Unhappy birthday

The lines sag heavy and deep for Moz
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  May 18, 2010

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It’s hard to believe that Morrissey is turning 51 this Saturday. It seems like only yesterday that I was huddled in the corner of my room, staring listlessly out the window through tear-smeared glasses, absently singing along to “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” and wondering when my life would finally show my heart a modicum of mercy. . . . Oh wait. That was yesterday.

For those of us who allowed this creepy old man into our lives at a tender age (I was 13; it was Bona Drag), there’s something about the Mozzer that never quite goes away. Luke O’Neil — erstwhile singer of disbanded Boston angst-pop heartthrobs the Good North — knows this feeling well.

“Morrissey said something about the New York Dolls once,” O’Neil tells me. “ ‘Some bands grab you and they never let you go, and no matter what they do, they can never let you down.’ Aside from the fact that the New York Dolls suck, he’s basically talking about himself — except for Maladjusted.”

And he’s right, Maladjusted did suck — but also, over the quarter-century that’s gone by since the Smiths dropped The Smiths, Morrissey has garnered the kind of unwaveringly faithful fanbases typically reserved for divas like Babs and Cher. Inaccessibly cool, inconsolably blue, irrepressibly witty — he’s like an existentially tormented Ferris Bueller. Sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebs, dickheads — they all think he’s a righteous dude.

“There are always going to be sad young literary types,” O’Neil points out, “and they want everyone else to know about how very sad and literary they are — mostly so they can have sad young literary sex. Declaring your allegiance to Morrissey is a convenient shorthand for that. And unlike a lot of signifiers people use to advertise their affectations, it helps that Morrissey happens to be a genius.”

In recognition of all this, O’Neil has pulled together a grand birthday celebration at Great Scott, with a bill of devoted Moz fans paying tribute to how old he is while trying to forget how old they are. The bill includes the Honors (who killed it as the Smiths for a Halloween show last year at the Pill), Jay Marsh of Taxpayer, Jake Zavracky of Cyanide Valentine, Ad Frank of . . . Ad Frank, Jesse Duquette of Emergency Music, and O’Neil himself with friends from the Information and the Sheila Divine banding up as Unhappy Birthday. O’Neil forecasts a healthy helping of Smiths singles, B-sides, latter-day solo hits, and a “surprising amount of Viva Hate.”

“We probably should have set it up where we old dudes did all old fat Morrissey and the young guys did the young stuff,” he adds, “but that sounds like a lot of planning ahead of time.”

With any luck, these tributes will temper their accuracy with mercy — which is to say, Morrissey’s live shows of late don’t exactly have people flinging their proverbial gladiolas. But as usual, a true appreciation of Morrissey is all about the numbing powers of the snows of yesteryear — the balm of better, sadder times. O’Neil suggests that one cannot come to Morrissey late in life, that the built-in melodrama of youth is essential to forging a connection. But youth has nothing to do with devoted Moz fans’ ability to bear his burdens long into our own bleak, lonely futures.

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