Long interview with him today in the Sunday Times.
Exclusive interview: Morrissey on sexual harassment and why he defends Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein.
“Sexual harassment can often be just a pathetic attempt at courtship”.
Interview by Chrissy Iley
I’m inside Morrissey’s hotel room at the Sunset Marquis, West Hollywood. It smells incensy, instantly exotic with a dangerous edge rather like the man himself. He’s in LA because he’s performing at the Hollywood Bowl and because Friday, November 10 has been declared Morrissey Day by the mayor of Los Angeles.
He lived near here until a few years ago, but now he’s just visiting. Where does he live now? A sigh. “I’m in a different place all the time. I’m not sure why everyone wants to know where I live, what that says about me. It means my credit card is permanently blocked for security reasons. They think I’m an anonymous person if I’m never in the same place. I never ask people where they live, but they always ask me as if it would reveal anything about me. I’m here now, as you can see.”
Because he’s performing. “Well … I don’t perform. I’m occasionally on a stage, but I don’t ever perform.”
How very Morrissey. It’s as if he never wants to be really seen — except by tens of thousands every time he is on a stage, or when he makes one of his trademark outrageous comments, whether that’s about politics, or last week, defending Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey (more of that later).
He no longer lives in the house next to Johnny Depp? “No, he bought it to put his argumentative relatives in when they came to stay and since then I have been homeless. I just move around the world, which is a fascinating way to live. People say, ‘But surely you need your own kitchen.’ But I’ve managed for many years doing without.”
Does he cook? “Yes I do, and it’s a very nice idea to have a kitchen …” But room service will provide? “It tries, but it’s difficult sometimes. We don’t like to wait do we, really, for anything?” Does he travel light? “I have a sickening volume of possessions. They’re all stored away in different parts of the world waiting for that moment when I stop and buy a house and relax.” Does he ever relax? “No.”
This is a moment where I want to tell him about the first time I heard his voice. So soul-curdling and deep-reaching when he sang How Soon Is Now? The Smiths are remembered by their fans with a huge amount of romanticism. It seems that they were around for ever, but in fact it was only five years — 1982 to 1987 — and four studio albums. But so many songs, such poetry that spoke for a generation about love and loss and waiting.
Post Smiths, there was a series of solo albums, starting with Viva Hate, some of which were less loved. There was a dark autobiography in 2013 and a strange foray into novel writing — List of the Lost was reviewed as “turgid” and received the Bad Sex Award in 2015 for a scene describing a “giggling snowball of full-figured copulation”.
But now Morrissey is back, as unconventional as ever. And with the release of the new album, Low in High School, he is on the radio, the television, that voice strangely more fluid and insistent than ever.
Some of his views must jangle with his new generation of younger fans. He has said that he thought Brexit was magnificent, and the new single Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage ends with a haunting chorus of “exit exit”, which some people have translated as “Brexit Brexit”. He denies it. “No, it’s not a Brexit song. There’s no Brexit in it,” he insists. “The line is, ‘All the audience head for the exit when she’s on stage’, so it’s nothing to do with Brexit. People just rush to stupid conclusions and create facts and create their own truths and slaughter the issue.”
But he did say Brexit was magnificent, right?
“I thought it was a fascinating strike for democracy, because the people said the opposite to Westminster, and that was extraordinary. David Cameron didn’t imagine the result could be as it was, but at least he did the honourable thing and slid away. The unfortunate thing is that politicians only speak to other politicians. They don’t speak to the people, so on that day their bubble burst. And now I don’t think Brexit has taken place, or even will, because Westminster don’t want it. It’s not that difficult. They’re just finding a way to not make it Brexit.”
Is it true that he banned David Cameron from ever listening to a Morrissey-penned song? “No, that was never true, but these are the things I have to live with.” Big sigh. “I didn’t say it and it’s nice if everybody listens. It really is.”
There’s nobody he wants to ban?
“Well, only the obvious — the obvious international pest.” The orange one? “Yes.” “He’s beyond salvation. Beyond any help. The biggest security threat to America and the world. He’s like a two-year-old constantly reaching for something, damaging it and then moving on to something else and destroying it.”
Indeed, the next day when I go to his show at the Hollywood Bowl, one of the backdrops is Morrissey holding a toddler with Trump’s head superimposed. A tiny tyrant. It goes down well.
Morrissey is still mesmerising on stage as he lashes and whips his microphone cable. He gives us the songs that still speak to us even though they’re decades old. This audience — a diverse collection: black, white, brown; young, old and very young; men, women, gay, straight — seems to be with him all the way. No one minds that on Morrissey’s orders the only food sold is vegetarian. I’ve been to that same stadium many times and seen artists of similar years with pretentious trousers and hair plugs. I’ve seen them sing their old songs to a crowd of middle-aged spread. This concert was not like that. Though I could have done without the bit where the 58-year-old threw his jacket into the crowd and flaunted his unworked-out torso. But it was unselfconsciously done.
