Keats and Yeats are on your side.
A band that has been at the top of my most played ever since I first listened to them is The Smiths. They go into a category that few bands/artists fall into which is that when I first heard them it was immediately life-altering. They were so different and obviously deep and rich and unlike the pop crap that everyone else was listening to which I’ve always detested. And I’m happy to report they’ve stood the test of time. I’ve decided to focus on the list of bands that were life-altering because I don’t know what direction music in America is going, but I have a feeling it’s into an area that’s ruled less by musical talent and more by equipment, money, and clicks. Pro tools and autotune can only get you so far.
Most Americans probably heard ‘How Soon is Now’ in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s and that’s their introduction and familiarity with them. Mine was different.
I had a rather melancholy upbringing, so The Smiths naturally spoke to me in that way. I was introduced to them in 1985 by Michael Marcin, whose sister I would later meet at Rollins College in Florida with me being a freshman and her being a senior. Both fun and exceptional people, who I’ve lost touch with. And he was a senior at Woodberry Forest when I was a New Boy but he liked me for some reason. We certainly shared the same musical tastes. He left me with a cassette one night to listen to on my walkman after lights out at our boarding school in Virginia. One one side was Meat is Murder, and once I listened to it I was hooked. And I still am. I listened to that cassette as much as I could.
Johnny Marr’s guitar playing and sound was revolutionary to me, and it still is magical. You’d be better off having three guitarists playing to pull off what he does, and I remember buying a Smiths music book years ago to learn to play their songs and upon looking at the chords and what was going on with them, I promptly put it aside. I still have it of course. But the chance that Marr met Morrisey was serendipity. I don’t mean to slight the bass and drum work, which is excellent as well, but the vocals, lyrics and guitar are what make this band.
Morrisey’s vocals are operatic, but his lyrics are what hooked me. Talk of spineless ghouls in Manchester schools and poets and a dark existence which I related to. All put together in an atmospheric bundle and marketed/sold in a non-commercial way. The band didn’t even appear on the albums. Hardly anyone in the states was listening to them, and the way we got our “underground” music was via college radio stations. The University of Virginia was nearby, so what was playing there made its way onto our campus by way of big brothers. The Smiths only produced four actual albums in four years, so it was a flash in the pan. But it was an almost nuclear flash.
I’m getting to the point in my life when I look back at music and frame it the same way my parents must have regarded their music they listened to growing up, which was during the embryonic stages of rock and roll. And that’s a lot of what I listened to as a youngster. My mother’s box of 45’s that she’d take to the beach house as a girl. Chuck Barry. Little Richard. Elvis. American music started growing up. England took notice of course. We created Disco, and their answer was punk. We countered with synth-pop and they compromised and joined in a decade of 1980’s awful bubblegum crap that persists to this day. I’ll never understand how some of the songs are still being played in grocery stores and malls from that era. Whose decision was that?
But England also produced some of the greatest bands during that time which of course are overlooked by people that have the power to dictate what remains through time yet has no musical taste. The Smiths are a band that will stand the test of time due to their quality in every respect. And that’s why I still listen to them all the time. They also were a big influence on another band I love and have written about here: Radiohead.
Morrisey moved from England to Los Angeles to escape the things he despised there. Unfortunately, LA is becoming a pretty horrible place to live, with medieval diseases, homelessness, trash, rats, drugs, crime, high taxes, and the other symptoms quite a few American cities have these days.