|NOVEMBER SPAWNED A MEXICAN.|
|By Rachel Elder||
Morrissey, the former lead singer of the Smiths, takes the stage beneath a giant, Elvis-like backdrop. No, not a velvet wall hanging, but a glitzy, Vegas-y sign that spells out MOZ ANGELES in bright bulbs -- a tribute to where he's playing this show, thousands and thousands of miles from home in one of the few, if not only, strongholds of fans he has left these days.
For accuracy, Morrissey (aka Moz) might have put up a second sign, beneath MOZ ANGELES, that read Population: 300, but what his fans lack in numbers they make up for in passionate, Waco-esque loyalty.
You go to Moz shows, Moz nights, Britpop, 80s clubs in LA and the places are packed with SoCal dudes in wifebeaters, chains, tats, and greasy pompadours, more Echo Park than Echo And The Bunnymen. The girls have shiny black bobs and are
stuffed into fishnets and mod dresses. Some guys look really tough, in a Rebel-Rockabilly sort of way, their muscles bulging out of plaid shirts with the sleeves rolled up. But the culture clash is there, and no mistake.
No, these aren't the anemic mod-night whimpsters you're used to. When a DJ puts on a Morrissey record, the dancefloor is flooded, like something out of "Mexican-American Graffitti" only everyone's crying "Trouble Loves Us!"
Sounds bleak you say? In Morrissey's world, being loved at all is saying a lot. It was said that all Buddy Holly fans inevitably look like -- who else? -- Buddy Holly. But lets face it. Morrissey is a pale, "sexually ambiguous" Brit -- not exactly the mirror image of the new legions of young, Latino fans that jam his concerts in L.A. And I wanted to know more. After all, it's not every day that you feel old, white and endangered at a place called "Club London." Who better to ask for answers than Jose Maldonado, the front man to the citys Morrissey tribute band: the Sweet and Tender Hooligans.
Jose is the eldest of six children, the son of a machinist from Burbank, Calif. by way of Chihuahua, Mexico. With close relatives in Mexico whom he visits often, like much of the rest of Los Angeles, his personality is a mingling of two cultures. Or perhaps three. The distance between the culturally bleak landscape of Los Angeles and the damp council estates of Manchester, England is not as great as you might think.
BT: What kind of music did you grow up on, and when did you start listening to Morrissey and the Smiths?
JM: I started listening to Morrissey right around "The Queen is Dead" After that, I had to buy everything Morrissey ever did and find out who all of his influences were and read every article and learn all the words to every song. I listened to all of the classic KROQ[LA 80s radio show] bands like DEVO, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Erasure, New Order, The Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran, you get the idea.
BT: Did you have the experience of most Morrissey devotees, who swear he's changed, or even saved their lives? What has he done for you, besides giving you a hobby?
JM: I learned to appreciate music even more. I picked up the guitar and subsequently the piano because of him. It wasn't enough for me to know all the words to the songs, I had to learn to play them too. Morrissey has changed my life in the way that I'm inspired to tell others to put down that stupid Eminem CD and listen to "Vauxhall and I" for God's sake. I once told Morrissey the very first time I met him, "every day of my life is just THAT much better because your songs are always a part of it."
BT: A devoted Morrissey fan for years, at what point did you decide that you had to form a tribute band?
JM: Yes, you could say I'm devoted to Morrissey and The Smiths. Not a day goes by that I don't listen to a song. I began Sweet and Tender Hooligans before the first L.A. Morrissey/The Smiths convention in 1992. It started as an annual thing at first, eventually it became what it is today. Sweet and Tender Hooligans is not a livelihood, just a hobby like bowling, birdwatching, or stamp collecting.
BT: The Sweet and Tender Hooligans are so popular, you've been called the "Mexican Morrissey." Not bad for a hobbyist.
JM: The title probably began when we played on the same night as El Vez [a Mexican Elvis impersonator]. The night was being billed as "The Mexican Elvis meets The Mexican Morrissey". I've also been called "The Brown Morrissey".