On the sofa in his hotel room we sip bottled water and he asks me if I would like anything more dangerous. I suggest a coffee. He shrugs in despair. “That’s not what I meant.”
The new album has created a buzz. “It feels good. People always want their latest offspring to be the cutest, I believe,” he says. He doesn’t have children. He has songs. Does he have a particular track that’s more important than the others?
“No. I mean if you gave birth to quads you wouldn’t say which quad is the best one, would you? You would love all your quads equally for different reasons.” I tell him I’ve got four cats. “There. I rest my case. I bet you don’t pick one out and say you’re the one I love and boot the others in the linen cupboard.”
We chat about how Russell Brand’s cat is called Morrissey. “Yes, and he’s still alive. I don’t mean Russell — I mean the cat. He is getting on now: I do mean Russell. I don’t mean the cat.”
I read that Brand named the cat Morrissey because he’s an awkward bugger. He grins. “There you go. You should have guessed that one straight away.” But however difficult he can be — for instance, during the preparation of this article he spends four days saying he will do a photo shoot and then doesn’t — he is having a moment in the spotlight. “It’s certainly a moment that might annoy many people, but here I am and I offer no apologies and no excuses.” Hmm.
The first single on the album, Spent the Day in Bed, has had more airplay in America than any Morrissey track ever. “I don’t spend the day in bed often but people love their beds,” he says. He advises several times that people shouldn’t stay in bed and watch the news because it is so depressing. He should know: Morrissey has spent much of his life depressed. Surely that’s where quite a few of the hits came from. “Years ago I sang a song called Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, and it’s like an old school uniform. People insist I wear it, but I’m really not that miserable. I’m not an unhappy person. Not in the least. I’m certainly very surprised and very pleased to still be here.”
I’m wondering if his new resolution to appreciate life had anything to do with it nearly being taken away. He is in remission from oesophagus cancer. “I’d had quite a few scares and was on a lot of extreme medication. I lost a lot of hair. You can be as healthy as possible, but something will always get you in the end. I thought, here we go. Just accept it, but I’ve done very well. I’m not on any medication now.”
And his hair is back — greying — and the Morrissey superquiff is perhaps not as super as it once was. “It’s real. A lot of people my age don’t have hair. They don’t have teeth, so I feel quite blessed.”
Following his diagnosis in 2014, he “had a lot of scrapings, but they weren’t all painful”. Wasn’t he worried a procedure involving the scraping of his oesophagus would affect his voice?
“No, incredibly,” he laughs. “In fact my voice is better, absolutely better than it was. I had to give up 150 things, from red wine and beyond, but that was OK because I don’t really like red wine. When you sit before a doctor and they use the c-word you hear it but you don’t hear it. You just say, ‘Ah, yes,’ as if it’s something you hear every day. Your mind goes into this funny little somewhere and you say, ‘Ah, yes,’ as if you knew it all along.”
I’m not sure that’s how most of us would react, but then he’s always been one of these people who seem to be able to dislocate himself from his own being.
“Giving up red wine was meaningless to me anyway.” Doesn’t he drink alcohol? “Just not red wine.” He also has a dislike of mushrooms. “Oh they are horrific, fungus — truffles make me cry. I say to people, ‘What are you doing eating fungus?’ Truffles shock me and the smell. Ewwww. Garlic is also horrific.”
Morrissey’s superfood of choice is potatoes. “I’ve never had a curry and I’ve never had a coffee. I’ve never wanted one and I’ve never been handed one. I have Ceylon tea, very, very weak with an alternative milk. Cashew milk is beautiful. Dairy farms all over England are collapsing. Non-dairy milk is now 51% of the market, which is fantastic.”
Thirty-two years ago, when he first sang Meat Is Murder, veganism was rare. A vegan diet was difficult to maintain. Now, vegan food is in supermarkets.
“What about champagne?” he says. I’m not sure if he’s offering to crack open a bottle, but I hate champagne. “I’ve never met anybody that hated champagne,” he says. I’ve never met anybody that hasn’t drunk coffee or eaten curry, I ripost. “I don’t like any food where the following day you can still taste it or you smell of it or your clothes smell of it. I’m very, very bland as far as food is concerned,” he says.
It is as if the psyche of Morrissey is so piquant, he needs to balance it with food that tastes of nothing. Not only has he never had an onion bhaji — “I’ve never had an onion. That would make me cry. It’s just too eye-crossing. I’m strictly bread and potatoes.”
