Morrissey: You Are the Quarry
You Are the Quarry
"Beauty has no origin but the hurt, unique, different for each of us, hidden or visible, that everyone keeps inside himself, which he preserves, and where he retreats when he wants to leave the world behind for temporary but profound solitude; it is therefore very far removed from that brand of art that we call 'Miserabilism.'" That's Jean Genêt talking about Giacometti in 1958, but it could easily be mistaken for Simon Reynolds talking about Morrissey 30 years hence, with one major difference. Reynolds's famous essay on the Smiths in his book Blissed Out borrowed for its chapter title that word miserabilism--a bit of gravitas nicked from the Surrealists, who used it the way Marxists talk about "false consciousness," or mistaking one's mental environment for the natural state of things. But it's a charge Reynolds himself comes perilously close to in his otherwise sharp hagiography of the Mozzer when he collapses the distinction between beauty and misery that Genêt delineates so well. The Smiths, he says, "seduce us into aspiring to the same heroic pitch of failure and exile." There's no transcendence, just grim identification, which is kind of what your parents imagined you thought about the crap you listened to when you were a teenager.
Grim identification also doesn't go very far in explaining why there are plenty of well-adjusted ex-teens out there still alive and ambulatory and willing to leave the house to go buy Morrissey's latest epistolary, You Are the Quarry, rather than a pack of disposable razor blades--or maybe it does. Sure, there's enough elysian fatalism on the album ("I'm Not Sorry"; "How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?") to satisfy the teen protagonist of Joe Pernice's recent roman à clef novel, Meat Is Murder: One character probably still speaks for some of Morrissey's contemporary fans when he says "Morrissey sang like he was as miserable, terrified, and as poorly designed as the rest of us." In other words, this is the rabbinical Morrissey as canonized by Simon Reynolds a decade and a half ago. His art makes all of our different hurts the same hurt, but in a way that somehow differentiates the process from that of, say, a commercial for Pepto Bismol.
But for those of us who were so depressive in adolescence that the idea that a mere rock record could save your life was just a miserable lie, this wasn't enough, and still isn't. Because the Smiths were much more than that. They didn't tell me my misery was okay, let alone beautiful (I already thought that at the time--psychedelics are just fake teen hormones). They let me hear what my misery sounded like to other people. A sort of tough-love comedy revue. Yes, the Smiths were one of the funniest rock bands of all time, something the Mozz has forgotten for all his public denial of the fact. They made beautiful art--shit, entertainment--in spite of all the misery that informed, if not formed, their songs. They exposed my miserabilism for the false consciousness it was. Morrissey even did it without the Smiths on Viva Hate, in songs like "Late Night, Maudlin Street" and "Dial-a-Cliché." By then I was in college and learning how to be okay with everything and how true sublime beauty is something very serious and personal, lots of books have been written about it, and I think I've felt it, I think it's here now. Slay me again, Morrissey--it's not too late. A punch line is all in the timing.
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