Like anyone who ever has been young you probably shared with me the natural adolescent aches of isolation. Real or imagined, isolation could make us feel anxious, acutely misunderstood, and put upon. It’s damned confusing to grow up – one wants so much and sometimes so little seems available.
We knew that there were cool things out there somewhere, and we were busy learning the terrible lesson that we would not get to be in on all of those cool things.
Not all the time, but sometimes the psychic and emotional yearnings that accompany youth were compounded for me by what felt like actual isolation. Real or imagined, a gargantuan physical distance seemed to lay between me, being in the center of Nebraska, and those places where anything existed that was actually cool. The proximity itself was painful.
Fortunately I was paying attention when the gods sent me the clues to climb through a portal out. I was given access to a passageway that would lead from our desert of cultural blandness to a mind-nourishing oasis dripping with cool stuff.
The portal was Night Flight, a four-hour show that ran on the USA Network on Friday and Saturday nights from 1981-1988. I devoured it.
During high school and college this pop culture late-show was always eye opening. Most formative and memorable to me were the odd mixtures of film and music videos that were unavailable to me elsewhere. They overshadowed the forgettable comedy and topical commentary which acted as filler.
Each week would bring a movie to surprise and feed a hungry mind. Eras and genres were jumbled. Camp classics in the vein of Reefer Madness mixed it up with sci-fi or classic horror like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Foreign films shared the screen from week to week with the cult features Breaking Glass; Rude Boy; and Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. We were presented with art films of Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol, such as the graphic Flesh for Frankenstein, alongside mind-expanding experiments like Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool and David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
There was also a good chance that you could catch a music video that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. Along with MTV’s 120 Minutes, Night Flight was a treasured TV venue for hearing some great songs for the first time.
Sometime early in 1985, (probably between mid-February and mid-March,) Night Flight aired a music video that would shake me roughly awake. I was 19. The video featured dizzying, bleak shots of a cityscape – smokestacks pumping polluted black clouds into a grimy sky; panoramic shots of anonymous looking buildings and of towering, arched train bridges. There were mysterious, dark, nighttime shots of a very plain, very pretty girl dancing wildly in a spotlight against the background of a plain, stone wall – she wore a red sweater and a her delightfully insistent blonde bob refused to be contained in her red tam-o’shanter. Most jarring were the few jittery frames of a thin, handsome young man contorting his angular dancing body, and who spouted poetry in his hypnotic song, asking, “How soon is now?”.
My eyes flew open wide and my blood quickened. Here was flight. The brilliantly manipulated guitar music that this band conjured floated and swelled and made me want to soar, while the hypnotic, driving drumbeat created its own gravitational pulsations, forcing me to stay back on earth. My obsession with the Smiths commenced, and I embarked on an obsessive crush of fascination with Morrissey, the band’s singer.
Apparently, the Smiths were mortified by this music video that their label (Rough Trade) made as a promotion and without their consent. It is still mesmerizing: http://bit.ly/1hW3meB
My Smiths/Morrissey obsession has waxed and waned – temporally bookended by that late winter of 1985 and now, the spring of 2014. Closing in on 30 years, I strongly suppose that it will continue as I breathe on into the ever-expanding present.
Symptoms of obsession:
- Even now, at the age of 48, I recently removed the dust jacket from Morrissey’s Autobiography so that the photo on the cover would not be damaged from over-handling while I read the book. (Yes, I did.)
- A couple of years ago, with my wife Judy saving my place early one morning, anticipating a long line of fans, I waited in front of the Rococo Theatre in our hometown to buy tickets to see him sing. (Yes, we did. And in the age of online ticket sales the physical line that summer morning consisted of just her and me together.)
- Morrissey would postpone that concert twice, and finally would cancel his third intention to perform in our town. Even though each of his reasons was valid and true, obsessed, I would take each brutal postponement and the cancellation quite personally.
- When last we saw him perform in May 2007, Morrissey took the Orpheum’s stage in Omaha. Here was a man. Once wiry and athletic his body had grown unapologetically thick and his hair a bit thinner. The fluid and willowy young rock god had blossomed into regal and fuller-figured middle age. While he was still graceful and elegant, Morrissey displayed the purposeful, decisive grace of a whale and no longer the playful, agile grace of a dolphin. Wearing what appeared to be an expensive, tailored, handmade red silk shirt, at an orgiastic moment of the song (perhaps it was the gorgeous and aching I Am Hated For Loving,) just like the old days, Morrissey bared his torso, ripping open the front of the beautiful shirt, buttons sent flying. Craziness. He mopped his glistening white chest and tossed the shirt into the adoring hands of the audience. Judy’s eyes widened, her eyebrows rose immediately and so far that they nearly left her forehead. She began to laugh in disbelief.
“Who,” her laughter and eyes seemed to say, “rips off a shirt looking like that?” Obsessed and overprotective, I met Judy’s laughter with an unforgiving scowl of disapproval. “Who,” my serious look to her asked back, “chuckles at the thrilling decision of a DIETY, when he chooses to remove his shirt?”
My generation’s Oscar Wilde, our Frank Sinatra and our Elvis Presley, has re-booked the Rococo Theatre, and Morrissey will be playing Lincoln next month. Without waiting in any lines, (real or imagined,) we have a table and seats reserved. Between anticipating the upcoming concert and having just finished his book, this giant of modern entertainment and provocation has been much on my mind. Next time, I am going to share a few thoughts on his book.
This video, compiled from live performances, can give you an idea of the kind of worship that this artist inspires:
http://bit.ly/1hlvDyN “Will Never Marry” by Morrissey, from the compilation album Bona Drag (1990 HMV/ re-released 2010 EMI).
His voice is underappreciated:
http://bit.ly/1mUpD2c “I Am Hated for Loving” by Morrissey, from Vauxhall And I (Parlophone Records 1994).
11 April 2014