My first shock ahead of meeting my all-time favourite singer/songwriter Morrissey – aka “God” - is his choice of venue for our interview. Having expected a private tête-à-tête at his apartment, or perhaps a lentil burger with Nancy Sinatra overlooking Venice Beach, it takes me aback when Morrissey insists on linking up at the “Buckaroo Cowboy”, its special today “all the beef you can eat for five bucks”. Purchasing a flaccid burger I find an intimate booth facing the diner entrance where I wait expectantly for my pop idol. My second surprise is when Morrissey pushes open the saloon door from the dusty street. Rather than his trademark open shirt, beads and hearing aid, he’s clad in what appears to be a huge Stetson, tight hipsters and platform boots - complete with shiny sheriff’s badge. Rather than the shy and retiring persona I’d expected, Morrissey strides purposefully towards me chewing what appears to be “baccy” before crushing my hand in his own. Closing my eyes I shiver at the touch of this, the hand that wrote the soundtrack of my life. For a moment I’m overwhelmed, undone, unable to “Mozzer!” I finally blurt out, before reprimanding myself, “I mean Stephen – how are you?”
When Morrissey answers I’m in for another surprise. His accent, which I’d assumed to have a mild Mancunian lilt, is in fact an aggressive, Deep-South American drawl.
“Mister Morris actually - ass-wipe.”
Almost too stunned to speak and hoping I haven’t got off on the wrong foot, I raise my hands anxiously.
“Erm – Mister Morris – sorry!”
Morrissey sits opposite me in the small booth, hat tilted over his eyes and with what I now realise is a
cheap-looking tattoo on his hairy arm: a red heart with an arrow and the single word “maw”.
“Morris E, if you want ma proper title – I put ma initial after ma surname, sounds kinda nice.”
Reeling, disorientated after my twelve-hour economy flight, I look down at my little notebook.
“So your name is – erm – Stephen E Morris? What does the ‘E’ stand for, may I enquire?”
“Ezekiel. And who in tarnation’s this ‘Stephen’ ass-wipe, ass-wipe?”
Hurriedly I scan through my notes, Morrissey – or rather Mister Morris’s eyes piercing through me like the cross-hairs of an assassin’s gun. (Note to ed: please leave this simile in, it took me ages)
“Your name is... Ezekiel Morris? But everything I ever read about you refers to you being called ‘Stephen’.”
Mister Morris guffaws loudly and slaps his thigh in merriment. The dowdy yet attractive waitress with two enormous jugs of coffee in her hands gives him a lusty wink from behind the counter. “You wanna know better than to trust a load of commie papers, boy! Sheeet!” “All right Mister – er - Morris, can I just ask you how you first met Johnny Marr...“ Producing a six-pack of Coors Beer from between his knees, Mister Morris takes a can, shakes it unnecessarily hard, then pulls the tab. Beer spills across the dirty Formica table, saturating my notes.
“Get me some grits, boy. And a bucket of fried chicken. A man’s gotta eat. I gotta hot date with a sweet lil thang, and I’ll need all ma energy tonight - hur hur!”
With a shaking hand I wipe beer off my pages, but all the ink blurs. I feel like my mind has been similarly affected: blurred, rendered incomprehensible by alcohol. I realise my jet-lag is getting worse. (Note to ed: look – we need to KEEP this – haven’t you ever heard of gonzo journalism FFS?)
“Erm – OK, right – to be honest I didn’t really think you were exactly a devoted connoisseur of meat or
meat-based products, sir.”
“Sheeeeet! Don’t you go payin’ no attention to no highfalutin’ pinko newspapers boy! Old man
Morrissey loves his flesh three times daily! And right after I have ma flesh I have to have ma piece of
Mister Morris laughs dirtily, indeed, lustily. I look down at my greasy plate, but after my long flight the
sight of a bloody burger almost makes me retch, so after the waitress takes Mister Morris’s order I look
up again at my hero, now swigging from a litre bottle of some transparent liquid labelled “Doc Loco’s 200-Proof Fire Water”. Mister Morris eyes me suspiciously then waves the bottle, belching loudly.
“Wanna nip boy, or is it past your limey bed-time?”
“Actually I usually stick to lager and lime, Mister Morris. Erm - can I just ask how long you’ve been living out here sir? Los Angeles is very different from your hometown, isn’t it? You seem to have picked up the accent and - everything.”
