Monday 23 July 2018

Some bands are bigger than others

Edel Coffey

By the time I first heard the Smiths I was already a generation too late. The music of my adolescence was Nirvana, The Breeders, Belly and Hole.

By the time I got to college I had only heard a handful of Smiths songs, but I explored the band's back catalogue, marvelled at Johnny Marr's impossibly fluent guitar, was tickled by Morrissey's melodramatic bent and loved how the literary references seemed to sit alongside a sort of scathing self-mockery.

Just like those teenagers I see now who roam Temple Bar in their Nirvana T-shirts, barely old enough to have been born when Kurt Cobain died in 1994, I was one of those Johnny Come Latelys when I adopted the Smiths.

When they formed in 1982 they had every intention of becoming the kind of seismic, seminal band they eventually became.

Morrissey and Marr always had grand ambitions, and as the 30th anniversary of their formation rolls around, it looks like they achieved them.

Biographer Tony Fletcher has just published a comprehensive biography of the band, A Light That Never Goes Out, which looks at the story with the benefit of three decades of hindsight.

"Nobody else had bothered to tackle the band since Johnny Rogan's The Severed Alliance," says Fletcher.

"There's arguably too many books on Morrissey, and with all respect to Rogan, The Severed Alliance was published in 1992, five years after they broke up, and the passing of time allows for reflection -- it allows for people who were part of a story to look back with more maturity and perspective. It allows for more information to be gleaned."

Rogan has just published an updated version of his definitive biography. Fletcher himself was a Smiths fan. He interviewed them in their heyday, he went to see their gigs when they played live between 1983 and 1986. Why do they still hold such appeal?

"They are still fascinating because they broke up at the peak of their career," he says.

"All of us who even half-liked them feel this is a story that didn't finish. Unlike with Nirvana, where Kurt Cobain took his life, everyone in The Smiths is still here. They were such a great band and suddenly broke up. In lieu of them making more music, we remain obsessed with the story itself."

Fletcher's book goes some way to analysing why the band split, and he comes to the conclusion that it was down to lack of business management.

"This was a disorganised and rudderless band that brought a lot of its problems upon itself," he says.

"I understand Morrissey and Johnny's personalities. I particularly understand Johnny as a real doer. He got the band together, he put the pieces in place, he got a manager and then time and again he'd get another manager and they would fall out with Morrissey.

"Morrissey felt he did the artwork and the interviews with the press and dealt with the record company so why couldn't Johnny deal with everything else? Johnny didn't want to deal with the business side, he couldn't do it. And where do you go from there?

"If they had had that trusted manager figure, the band could have continued."

A Light That Never Goes Out is published by William Heinemann, London

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