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  WHY MORRISSEY MATTERS.  
   
   
   

The bouncers loomed in front of the packed stadium, guarding the stage like sentinels, but like the thousands of fans behind me, I pushed my way to the front, determined make the pilgrimage to get onstage with Morrissey. I was determined, I wanted to touch my hero.

And at the arc of the bridge of the "November Spawned a Monster," when the song hits that little quiet lull and the crowd began to

   
   

scream, I had my chance. I motioned to the tall fan behind me, who promptly tossed my 100-pound body toward the stage in one motion, towards Morrissey. Towards my hero. I was close and getting closer. The crowd ushered me toward him. I stretched out my right hand. And there he was.

Through squinted eyes, I saw Morrissey's hand. He stretched to reach me, leaning way out over the edge of the stage, trying as hard to reach me as I was to reach him. And then for a moment, we connected. I caught

 
   

his hand, which immediately felt completely cool and dry and soft -- like my Grandfather's hand -- a shock, because in the middle of a performance under bright lights in front of a screaming mob, you'd expect sweaty palms. But no.

There I was, holding Morrissey's perfect hand, faced scrunched up, afraid to see him look directly at me -- but he was -- and not only was he looking at me, he was actually mimicking me, aping my frightened squint -- but with a smile on his face. He blinked. I blinked. I furrowed my brows. He furrowed his. Then he smiled again.

And then it was over before it almost even began -- a bouncer dragged me into a pit under the stage and led me way back to the back of the venue again. The encounter left me high and shaking. Lost in the moment, I did the post-orgy-sexy-stagger-down the hallway thing Madonna did at the very end of the "Justify My Love" video.

That night was just like any other night -- it wasn't some special tour -- it was just another Morrissey show, yet it had the same weight as if it were the first show since the breakup of the Smiths. Yes, I'm another one of those crazed Morrissey fans. But when Morrissey is concerned, even born cynics can't hold back their screams of, "He touched me! He *touched* me!"

And with reactions like that, it's clear why Morrissey matters.

***

After seven years, Morrissey is touring in support of a new record, "You Are The Quarry," due out May 18. And tonight, he will return to New York City for five sold out nights at Harlem's World Famous

   
 

Apollo Theatre, where the haunting echoes of "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" will remind the world how important Morrissey is. Already, his face has made a triumphant return to magazine covers, but is Morrissey really making a comeback? In the World of Morrissey, the fact that he is "back" just reminds us that he was in fact, never gone.

For more than 30 years, Morrissey has existed outside of the stereotypical confines of the pop world. While he's never been as famous as his peers, he's been able to stay "cool" and "keep it real" as it were, because he exists on the periphery of alternative music. Morrissey may be many things to many people -- but he's no sellout. His star has dimmed, but never fallen. He never reinvented himself for a new generation, like Duran Duran tried to do. He never made a desperate grab to reform his old band, like Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols did. He never sullied his legacy with embarrassing crap, the way Bob Dylan's doing with those

   
   

Victoria Secret commercials.

In a way, this is what gives him his cult status -- this is why he is still considered a pop hero to many. The man is simply not affected by his private persona the way others are. Yes, his private life is a complex mystery full of loose threads -- he's sexual, but never come out and declared his sexuality -- he's vegan, but wears leather occasionally.

Ultimately, Morrissey's never had to reinvent, fully explain or embarrass himself for the sake of furthering his career, because he didn't lose his mind when he became an icon. Look at Madonna. Her career and image are driven by her private life, the Kabbalah, her marriage to Guy Ritchie and subsequent "film career," those children's books ...

Morrissey never reinvents himself in this manner. He's never had to because "Morrissey" is eternal. "Morrissey" matters because "Morrissey" the man, the icon, the cult hero, are not confused. He's taken numerous breaks from recording, touring, interviews -- has been rumored to be "retired" before, but he never left. His influence is everywhere, even if he isn't.

***

When heavy metal went through one of its many revivals, many a hipster went through the unironic "metal was *always* cool, and I *always* liked it" phase. But ask these same people now, and they'll probably say they were *always* into Morrissey because he's suddenly okay to like again. It wasn't always so -- when Morrissey had no new records out, being a fan was a constant source of ridicule.

And so liking him is more than just some badge of honor -- it's deeper, it's in the blood. This is why Morrissey's true blue fans won't care if "You Are The Quarry" sucks. The advance copy of the record sounds lovely, but the fact there is a record out is more important than the record itself. Morrissey's fans are both his worst critics and the most loyal monsters you'll ever encounter -- and it's feeding time again.

In the past, he's gotten away with minor transgressions, like pushing little EP's out; and even major ones, like his last record,

   
   

"Maladjusted." And while the rest of the world may not like him, his most devoted fans will complain the loudest, further cultivating their eerie love/hate relationships with the man.

