"
In the ‘80s, you called yourself a “prophet for the fourth gender”. Were you just playing with words to get rid of being trapped in society’s idea of gender? Or was it how you felt exactly at the time?
That description obviously sounded overworked, but I was serious. I couldn’t feel any affinity with the three existing genders. However, I am not a freak, and I don’t live in a frenzy of rage, but at the age of 23 I was absent from sex because there was no way in. What was the point of me? It’s only a form of fear that makes us mimic everyone else, because otherwise we’re asked to explain ourselves, and people hate to do that because you find yourself face-to-face with a new awareness, and it just might be too exciting a proposition. A lot of people prefer entrapment and orders and even alienation, yet there is so much within that could be teased out, and we could all surprise ourselves, but most of us prefer simple ignorance. Do you really think that you were created and placed on this planet in order to pay a mortgage?
In the book called “Morrissey: Fandom, Representations and Identities”, there is a chapter about your negotiation of dominant gender and sexuality codes. And Elisabeth Woronzoff writes, “Morrissey does not deconstruct popular culture to such extend that is unrecognizable from its original entity. What Morrissey does that is so unique is that he acknowledges the dominant codes but parlays an alternative means of decoding them. I read Morrissey as one who does not actively oppose dominant discourse. I hold that what he does do is settle in the middle, and presents us with a negotiated discourse.” What I understand from reading this paragraph is that by doing this, you seek not to destroy order but to reorder. Would it be fair to say that this negotiation ‘allows your fans to decide and interpret your language, lyrics and appearance as reflections of their own identity’?
That’s exactly the aim, so, therefore, hopefully, you are of some use to everyone, and we all feel less alone if we are assured that our feelings are shared by others, naturally. Your real home is your body – not your house or your apartment. To sit still and endure your own feelings is probably the toughest part of everyone’s day. It need not be. Or, if it has been, then now it must stop, because, by the age of 29, we’re all tired out, and soon we enter our 40s as if we are entering death, when, really, it’s a better beginning than entering our 20s. Human beings have been treated like processed chemicals for too long. It is time to sit and fill the whole chair, to drink yourself in like you would a glass of wine, and to stop chasing old and forced behavioural patterns. How do we do this? Well, it’s easy. You just begin to. Instead of being afraid of people who nudge and push us, we should appreciate anyone at all who puts new questions before us.
"IS SEX JUST AN IDEA?"
Another interesting point in the aforementioned book is that you are capable of demonstrating vulnerability and sensitivity without being homosexual; and embodying the type of masculinity that is far more expansive than the simplistic rhetoric espousing men as active and women as passive. These are two of the main reasons I've been struck by your music. As an artist, did you have the idea of separating sexuality and gender in your music from the beginning or how did this idea develop?
I believe foremost in humasexuality. We are all humans and we all love humans. If we could leave the debate at that, we’d all be OK, but instead we’re asked to clarify and limit our sexual desires so that others might know where they stand with us. But by doing this you are admitting that, no matter how long you live, you can never become a new person with a new life and new ideas. Why must sexuality be so unbreakable? We all know very well that each of us struggle with an outer reality and an inner reality, so why not combine them? It is rigid moral certainty and and rigid moral indignation that traps us all, and if people were allowed to, for example, freely share their bodies, then the fuller their lives would be. Quite obviously I do not suggest any action enforced against the will of others, but it is fascinating to me how most people go through their entire lives saying absolutely nothing at all on the issue of sex or gender, as if they were in some form of sexual exile, or riddled with cancerous guilt. We don’t even know how our closest friends feel about their own bodies, yet we know their views on the most insignificantly cud-chewing nonsense. Are we all frozen in dullness? Is sex just an idea?
Why do you think society detests strong women?
Because the bull must mount the cow, and not the other way around.
In the ‘80s, you once said, “Clothes are no longer the window of the soul”. In The Smiths era, you used gladioli on stage and provided flamboyance, and the other members of the band wore sweaters reflecting a gang aspect. Were all these things planned from day one to show the world that you were your own man?
No, it was just because the other three were quite dull.
One of the highlights of your concerts is when you rip open your shirt presenting your body to the audience. Is your singular male body a symbol of openness for everything?
Well, it’s the only body that I have. I can’t reveal any other. It’s not meant to be an orgiastic moment – I’m not asking anyone to find me impressively seductive, but rather, to get out of this human need to always be enclosed ... enclosed within clothes, within cars, within houses ... humans are obsessed with being ‘inside’ or covered, and they don’t feel comfortable with the lyric nature of freedom of any kind. This has been learned, though, since obviously we were once what might be termed ‘wild’. I think ‘wild’ means ‘free’. You hear how animals ‘live in the wild’, or that they are ‘wild animals’. All this means is that they aren’t caged. They’re not wild – they’re free. Anyway, the reflex of suspicion that human beings automatically have is, I think, very sad, and it makes earth a sad place. Yes, sex gets to the reality of things, but there are deeper emotions than the sexual.
I read your wonderful interview with Linder Sterling and now want to ask the same question you asked her: “If you inhabited a female body, how would your work differ?” For example, would you pull off your shirt on stage?
Even quicker than I do now.
"YOU ARE EITHER A SINGER, OR ELSE YOU ARE SIMPLY A COSTUME..."
In the book “How Music Works”, David Byrne writes, “In musical performances one can sense that the person on stage is having a good time even if they’re singing a song about breaking up or being in a bad way. For an actor this would be anathema, it would destroy the illusion, but singing one can have it both ways.” I have always wondered how you feel while singing “I Know It’s Over” or “Asleep” on stage. What exactly do you feel at such intimate moments?
I don’t ever forget the original process that created the song, so therefore the pain doesn’t take absence simply because this is now 2014 and I have a decent bank account and a few good friends. If a song becomes important to many people, well, this is not coincidental. To sing an emotive song is not a confidence game – you cannot do it unless you feel it. But I disagree with David Byrne on the subject of acting because many great actors can bring off failure magnificently, and we love them for it all the more. We can identify the artists who have created beauty for everyone, and we can also see that they have suffered for it, and that’s why we will always love them. I also disagree with David when he uses the term ‘musical performance’ because if you have a true and physical need to sing a song then you are not performing. Performance is forced and artificial, and you are either a singer, or else you are... simply ... a costume.
Related Forum Threads
- Morrissey interview in Vogue Turkey focused on gender roles, sex and love - Morrissey-solo (Nov 28, 2014)