Morrissey leans back in his chair and plants both feet on the table so that I’m better able to appreciate the razor-sharp stirrups on his cowboy boots. “You messin’ with ma mind boy? I ain’t lost ma accent one bit! Just the same now as it was when a lived on granpaw’s farm back East.” Now I AM confused: leafing through my notes I try to find the relevant information, but it’s hot in the diner and sweat stings my eyes like tears. Disorientated, disenfranchised, dismayed (note to ed: please keep all three adjectives or this won’t work) I smile politely.
“Farm? I didn’t think you grew up on a farm. I thought you grew up on an estate in Stretford.”
“Stretford? Where the hell’s that, pussy-land? You wantin’ a whippin’ boy? Alabama, that’s ma childhood home and it’s where my heart remains. As it says in all ma songs.”
Behind Mister Morris through the window I see a horse attached to a rope, a still-smoking brand across its muscular haunches: “Rancho Morris-E”. Returning to my notes I smile nervously. Mister Morris chews, his cold eyes hard as those of a hawk, or possibly some sort of octopus.
“Which song would that be, sir? There are so many references to Manchester – and the rainy North of England
in general – littered throughout your prodigious and truly remarkable body of work that surely you must have
spent some time there?”
Turning his head, Mister Morris spits: far away I hear a loud metallic ‘clang’.
“Like what, smartass?”
“Erm...” rifling through my notes I suddenly doubt everything: who I am, where I am, why I am. This, I sense, is the very meaning of the postmodern condition, as so eloquently summarised by Rushdie: doubt.
“Well.. for instance… “Rusholme Ruffians”?” Mister Morris sighs impatiently, eyes lighting up as the waitress arrives with his “grits”, fried chicken and a rare steak. Inserting his finger into the meat, Mister Morris withdraws it covered in blood and sucks on the digit ravenously (yet somehow still oozing unbridled heterosexuality) before responding. “That’s ‘Rush home Russians’ ass-wipe! Ah wrote that in protest of all these goddam commies comin’ over here an’ takin’ over our banks and schools!”
For a moment Mister Morris’s attitude becomes a tad friendlier; more conversational. Then I realise he’s looking at my plate.
“Say little feller, you done with that quarter pounder?”
“Go ahead. It’s rather too rare for me. But what about your song, ‘The Headmaster Ritual’? You know – “belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools”?”
Mister Morris takes my plate and begins devouring the cold, putrefying contents with relish. And mayo. When he speaks, it is with a mouth crammed with animal carcass and hard booze.
“That’s Manchester Alabama, fool! And you’re misquotin’ ole man Morris yet again. The actual line there wuz, “Belgian girls run Manchester schools.” That was a protest at all the funny foreigners takin’ over down in good ol’ Dixie land. Belgians, Commies, Limeys – everywhere you turn. The good ol’ Confederate folks have had enough. That’s why we end up livin’ in the mountains with dynamite and six wives for company. Surely you’d know what I mean if you’d heard that other song I did.”
My head is beginning to throb: I rub at my temples. Do you need to know that? I think you do, yes.
“‘How Soon is Now’, fool!”
Unnecessarily writing down the title of my favourite ever song I nod enthusiastically, glad to be on familiar ground at long last.
“Ah yes, I definitely know that one.”
Mister Morris finishes with my plate and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, washing down his meal with lashings of firewater.
“Then boy you’ll remember the line: ‘I am the son and the heir Of old Silas down in pretty Chattanooga’?” Sighing I put down my pen.
“Right … I must’ve heard it wrong. Fake etymology.”
Mister Morris tilts his hat suspiciously before winking lewdly at the waitress, who giggles back over her humungous milky jugs of coffee.
“What in tarnation’s that? Some pagan religion?”
“Not at all, not at all… Can I just run a few other song titles by you?”
Holding out his finger, the nails dirty and chewed ragged, Mister Morris impels me with gestures to take it. When I do so he farts, noisily, the monstrous gases seeping into my nostrils perfidiously. (Note to ed: please keep this in. My mum bought me a thesaurus for Christmas and I promised her I’d use it) I swallow.
“Go right ahead boy, but make it snappy. Ah’m a takin a foxy little Dixie chick to a hick rodeo out in Death
Valley and ah need to stop by the gun club for a little shootin’ practise first. Never know when it’s goin’ ter
come in handy. We could be invaded by Arab varmints even as we speak!”
“Right… so – ‘This Charming Man’?”
“This Farming Man. A little tale about getting’ lost out in the Louisiana swamps and getting’ picked up by some faggot so ah horse-whipped him to an inch of his life.”