BT: Morrissey seems ready to acknowledge his Mexican and Latino fans, among other things naming a DVD "Oye Esteban" and waving a Mexican flag around at some shows.
JM: How could he not be? You go to his Southern California shows and it's primarily Latinos. It's obvious he's aware of it and appreciates us.
BT: New Yorkers never believe anything about this particular phenomenon: it's better than white kids in FUBU, crazier than goths in Florida. What do you think the Mexicans in L.A. identify with most about Morrissey or the Smiths?
JM: I guess I'd say that growing up Irish in Northern England isn't much different from growing up Mexican in Southern California. Even though Morrissey doesn't really talk about this similarity in his songs, maybe that's how we identify with him as a person. All I can say is that I got into his music because it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. He could have been from Uganda for all I cared. I just knew I liked it.
BT: Without a new album release since 1997, Morrissey's popularity around the world has waned, yet it's as intense as the electricity crisis in L.A. What's the story here?
JM: I think when an artist like Morrissey can continue to be so revered by pretty much only word-of-mouth and fan
dedication, it says a lot about that person's art. His songs will live on long after he's stopped making them. That is quite an accomplishment when you think that they don't even really play his records on the radio.
When I think of the success of bands like The Doors or Led Zeppelin who weren't nearly as successful while they were making records but continue to live on and attract new listeners, it's interesting to note that at least their songs are heard on "classic rock" radio stations. Morrissey has enjoyed success AND attracted new listeners with virtually no radio airplay. That is truly remarkable.
BT: You sound, look and dance remarkably like Morrissey. Although they have to do without the the British thing and the gay thing, your fans seem to take you for the real article. They even imitate the behavior of the more rabid fans at a Morrissey show, like tearing off your shirt and trying to get on stage to hug or just touch you. Can you tell me what that's like?
JM: Thanks for the compliment. It's really fun, what can I say? I like to think that doing our show, I'm doing an impersonation of Morrissey and it's kind of neat that the audience is adding to the show with their own impersonation. I live for it.
BT: So, has Morrissey met his Mexican counterpart?
JM: I've met Morrissey on four different occasions. I didn't mention to him that I was the lead singer of the Hooligans until I heard him announce to his audience on a recent tour, "Hello...we are the Sweet and Tender Hooligans." He has since been to one of our shows.
It was at an in-store signing that I decided that I would introduce myself to him as his Mexican impersonator. He knew right away before I even said anything and that was so cool! He asked me how my show went the week prior and asked what songs we played. When I told him that we did "Lost" he said that he knew we've done that one before because he had a VHS copy of one of our shows! I asked him if he liked it, he said yes. Since then, I've translated "Lost" in Spanish and I hope that he gets to hear it someday. He has since been to one of our shows.
BT: Do you ever sing Morrissey or Smiths songs in Spanish?
JM: In addition to the aforementioned "Lost" I've also translated "Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me"
BT: How often do the Hooligans perform? Are most of the venues in or around the L.A. area?
JM: On average, we play about every six weeks or so. We've been at The Roxy, The Palace, The House of Blues, The Knitting Factory to name a few in Los Angeles. We've been to Tijuana Mexico, Northern California, Arizona, Texas and The UK. If promoted well, we have no problem selling out these shows usually at venues with capacities of 500 or so. From time to time I am also the lead singer of Sweetest Perfection: "Some Great Tribute to Depeche Mode" We play about twice a year.
BT: One assumes the Sweet and Tender Hooligans are regulars at
the annual L.A. Smiths convention, as much a part of the scene as the
inevitable flurry of cheap iron-on t-shirts, bootleg CDs and "Got
Morrissey?" bumper stickers.
JM: I attend each one without fail. It's so much fun to be in a room full of people who are all as passionate about Morrissey. That's why the coolest place to be besides a Morrissey show is at a Sweet and Tender Hooligans show.