Morrissey on Smiths Reunion, Label Woes and Why Paul McCartney Should 'Return His Knighthood' (Q&A)
He worships Kirk Douglas, despises the Queen and one-upped the Beatles legend by making his sold-out Staples Center show meat-free -- but why can't this superstar land a record deal?
Chaos and discord have plagued Morrissey’s world during the past month. First a paralyzing combination of Barrett’s esophagus, a bleeding ulcer and a concussion forced him to postpone his U.S. tour. Then the prospect of appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! alongside the bloodthirsty rednecks of A&E’s Duck Dynasty so offended the renowned vegetarian that he canceled a rare network TV appearance.
But Morrissey’s is a light that never goes out. On Tuesday, tickets for his intimate gig March 2 at Los Angeles' Hollywood High School were snapped up in just 12 seconds, and on Friday, the 53-year-old icon returns to the road, performing for a capacity crowd at L.A.’s Staples Center. Morrissey maintains that the 20,000-seat venue is contractually obligated to refrain from selling meat products for the night. (Paul McCartney had made the same request but was denied.)
In his typically wry fashion, the eloquent Englishman answers The Hollywood Reporter’s questions about his animal-rights activism, his frustrating search for a label deal and why The Smiths will never reunite. You can’t say the man doesn’t stand on principle.
The Hollywood Reporter: Why do you think Staples agreed to go vegetarian for you and not Paul McCartney?
Morrissey: I was amused to hear that Sir Paul McCartload was very angry that Staples had said yes to me but no to him, when really, he should be happy for any victory on behalf of the animals. I know he works tirelessly for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA], but he also loves the British royals, whose treatment of animals is abysmal. The Queen herself wears enough fur to blanket most of Russia. He also once sang “Give Ireland back to the Irish,” which was directed at the Queen. Well, she refused, and she still refuses, yet Sir Paul gives her the thumbs up! If he cared passionately about animals, he'd return his knighthood. He doesn't need the Queen's approval. He's given more pleasure to people worldwide than she could ever dream of.
THR: You are almost as famous for your vegetarianism as you are for your music. Was this something that you've wanted since the beginning of your career?
Morrissey: No, but the world has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. There are more people like me in it, and we are sick to death of animal abuse. Even people who still eat animals openly admit that it's wrong.
THR: At your concerts, you perform "Meat Is Murder" while footage of animals going to slaughter from the PETA film Meet Your Meat plays behind you. It's so tough to watch that some people leave during that portion of the show. Why do you show it, and what you hope your audience is taking away from it?
Morrissey: You must remember that the animals who are in the film didn't actually want to be there and probably wished that they, too, could leave during the film. There's so much disgusting propaganda displayed in support of eating animals that the only way to fight back is without restraint. There's no point in smiling gently and pretending that the opposition are chivalrous and open to debate. Step into an abattoir, and you'll understand the gravity of the situation.
THR: You’re about to restart your American tour. You recently said that your show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music was one of your favorites ever. What are the elements that make for a great Morrissey concert?
Morrissey: The general structure of the venue is quite key, but it's the audience that make the night. At live concerts, people show themselves as they really are, which isn't generally allowed in our constitutionally rigid societies. The love and intensity from the crowd is quite incredible for me to witness. It sets its own terms, so therefore the success of any night doesn't entirely depend upon my own efforts. I turn up in order to watch the crowd, whereas it's generally assumed that they turn up to watch me. The only difference is that I don't have to queue, and I don't get groped by venue security.
THR: Your last album, Years of Refusal, was released four years ago. Are you holding back on putting out another until you sign with a label?
Morrissey: Yes. I have no DIY instincts, and recording without a major label would give the music world yet another reason to completely ignore me.
THR: In the past you have suggested that the people running the major labels don't see you as a “superstar.” Has your ability to sell out arenas here in the U.S. and around the world resulted in recent meetings and/or potential offers?
Morrissey: I've had one very poor offer -- from Sony -- but otherwise nothing ever happens. The search for wisdom goes on. Help!
THR: Many younger artists find the idea of a major label archaic, and a growing number of established artists -- Radiohead, for example -- are looking into different forms of distribution. Why do you feel that signing to a traditional record company is so important for you?
Morrissey: Because they are still there, and they have the machinery, and they can use it when they want to. I mean, look at the Grammys -- most of those winners actually have no popularity with the public.
THR: In the book and film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the lonely teen protagonist cites The Smiths as his favorite band. And recently the author Stephen Chbosky tweeted his excitement about meeting you. Why do you think the fascination remains in the music you made with The Smiths a quarter-century ago? Do you think it fills a void left open in today's music?
Morrissey: A lot of people are homesick for The Smiths -- and not because everyone else is abysmal, but because the songs of The Smiths are so good. With most bands, if they have two decent songs, they end up with five-star reviews. There are so many easy victories these days for other bands. But The Smiths were never promoted and almost never received radio play, and this mystery has protected them in the long run. But a reformation will never take place because reformations can only work if the same spirit that made the band form in the first place still exists. But it doesn't.
THR: What’s the latest with your memoir? Is there a publisher, a publication date or anything you can tell us? And what was the experience of writing it like? Painful? Therapeutic?
Morrissey: I've never felt fully present in my own life. I've always felt like a ghost drifting through. I'm not actually flesh. So autobiography is a therapeutic act of self-loyalty, even if, like me, you end up with chapters of self-disgust rather than reams of narcissism. If the book doesn't come out soon, I'll burn it.
THR: You'll be playing a show at Hollywood High School. Is there something about the school's legacy (Carole Lombard, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney are among its famous alumni) that made you want to perform there?
Morrissey: Well, no, not really. It's just handy for The Cat and Fiddle [a nearby pub on Sunset Boulevard].
THR: You wrote about being too awestruck to speak to Kirk Douglas when you saw him on the street in Hollywood recently. Is there anyone else who would have this effect on you? If so, why?
Morrissey: Kirk, I think, is the last of the famous. I felt fathomless depths of awe in his presence. Such people mean more than presidents. No president is as famous or loved as James Dean, Elvis Presley or even Marilyn Monroe. What does this tell us about presidents? My Wish to Meet list has been completed. Most actors of quality are dead. Kirk Douglas has actually outlived death.
THR: Is there anything else you think the readers of The Hollywood Reporter should know?
Morrissey: I'd like people to be aware of the pangs of childbirth, and that every male is not necessarily a man. But perhaps these are topics for another time.
With reporting by Tom Brennan