Consider the case of Zach, who got up on stage during Morrissey's 1999 "Oye Esteban" tour. As the super fan zoned in on the stage, floating atop the crowd, Morrissey recognized him as a follower -- perhaps from a recent signing or maybe a fan letter -- pointed him out and said "Hellooo ... Zach" over the house mic. And Zach went absolutely nuts. Later, during the same tour, Zach got up

 
   

onstage again, but somehow failed to get Morrissey's attention, no matter how hard he waved and screamed. After the show, Zach was *devastated* by this and drunkenly cursed Morrissey up and down for ignoring him. A few weeks later, Zach caught a glimpse of Morrissey during a record signing at a Tower Records and pounded his fists on the glass windows, screaming "Say my name! Say my name!" until Morrissey wearily acknowledged him.

A seven year layoff is nothing. Morrissey couldn't get rid of his fans, even if he wanted to.

***

For all their bloodthirsty similarities, Morrissey fans are oddly diverse. Morrissey's Latino fan-base is a good, oft-sited example. But sublimated people, or minorities, or marginalized races don't identify with Morrissey because he's different. The reason they love and identify with Morrissey is no different than the reason hundreds of white, hetero fans will faint at the mere sight of him: Morrissey is himself, uncompromisingly so.

Morrissey's lyrics directly speak to the listener from a place where Morrissey, the man, appears to feel completely alienated and alone in the world. It is this "disalienated Morrissey vortex" that makes his seem so real. Even when the backdrop is a crafty pop hook, or those "cheerful" Johnny Marr riffs, Morrissey is singing from the eye of an emotional hurricane, often sounding happy when he's sad. His lyrics and musical style don't merge seamlessly into some artificial "mood," and the contradiction makes his words feel more genuine.

Morrissey is able to represent multiple oppressions and identities. This is why the alienated like him so much. His life is contradictory,

   
 

complex and complicated -- just like his fans. Morrissey is a gay man who has claimed to be celibate. He's a working class lad who became a recording star. He's an uneducated man who reads Oscar Wilde and writes songs that name check Keats and Yeats. He's a white Brit with a massive Latino following.

He's obviously operating with his own set of rules.

Some are surprised by the new Morrissey -- the aging, gentleman crooner who lives in Los Angles

   
 

and is tan and seems happy -- but they shouldn't be, because he's still the same man, for better or worse. His skin may be bronze and his demeanor more upbeat, but that has nothing to do with "Morrissey the man" or "Morrissey the icon." Morrissey's fans will buy his new album and what they will be getting a Morrissey record.

No, not every Morrissey album has been great, but "You Are The Quarry" fits right in to his extremely consistent canon. Quarry is not an "experimental" album. It doesn't have any weird guest stars, like Public Enemy. It doesn't have a cover of "Boys of Summer." There are no DJ remixes, it's not "electronic" and there are no acapella rap sections. It's Morrissey being Morrissey, seven years after his last record.

***

If you think about pop music, very little is "authentic." Million-dollar marketing budgets, music videos and teams of songwriters tend to distort the process. Other pop artists try to be real, but Morrissey is effortlessly so. In lyrics, he rips right through the very pretentious assholes who love him so much. ("If you're wondering why / All the love that you long for eludes you / And people are rude and cruel to you / I'll tell you why / You just haven't earned it yet, baby.") In a way, Morrissey is the ultimate outsider, giving him credibility few can claim.

Since the birth of MTV in 1981, irony has mistakenly been attached to many kinds of pop music, becoming the defining trait of contemporary pop culture. Morrissey has been the same singer in the 1980s and 1990s, clashing against the prevailing pop mood, but avoiding becoming a postmodern parody by being completely fucking direct. From the beginning, Morrissey has been emotionally naked, and has never made any attempt to disguise that fact. He once said, "I was ill, and I said I was ill, and no one in pop music had ever done that before."

Few have done it so well since.

The very "essence" of Morrissey is the indeterminacy of his position. He says things bluntly, so bluntly that his motives are always being questioned. "Is he serious? Is he being funny? Is he gay?" they'll ask. But Morrissey couldn't be more straightforward. His position isn't ironic at all. His cleverness is clever. His sadness is sad. His lyrics bring you back to those horrible moments, distilling visceral and painful feelings with just a phrase, be it "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" or "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get."

And he's not some one-trick pony -- Morrissey's songs confront more than just sadness. He has numerous "revenge" songs in his canon and no line in pop music can match the angry declaration from the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" -- "You shut your mouth! How can you say I go about things the wrong way?"

Whether you love him or not, his music is a direct, uncompromising message to the world and to his fans. And this week, in the legendary Apollo Theater, as fans make their cathartic pilgrimage to the front of the stage to see Morrissey, he will stand as a direct reminder of why he matters so much.