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Thursday 18 September 2014

'Racist? That's a miserable lie' says Morrissey

Nick Kelly

Published 08/12/2007 | 00:00

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So it has come to pass: Morrissey is suing NME. Having once enjoyed an intense and passionate relationship of mutual adoration, it all ends in tears for the '80s indie icon... or rather in the courts.

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In a statement posted on the true-to-you.net website on Tuesday, Morrissey claims that the magazine "deliberately tried to characterise me as a racist in a recent interview I gave them in order to boost their dwindling circulation. I abhor racism and oppression or cruelty of any kind. Racism is beyond common sense and I believe it has no place in our society."

The very public spat erupted after NME took Morrissey to task for comments he made to their journalist Tim Jonze -- who inteviewed the ex-pat Mancunian in New York -- regarding immigration to the UK. Asked would he ever consider returning to the UK to live, Morrissey lamented how much England had changed. "If you walk down Knightsbridge you'll be hard-pressed to hear anyone speaking English," he said.

NME likened Morrissey's views to a rogue right-wing Tory MP, splashing with the words 'Bigmouth Strikes Again' on the cover.

The fall-out from the row this week spilled over onto the front page of the Independent -- who asked 'Is Morrissey A Racist?' -- and the Guardian's blogs. It was even debated by politicians on the BBC's Question Time

But to thirty-something music fans, the row has a distinct feeling of deja vu about it, with clear echoes of 1992 and a certain controversial concert in London's Finsbury Park. This was the turning point in a relationship that only a few years before had been so rosy'n'cosy that NME had been dubbed the "New Morrissey Express", such was its enthusiasm for The Smiths, which it correctly saw as being the most exciting British band since The Beatles.

Indeed, their relationship went back even further than that -- the teenage Morrissey regularly wrote missives to the mag's letters page and even contemplated becoming a journalist himself.

The end of the affair came when Moz supported Madness during their 'Madstock' reunion in north London. A bunch of neo-Nazi skinheads in the audience started throwing coins at Morrissey when he brandished a Union Jack during his song Glamorous Glue. The sight of this foppish figure in a gold lamé shirt cavorting with their national flag was a red rag to the bulldog breed. Morrissey fled the stage.

NME ran a cover story accusing Morrissey of "flirting with disaster", and taking him to task for what they saw as his inflammatory patriotism. Morrissey refused to speak to the magazine for many years afterwards.

However, NME had no such reservations three years later when the likes of Oasis and the Spice Girls proudly displayed Union Jack guitars and dresses on stage. The words "cool Britannia" were applied to the new Britpop explosion -- a variation of course on the phrase that is synonymous with Britain's imperial past. And NME put the writers of that irritating football anthem Three Lions on the cover during Euro '96.

In the new millennium, Morrissey and NME got back on speaking terms - hence the fateful interview in their December 1st issue. Yet all may not be what it seemes: journalist Jonze wrote to Morrissey's manager before it hit the newsstands claiming that the magazine re-wrote substantial amounts of the piece, complaining that "virtually none of it is my words or beliefs so I've asked for my name to be taken off it".

After Morrissey's manager Merck Mercuriadis posted the email online , Jonze changed his tune, claiming on his Guardian blog that the piece he wrote was actually harsher on Morrissey in its original form and that he was disenchanted that his strong condemnation of Morrissey's controversial views had been watered down. But this just doesn't tally with the original email sent to the manager, which implies that he was wary of offending Morrissey.

Morrissey claims that this comments were "butchered, re-designed, re-ordered, chopped, snipped and split in order to make me seem racist and unreasonable".

As a child of working-class Irish immigrants to Manchester, it seems absurd to accuse Morrissey of being some kind of true-blue supporter of Enoch Powell and the BNP -- his songs are full of disdain for the British monarchy, Margaret Thatcher (whom he imagined being beheaded), Oliver Cromwell, the Tory Party ...

And he is scathing in the interview about the police shooting of innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes on a Stockwell Tube train. Generally speaking, Morrissey has championed the cause of the outsider in his music.

His love of Ye Olde English culture seems to be all about a sepia-tinted nostalgia for a place that may only have existed on his b&w TV or wind-up gramophone; its citizens being the likes of George Formby and Alan Bennett, Billy Fury and 'Billy Liar'.

Yet he is a worldly man now -- having lived fro the past decade mostly in LA and Rome. And in his statement he mentions "my love of "World Cinema films, my adoration of James Baldwin, my love of Middle-Eastern tunings, Kazem al-Saher, Lior Ashkenazi, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison..". and says that his ambition is to play Iran.

Presumably, sans Union Jack.

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