The first time I heard The Smiths I was in the 8th grade in Redlands, California sitting on my friend’s bed, flipping through the crisp pages of Seventeen Magazine. It was summer vacation and I had The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins, and U2 on heavy rotation. We painted our nails blue and drank Hansen Soda to keep cool in the 110-degree heat. I distinctly remember thinking , “wow, he’s really sad.” It was the kind of angsty sadness I was feeling but didn’t have to words or the emotional maturity to express.
When the sun dipped below the horizon we would walk to the nearby university to eat in the cafeteria and buy rolls of Bubble Tape from the bookstore. One of us would be carrying a walkman and because it was the late 90’s we’d take turns listening to “There is a light that never goes out.” I’d imagine being older, prettier, smarter, and being better at the things I thought were important for women to be good at. I’d imagine standing waist-high out of the sunroof of a car on the way to someplace I couldn’t afford, being so in love I could not stand it.
In many ways, Morrissey spoke to all the ways I felt like I didn’t fit in. When my family moved to the Inland Empire from East Hollywood, I got my first dose of racism. I didn’t realize it at the time of course, but looking back the microaggressions and outright aggression was there. I was eight the first time a white boy with bucked teeth and freckles told me I was ugly. I was teased mercilessly for my curly hair, called fat, and told my nose was too big. It was something none of my white friends (which were all of my friends) experienced, so I figured they were right. I did my best to fit in. I changed my clothes, pulled my hair back in a bun where it would stay until college, and pinched my nose every night hoping it would be smaller in the morning.
By middle school I really hated myself, I clung to whiteness and prayed I’d wake up with green eyes, “normal” hair, and a “normal” family. When Morrissey said “I am human and I need to be loved” I felt that. Being one of the only Latinas in my class, if not the school, was a lot. Music was a way for me to contextualize my teenage sadness and all of the complejos that come with being the rebellious eldest child in a family that praised obedience. It felt like he was talking to me like he got me. When I would fight with my father, which was often, I’d take refuge in Morrissey, Robert Smith, and Billy Corgan. The irony of looking to white men to teach me how to feel out loud.
But it wasn’t until I was in college that I began relating to Morrissey on a different level. I realized he was “down with the brown,” something I was finally proud to be and I liked him even more because he spoke so affectionately about us. Aside from Sublime, I didn’t know any other singers that recognized Mexicans in their songs. It felt like I was being seen on another level. On Thursday nights with a half drank “adios” in my hand I’d swing my hips in a dark 80’s club in Duarte, surrounded by other brown kids whose parents didn’t understand them and who probably felt just as lonely in a crowded room. When The Smiths came on my friend Maggie and I would shout every single word to This Charming Man and mean it.
I’m not the only one who has been touched by the lyrics of a man who supposedly knows what it’s like to feel unwanted and unloved. I am also not the only one questioning the validity of those sentiments especially since Morrissey has proven over and over that he’s on the side of xenophobia and racism. Of course, that xenophobia has not yet been directed at Mexicans and Latinx, which is why I suspect so many of us are ok with supporting his concerts. It is a lazy lie to believe that a specific brand of far-right xenophobia doesn’t apply to you even when the person saying it wears an anti-trump shirt. “They’re not talking about me” is the same thing Trump-supporting immigrants tell themselves right before they find themselves in ICE detention. That’s not how any of this works.
In a 2007 interview, Morrissey told British magazine New Music Express that “England is a memory now. The gates are flooded, and anybody can have access to England and join in…Travel to England and you have no idea where you are,” he said. Morrissey has called the Chinese people a “sub-species” when speaking out for animal rights, he’s spoken out in favor of the discrimination of Muslims, and he also said celebrity chef Jamie Oliver should be “gassed” for promoting meat-eating. Because that’s not Hilter-y at all coming from the child of Irish immigrants — who were famously discriminated against in England and in the U.S. Earlier this month he ejected a far-right protester from his show in Portland for holding a sign that read “Bigmouth Indeed.” And at his Los Angeles show on Sunday, he wore a “F**k The Guardian” shirt since he’s been claiming to be a victim of an “inexhaustible hate campaign” by the liberal news outlet.
Similar to the complex and personal reasons why fans are drawn to Morrissey, we need to accept that our heroes are also flawed and oftentimes, straight trash. Look no further than Kanye West and R. Kelly. I can not in good conscience throw money at a man whose lyrics helped me get through the same prejudices he’s perpetuating. For many of us detaching the art from the person is something that is increasingly difficult to do — but how can we not? Can we listen to his songs without supporting his increasingly toxic persona? How do we reconcile our love for people who create magic but also stand for awful things? I wish I had the answers. I’ll always love The Smiths but I’ll never love alt-right ideology. Like the man said, “now you know the truth about me and won’t see me anymore, but I’m still fond of you.”