The Smiths have been my favorite band since I was 18. Though I'd started liking them passively from a distance before that (I still remember swelling with anticipation at hearing the jaunty opening strains of "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" on the dock of the lake at summer camp), it wasn't until my first year at college that I became all-out OBSESSED.
Morrissey was my British frontman idol of love. Not only was he pasty and gaunt and bespectacled (YUMMMM), but he was sharp and acerbic, dry and droll. No one else's lyrics had the ability to reach me quite as deeply as he did. I was young and depressed and self-conscious and egocentric and unsure, and he was my beacon, my shining icon of unashamed self-loathing and crippling doubt and endless apathy. I've loved him with a fervor ever since, and I still hold a precious place in my heart for Stephen Patrick Morrissey and The Smiths.
The thing is, his songs also kind of f*cked me up. Because they taught me to love my self-loathing, to wear it like a badge of honor, when I'm not sure there's anything admirable about hating yourself. They taught me depression could be a marketable asset, a cool part of my "story" (neglecting the reality that depression is excruciating, and can actually kill you). They made unrequited love look blindingly romantic and pure -- a pain to strive for and celebrate (instead of walking away and looking for a man who loved me back).
Here are 5 of the Smiths/Morrissey songs that kind of screwed with me (all in good fun, of course! like I said, the Smiths are my favorite band). There are many others, to be frank(ly Mr. Shankly), but this suffices for now.
PIVOTAL LYRIC: "Jeane, I'm not sure what happiness means. But I look in your eyes and I know that it isn't there. We tried, we failed. We tried and we failed. It's just a fairy tale. And I don't believe in magic anymore, Jeane."
DAMAGE METER (from 1-10, with 1 being "all good, brah" and 10 being "on suicide watch"): 7
LIFE LESSON: Love is an illusion that dies with time, and it can't be resuscitated once it's gone. Being an adult means facing the fact that you might end up living in a shithole with someone you used to love, whom now you hardly look at. Also, romance and magic don't exist, so we should all just trudge around in our black wool peacoats with gloomy grey eyes cast down, never smiling and never laughing. YAY!
"November Spawned a Monster" (by Morrissey)
PIVOTAL LYRIC: "Sleep on and dream of love, because it's the closest you will get to love. Poor twisted child, so ugly, so ugly…November spawned a monster in the shape of this child, who must remain a hostage to kindness and the wheels underneath her."
DAMAGE METER: 4
LIFE LESSON: People with physical disabilities have it rough, so shut up, Laura, and cut it with your bitching, you ungrateful, able-bodied little brat. Oh, and ugly (on the inside) children can be shamelessly vicious to ugly (on the outside) children. BUT ugly (on the outside) children are actually morally superior and more deserving of being the muse of mopey British pop stars' songs. Lucky them!
"Reel Around the Fountain"
PIVOTAL LYRIC: "It's time the tale were told of how you took a child and you made him old. Fifteen minutes with you, oh I wouldn't say no. People see no worth in you, but I do."
DAMAGE SCORE: 5
LIFE LESSON: Love is fragile and fleeting, and innocence can be shattered in an instant. There is something gorgeously romantic about falling in love with someone all wrong -- the dark mysterious man no one else understands, the one your friends keep urging you to avoid because he's too old or too fucked up or too "virtually dead." Also, oral sex is an awesome hobby (some Smiths fans think this song is about oral sex. I don't know the validity of such a claim, but it's a fun notion to entertain).
"I Know It's Over"
PIVOTAL LYRIC: Oh, God. This song. It STILL kills me, nearly 20 years after I started playing it obsessively on repeat anytime I felt a twinge too drunk or lonely or suicidal. It's just OVERSTUFFED with morose, grandiose, miserable lyrics; it's hard for me to pick! But here goes: "Oh, mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head. And as I climb into an empty bed, oh well, enough said… I know it's over, and it never really began, but in my heart it was so real."
DAMAGE METER: 10
LIFE LESSON: "It's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind." Sorry, had to bust out another lyric, because, duh, that shit is just TOO GOOD NOT TO. Also, "love is natural and real, but not for such as you and I, my love." Ooooooof. That was my biggest takeaway from this song -- that love is gorgeously life affirming and SO WORTH IT, but that it's forever held just out of reach for terrible people like Morrissey and me. Also, bonus lesson: Suicide is painless!
"Pretty Girls Make Graves"
PIVOTAL LYRIC: "I could have been wild and I could have been free, but nature played this trick on me. She wants it now and she will not wait, but she's too rough and I'm too delicate."
DAMAGE METER: 6
LIFE LESSON: This is a difficult one to choke down, but all that stuff they told you about men constantly being the sex-starved aggressors and shit? All that stuff was wrong. Laura, men might not always want to have sex with you. I repeat: MEN MIGHT NOT ALWAYS WANT TO SLEEP WITH YOU, even when you practically ask them, or wave it in their faces. No, see, even if you suck it up and desperately, awkwardly try to make the first move, it might not be appreciated. Because you might be dealing with a sensitive little paper-flower princess of a man, like Morrissey, of course.
Fellow Morrissey or Smiths obsessives, please (please please) let me get what I want -- find me on Twitter.