Mister Morris keffs again, and monstrous odours waft from the direction of his bottom - that same arse I once saw stuffed to the hilt with daffodils. I sigh and consult my notes, the ink now barely legible from a combo of booze and sweat: my sweat. My tears. My broken dreams...
“Erm... ‘Hang the DJ’?”
Chewing the cud, Morrissey narrows those brooding eyes suspiciously, darting his head round to ensure we aren’t being eavesdropped on before responding with a cunning air, tapping his nose to emphasise said cunning.
“Yes well, I’ll let you work it out what that stands for – here’s a clue – the first word is dirty. And the last rhymes with blue. Had to be a bit tricksy with that one. You know what these PC muthas are like… a man cain’t even get a song about you-know-who on the radio now without the Lobby litigatin’… you know what I’m getting’ at “Not really… How about ‘There is a light that never goes out’?”
“Well that’s just too obvious – it’s about The One and Only Truth boy, which is Creationism. Let’s put it this way – you think nature could have come up with a banana all on her ownsome? If you believe that you’re greener than you look boy, and you look LIME green - or should that be Limey? Hyuck hyuck!”
By now, I must confess I’m beginning to wish I’d paid more heed to the old saying: never meet your heroes. Especially when they’re from Manchester. Fast losing patience and heart, all too aware that my time in LA is short and Mister Morris’s patience apparently shorter, I try one more time:
“But what about ‘Meat is Murder’? Your vegetarian anthem?”
“That’s meat is merde boy, you know your French? It’s an ole Creole term. The song’s about the poor
quality meat you get in foreign establishments here in LA. Foreigners don’t understand meat the American
way. Fancy sauces, all that sheeeet… only way to eat meat’s stewed in its own blood, boy. Wipe its
ass – put it on the plate. Deeeee-licious!”
“So you mean to say that all your magnificent tales of unrequited love that saw me and countless other adolescents through their tormented, lonely childhoods have actually been misunderstood by your many fans?”
Mister Morris sighs, spits (metallic clang) and leans forward, chewing what appears to be raw oxtail. Grudgingly he concedes:
“Well… I do believe some fancy Dan ass-wipe at the record company over in the Ukay had somethin’ to do with it. Rearranged ma lyrics on the sleeves, made ‘em more acceptable to you Limey sissies.”
By now I’m becoming exasperated and begin to play with my Bic.
“You do realise a lot of impressionable and sensitive souls in England are going to be rather upset by the news that their musical hero is in fact nothing other than a deeply reactionary redneck from the Southern United States?”
Morrissey stands and pushes his chair back, and the diner’s other customers also move their chairs back with a long, low scraping sound. There is a profound silence, and through the grimy window I see tumbleweed blowing past, scaring the horse. I swallow hard. Mister Morris leans in.
“Well I’m not sure I like your tone, mister. You wanna discuss this further - in the parking lot?”
“Um... Not particularly.”
To my immense relief Mister Morris sits again, rifling through his shirt pocket for something. Producing a pack of cigarettes he puts
“Sure hope not. I’m a packin’ boy, like to see your limey skin stop a Magnum shell from five paces. As it says in the song: ‘I’d leave ma callin’ card – of a flying bullet for you’.”
As if to emphasise the point Mister Morris produces what appears to be a genuine six-gun from his holster. Pointing at the ceiling he pulls the trigger and the flame lights his cigarette. The bullet itself ricochets off several metal surfaces before hitting a cuckoo clock behind the counter, causing the bird to spring out and make a “cuckoo!” noise.
Mister Morris squints at me once again and briefly I skip through my notes. Too late, now, to ask about Morrissey’s long and successful solo career; about songs like “Dagenham Dave” and “Irish Blood, English Heart”. I’d only be disappointed. Again...
“Well, I’m afraid our time’s up Mister, erm, Morris – it was illuminating meeting you. Before I go do you have any message for your many fans in England?”
Morrissey sighs, takes a long draw of his cigarette and a pull of firewater then leans forward again.
“A man needs three thangs boy – his gun, his bible, and a six cylinder station wagon with buffalo horns. Follow ma lead an’ you won’t go far wrong. Now get outa here – there’s a steer over there with ma name on it.”
Closing my notebook I smile wanly, extend my hand. Again his hairy fingers dwarf mine and I try not to blub with
“Thank you very much, Mister - Ezekiel Morris.”
“Ma pleasure.” Mister Morris leans in again and whispers. “My, you sure do have a pretty mouth, boy. Care to
oscillate wildly with ol’ Ezekiel?”
Standing to leave, I shake my head politely and demur.
“I’m very sorry Mister Morris, but that joke just isn’t funny anymore...”