As if you needed proof of The Smiths' brilliance! An academic conference on The Smiths was held in Manchester recently. And some people wonder why I love academia!
Wizards of Moz: Academia does the Smiths
By Craig Taylor
On one of the more recent rainy days in Manchester, a mixture of academics and civilians congregated in the atrium of a white-walled building at the Metropolitan University. From a distance this could have been a crowd at any academic conference, but a telling clue came from the state of the men’s hair. Amongst the styles were a suspicious number of quiffs in various states of elevation. (A quick definition: a quiff is “a man’s prominent forelock, worn elevated.” Quaff means drinking; quiff means hair like Elvis.)
These quiffs were meant to look like Morrissey, the lead singer of one of the most beloved bands of the 1980s, the Smiths. Some of the greying quiffs in the crowd looked ready to collapse, and were only standing thanks to a few stubborn upright hairs. The younger quiffs were sturdy. It was a hopeful sign. The hairstyle — like the Smiths’ music itself — had been passed with care from one generation to the next.
The crowd in the atrium had gathered from universities in Norway, Portugal and Germany to discuss the literary and cultural significance of the Smiths. The name chosen for this first-ever academic conference to focus on their music and lyrics was a Smiths’ lyric, “Why Pamper Life’s Complexities?” Over the next day and a half there would be discussions of “The Smiths, Manchester and Identity”; “Subjectivity, Suicide and the Smiths”; “The Smiths, Morrissey and Sexual Dialogics.” Ellen Gorman, from George Mason University in Virginia, arrived to talk about the images on Smiths album covers. Amanda Graham came from Oxford to deliver a paper on how the music of the Smiths worked as an inside joke for its fans. There was even a paper entitled, simply, “Does the Body Rule the Mind or Does the Mind Rule the Body? I Dunno.”
What was it about the Smiths that made them worthy of an entire weekend of academic scrutiny? In 1982, a young guitarist named Johnny Marr met aspiring lyricist Steven Patrick Morrissey and the two went on to write, over the course of five years, a melancholic and elaborately literate form of rock music. The band was rounded out by bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce, and while they never achieved a fan base as large as U2, Smiths fans were known for their fervency: these lyrics had to be — just had to be — written especially for them. The image of the Smiths was anchored around Morrissey — Moz for short — who set himself apart from other rock icons with a refusal to announce himself as gay or straight. He fostered a habit of wearing a hearing aid he did not need, and a tendency of throwing gladioli about the stage during live performances. His favorite subjects for discussion were Oscar Wilde, vegetarianism and celibacy. Best of all, he wrote lines to songs that would provide endless courtship material for the sensitive and morose, who could always fall back on what was arguably Morrissey’s most perfect lyric: “And if a double-decker bus / Crashes into us / To die by your side / Is such a heavenly way to die.”
What Morrissey had done, I was told again and again, was open the door to a better, more interesting world. He laid in front of anxious young listeners a selection of other options. Why not try Oscar Wilde? Why not engage, read. “There’s more to life than books,” Morrissey sang in Handsome Devil. “But not much more.” It was a lot different than anything A-Ha was trying to convey to its fan base at the time. It was these discoveries that made being a Smiths fan a more interesting and exclusive club than, say, anyone in the fan club of Iron Maiden.
Full article via CBC Arts & Entertainment on-line.