Not for the first time, the conversation drifts back to politics. Does he think Trump will be impeached? “It’s a long time coming and there have been multiple reasons and it hasn’t happened. It’s a shocking reflection on American politics. I understand people wanting somebody who is nonpolitical, who is not part of a system. But not him. They thought that he was something he absolutely is not. Surely people realise it now. Everything he says is divisive. It’s meant to be. It’s meant to distract you.”
He is similarly disparaging about Theresa May. “She won’t answer questions put to her. She’s not leadership [material]. She can barely get to the end of her own sentence. Her face quakes. She’s hanging on by the skin of her teeth. She has negotiations about negotiations about negotiations about the EU. I’m not a Conservative, but I can see she’s actually blocking the Conservative Party from moving on and becoming strong. But as we know, politicians do not care about public opinion. And she wants to bring back fox hunting.” This is not only “cruel and disgraceful”, but signifies that May is “out of step and not of the modern world”.
Morrissey loves talking about politics, there’s always an opinion. But then he says: “I’m nonpolitical. I always have been. I’ve never voted in my life.” At the last election there was a story going round that Morrissey voted Ukip. In fact, at a concert earlier this year, he appeared to support Anne-Marie Waters, an outspoken Ukip politician with anti-Muslim views, claiming the party’s leadership contest had been rigged against her. He is the most political nonpolitical person on the planet. He’s shy, except in front of thousands. He writes about love, but only admits to one proper relationship — with Jake Walters, a boxer from east London. They lived together from 1994 to 1996. When he was in the Smiths he declared himself celibate and said he hated sex. After Walters, he discussed having a baby with Tina Dehghani, a friend whom he met while living in Los Angeles, and in his autobiography he refers to a relationship with an Italian whom he calls Gelato. He’s said in the past he’s only attracted to people who aren’t interested in him. He’s never been on a date. He only writes about wanting to be loved. Many contradictions.
“Well, I’m human. I’m not interested in being part of anything. I don’t see a party that speaks to me and I haven’t ever. My vote is very precious. I won’t use it just to get rid of somebody I don’t like because they’re all absolutely the same.”
Does he think Jeremy Corbyn is the same? “He has had many opportunities to take a strike against Theresa May and he has resisted. It’s hard to believe that this is the best England can produce at this stage of the game. We survived Thatcher by the skin of our teeth, and somehow we’re all still alive and we are presented with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.” I laugh, and he corrects me: “It’s a tragedy. The UK is in a state of cultural tragedy, dominated by political correctness. Nobody tells the truth about anything. If you tell the truth in England, you’ll lose your job.”
This is not a rule, however, Morrissey feels applies to him. I ask him about the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey who are both accused of multiple cases of sexual misdemeanours.
He is in no mood to condemn them. “You must be careful as far as ‘sexual harassment’ is concerned, because often it can be just a pathetic attempt at courtship.”
Most people wouldn’t see the kind of behaviours these sexual predators are accused of as in any way “courtship”. But Morrissey is undeterred. As this interview went to press it emerged that he’d told the German magazine Der Spiegel that the claims against Kevin Spacey — one of which alleges a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy — were “ridiculous” and argued, as he did with me, that definitions of harassment and assault have become too broad. “Kevin Spacey was 26, boy 14. One wonders where the boy’s parents were,” Morrissey said. “One wonders if the boy did not know what would happen.” On Weinstein, he said to Der Spiegel that some of the movie mogul’s alleged victims: “play along”. “Afterwards, they feel embarrassed or disliked. And then they turn it around and say, ‘I was attacked, I was surprised.’ But if everything went well, and if it had given them a great career, they would not talk about it.”
He added: “I hate rape. I hate attacks. I hate sexual situations that are forced on someone. But in many cases one looks at the circumstances and thinks that the person who is considered a victim is merely disappointed.”
Our conversation covers similar ground. When I ask him about these sexual attacks he says: “I’m sure it’s horrific, but we have to keep everything in proportion. Do you not agree? I have never been sexually harassed, I might add.” Perhaps that is why he seems so unsympathetic.
Morrissey’s sexuality has always been a point of some discussion.
Is it still true, I ask, that he doesn’t identify as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual but, as he puts it, “humoursexual”? “No, humasexual as in we’re all humans.” Oh, I thought it was only about sleeping with people that you had a laugh with. “That would dramatically limit things, but certainly I think we are obsessed with labels, obsessed with knowing where we stand with other people, what we can expect them to do, and it doesn’t make any difference really.”
