photo & text by nacrowe
i want to start by stating emphatically that the BIZARRE statements and actions of MORRISSEY over the past few years has been completely DISORIENTATING and beyond DISAPPOINTING. the idea that he is sympathetic to the XENOPHOBIC and REGRESSIVE objectives of far right RACIST groups like UKIP is a DISGRACE and his legacy will be affected because of such associations.
and he will deserve such.
which is a real pity, because growing up i was in essence raised on THE SMITHS and the early cycle of MORRISSEY records, especially the BONA DRAG (HMV, 1990) compilation. a vintage poster of this album cover was adorned proudly in my childhood bedroom and i still have a copy of the corresponding HULMERIST (EMI, 1990) videocassette that included various music videos from this record. so that is my basic bias when it comes to me and the BONA DRAG record: i did not like this record growing up, i absolutely LOVED it.
as with THE SMITHS' catalogue, the lyrics of MORRISSEY are a world unto themselves, with oblique references BRITISH KITCHEN SINK dramas and independent cinema history, as well as writers, poets and actors, all of whom seemingly convey an alternate vision of MASCULINITY. lyrically and visually there is an ascetic at play against the tropes of 1970s ROCK N ROLL that sought to wipe away the sorry old vestiges of CHAUVENISM, pompous complexity and stale FANTASY elements that came from that period and matriculated out into the 1980s INDIE ROCK scene. the MASCULINITY presented through MORRISSEY was one of a more empathetic, coy, bookish and inherently vulnerable model that effectively spoke to a new generation of music fans and alienated minorities, especially the gay community. the fact that MORRISSEY has betrayed this image in later life and revealed himself to be strident anti-immigration conservative with a quixotically revanchist view of ENGLAND is made so much more galling and ultimately hurtful due to its incongruity with his previous image. again, its beyond DISORIENTATING and DISAPPOINTING.
concerning the track list, honestly, everything on here is stellar. as i've written before, my brother and i were basically raised (and most likely indoctrinated) on THE SMITHS/MORRISSEY, THE STRANGLERS, THE KINKS and THE BEATLES, especially in our early years growing up in SOUTHER CALIFORNIA before we moved to NIGERIA in 1996. i can still remember watching the "INTERESTING DRUG," "THE LAST OF THE INTERNATIONAL PLAYBOYS," "NOVEMBER SPAWNED A MONSTER" and "OUIJA BOARD, OUIJA BOARD" music videos on VHS (we didn't have MTV) back when it came out during first grade. other notable tracks include "HAIRDRESSER ON FIRE," "PICCADILLY PALARE," "SUCH A LITTLE THING MAKES SUCH A BIG DIFFERENCE" and "LUCKY LISP." of course i had no idea about the playful coded language behind "PICCADILLY PALARE" (or the title BONA DRAG itself) for the majority of my years listening to it going into my late 20s. for me the draw of MORRISSEY is as much about his crooning singing style and conviction to the material as the words themselves. even if i wasnt privy to the actual meaning of his words, they seemed to be executed with intense sense of intention. i believe that it is that INTENTION and AUTHENTICITY that made him such a compelling figure with a certain purity that seemingly allied him with the concurrent stateside HARDCORE movement, which ironically promoted similar ideals regarding VEGANISM, NONVIOLENCE and COMPASSION. again, it is this authenticity and intention from which he created his art that made his fall that much harder to stomach for diehard fans like myself.
i should also mention the two transcendent tracks on BONA DRAG, which at the very least maintained the quality of his SMITHS catalogue and are among his most celebrated compositions, i.e. "SUEDEHEAD" and "EVERYDAY IS LIKE SUNDAY." taken together those two tracks are the anthems of my youth and the soundtrack to countless drives with my father as a young child. through the music video for "SUEDEHEAD" i was introduced early to JAMES DEAN, which further led me to MARLON BRANDO, MONTGOMERY CLIFT and the golden era of AMERICAN cinema. i dont know whether my cinephilia is rooted in this song, but it definitely got me on that path. in my household "EVERYDAY IS LIKE SUNDAY" was essentially our collective "STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN," that interior sense of bliss that comes with blocking out the whole world and sticking to your guns. it is probably the best composition MORRISSEY ever wrote, solo artist or frontman of THE SMITHS. it is such a great song that it hasnt been ruined by overzealous MORRISSEY fans flailing pathetically about at live shows. if anything, i feel a sense of transcendence every time i hear it. it is very much a temporary reprieve from my corporeal existence, even if it is depicting the need for personal catharsis that would come with nuclear apocalypse of a lonely, seaside beach town that is past its prime.
it should be noted that producer STEPHEN STREET and guitarist VINI REILLY (THE DURUTTI COLUMN) are the key collaborators on the stateside BONA DRAG compilation, which included key tracks from MORRISSEY's debut VIVA HATE (SIRE, 1988) album as well as various non-album singles. STREET would famously discard his longstanding working relationship with MORRISSEY after a dispute over the royalties and writing credits surrounding VIVA HATE. it is hard to blame him.
if you are going to listen to one MORRISSEY album, BONA DRAG is it. i believe it is required listening for anyone interested in POST PUNK, NEW WAVE, INDIE ROCK or ALTERNATIVE ROCK, even in spite of the fact that MORRISSEY is a complete asshole.