It’s a dreaded sunny day, and we need something to read: looks like Morrissey might soon be able to help us, if the rumors of his forthcoming memoir are true.
These days it’s hard to open a paper without some slightly whipped-up controversy about Morrissey being a racist, but back in the mid-1980s his lyrics and persona mapped out a structure of feeling that spoke to my own floundering selfhood. He sang about shame and unlovability: I had bloodied myself as a 12-year-old using a kitchen knife to scrape away what I saw as the tainting brownness of my skin – a browness that made me only half a person, half the Englishman I wanted to be. He sang about loneliness and isolation: I was rarely invited to the homes of schoolfriends, and certainly never invited them to my mine, for fear that they would snigger at the photographs of turbaned relatives that lined its walls. He sang about weakness: the mantra from my parents was that we were vulnerable because of our religion and had to act as meekly as possible so as not to become targets for thugs and bully boys.
Many of my cousins who lived in Southall and Coventry, places with larger Asian communities, sometimes felt the same emotions. Like me they weren’t into bhangra, so they turned instead to reggae or hip hop, barricade music they associated with street toughness and self-respecting masculinity. Perhaps because I was growing up in a whiter corner of England, or perhaps just for aesthetic reasons, I was drawn to music that was less about collective pride than about individual abjection, music that created theatrical extroversion out of bedroom-bound introversion. I instinctively preferred weakness to strength, treble to bass: “How Soon Is Now”, “Barbarism Begins at Home”, “Shakespeare’s Sister” – the wah-wah rockist parts of the Smiths’ discography were always my least favourite.