Just like veganism, he insists, being sexually fluid and gender fluid is now much more accepted. “It’s extraordinary. People seem to be very relaxed by it.” But when Morrissey announced his humasexuality in 2013, he was a lonely voice. “Yes, I was. I spearheaded the movement. I know no other way, so nothing has changed for me, but the rest of the world leaps on. I am pleased because I want people to be happy. There is an expiration date on our lives on this planet. You have to be yourself and hopefully get some happiness from it. It seems everybody, in every respect of their lives, is coming out of their cupboard saying this is the person I’d like to be. I want to wear these clothes, not those that have been imposed on me. As long as nobody’s harmed, I think it’s good.”
Is it true that he’s never been on a date? “Yes, I’ve never been on a traditional date. I’m not that kind of person.” No one’s ever said I’d like to take you to dinner? “No, never. But I’m happy with my vocation.” What does he mean by vocation? “I’m very interested in the singing voice. I’m very interested in making a difference in music, not simply being successful.” Isn’t it possible to do that and have a date? “No. I’ve never found it to be so.” It’s one or the other? “Well, life leads me. Does it lead you? Are you successful at the cost of something else?”
I’m quite shocked by his question. I suggest that it’s not valid because I’m not really successful. He says, “Well you’re not working at KFC, are you?”and laughs a conspiratorial laugh.
He’s interested in the way journalism has changed. “The Guardian, you can’t even meet them halfway. They are like The Sun in 1972. So obstinate. They don’t want to talk to you. They want to correct you. You can’t simply say, ‘This is how I feel,’ because they’ll say, ‘How you feel is wrong.’ And they’ll say, ‘He’s racist. He should be shot, he should be drowned.’ It’s very difficult to sit down with somebody and simply convey your feelings. In a democracy you should be able to give your opinion about anything. We must have debate, but that doesn’t happen any more. Free speech has died. Isn’t modern journalism about exposing people? When I was young I saw a documentary accidentally about the abattoir and I fell into an almost lifelong depression. I couldn’t believe I lived in a society that allowed this. The abattoir is no different to Auschwitz.”
The tack back to animals reminds me he was once voted Britain’s second most important cultural icon by the audience of BBC 2’s The Culture Show, after David Attenborough. “It was beautiful but I don’t know about Attenborough’s regard for animals,” he says. “He often uses terms like ‘seafood’ and there’s no such thing as seafood. It’s sea life, and he talks about ‘wildlife’ and it’s free life. Animals are not wild simply because we pathetic humans haven’t shoved them in a cage, so his terminology is often up the pole.”
I tell him one of my favourite songs on the album is Israel. It’s a romantic hymn to the country. How did that come about? “I have made many trips there and I was given the keys to Tel Aviv by the mayor. Everybody was so very nice to me and I’m aware that there’s a constant backlash against the country that I could never quite understand. I feel people are judging the country by its government, which you shouldn’t do. You can’t blame the people for the rulership. Israel is beautiful.”
Steven Patrick Morrissey was born and raised in Manchester. A lapsed Catholic, he went to a religious school. Manchester in the 1960s and 1970s was damp, somewhere he wanted to escape from. Part of that escape was through television — and soap operas. He was once offered a part in EastEnders, but turned it down. “I was invited to be Dot Cotton’s other son, a mysterious son no one had ever spoken about, who returns to the Square, doesn’t get involved with anybody and doesn’t immediately have sex with anybody as most characters who come into the Square do.”
So basically he’d have played himself. “Yes. I didn’t do it.” Is it too late? “For many things, yes … I was also offered a part in Emmerdale. I was to play an intruder in jodhpurs — which I’d longed to be, of course, I had waited years to be an intruder in jodhpurs — an intruder at Home Farm, but I refused to wear the jodhpurs. As they say, it’s nice to be asked.”
He has no ambitions to act, his time occupied with the new album and a tour that will include China, Australia and Europe. China has one of the worst records for human and animal rights in the world, I point out. “You can’t simply fold your arms and say I’m not going to China because of the cat and dog trade, which is absolutely tearful, but hopefully your presence can make a difference,” he says.
His only problem with not living anywhere is he has no animal companion. “My best friends have been cats. I had one cat for 23 years and one for 22. They just walked into the house, one when I was a small child and one when I was slightly older. I won’t say they were like children, because I don’t know any children that are actually nice. They were black-and-white and called Buster and Tibby. Tibby had been kicked in the face so he had to be fed by hand. He couldn’t eat from a plate. He required a lot of patience but he cured himself and became a healthy, incredibly happy cat. They certainly enriched my life.”
It’s been hours now. Morrissey is too polite to end our meeting and I feel if I don’t end it I may never leave. For me, meeting Morrissey is like meeting a battered, black-and-white alley cat. Sure, he’s not to everyone’s taste. But that is the highest compliment I could ever give — although Morrissey is the only one who could recognise it as such.
Low in High School is out now on BMG