Desert Island Morrissey: The Transcript

MORRISSEY on a desert island?

You may have just heard him interviewed by Kirsty Young on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

I was lucky enough to be given a preview copy of the programme.

To write this piece for MEN Media here.

If you’re in the UK and missed the radio show, you can listen again for the next seven days via the BBC iPlayer here.

Catch the Radio 4 repeat at 9am next Friday (Dec 4).

Or download the Desert Island Discs podcast here.

It’s best to hear Morrissey direct via the BBC – if you can.

But I spent a good part of yesterday transcribing the contents of this edition before writing my story.

So it seems a shame not to go the extra mile and post my transcript here, especially for Morrissey fans outside the UK who may not be able to access the original BBC broadcast.

So, with apologies for the length of this blog, here it is:

Presenter Kirsty Young’s introduction:
“My castaway this week is Morrissey. Rock star and cultural icon, he is the outsider’s outsider. As The Smiths frontman, his harsh romanticism spoke to a generation, hungry for a tortured truth they could recognise, his lyrics and style cutting through the slick glamour of eighties’ pop. And in spite of being in his own words ‘an intensely private person’ more than 25 years later he’s still at it, filling concert halls and column inches with his awkward grace and spiky reflections. ‘It’s 100 per cent a calling, it really is,’ he says, ‘because, unfortunately, I don’t really exist anywhere else in life.’”

Kirsty: “Do you mean you don’t exist anywhere else in life apart from the moment that you’re on the stage, performing?”

Morrissey: “No, I mean geographically. I don’t exist anywhere else. I can be found in Yellow Pages but nowhere else.”

Kirsty: “Do quotes come back to haunt you? Because you do give good quote?”

Morrissey: “Lots of them were never mine, astonishingly.”

Kirsty: “Was that one?”

Morrissey: “That was, yes. The ones that were mine, I stand by.”

Kirsty: “It interests me, given that you’ve had much more success as a solo artist, 10 / 11 solo albums that have done…I mean, The Smiths did well but only lasted four years. The press, especially the music press, obsessed with your time with The Smiths. They always want to talk about it?”

Morrissey: “Yes they do, they do, and it baffles me. I don’t understand why people seem to be locked in the past, and it irks me somewhat because it was a long time ago and time has passed.”

Kirsty: “I heard you say in an interview that you are a continent away from the person you were then. Who are you now? Who do you feel yourself to be as a performer, at least?”

Morrissey: “That’s unfair. I have absolutely no idea. I really do not. Life leads me, I follow it and I have no idea where I will be in two hours’ time, which is interesting. I do like to keep moving.”

Kirsty: “Not a sentimental person, from your list of music today?”

Morrissey: “Sentimental, what do you mean?”

Kirsty: Well, I mean, you’re not traditionally romantic?”

Morrissey: “I think I am. I think I see the poetry in everything and I see the sadness in everything and I take that and I carry it with me. And that’s quite difficult. I think it’s very difficult being in the world of music to begin with because it’s all about artificial responses. But life is terribly serious, I find, and I think it’s much better when you face it head on.”

Kirsty: “What is it that moves you, then? What are the things that you feel profoundly touched by?”

Morrissey: “I feel profoundly touched by people’s sadness, really, quite frankly. That’s the thing I most see in other people. Does that sound ridiculous?”

Kirsty: “I don’t think it does at all, no. Let’s have some music. Tell me about the first track that you’ve chosen today.”

Morrissey: “I’ve prattled on and rattled on for years and years and years about the New York Dolls. And here’s one of their tracks from 1974. I think they changed everything and I’m very grateful.”

New York Dolls: (There’s Gonna To Be A) Showdown

Kirsty: “Morrissey, tell me about Paul Marsh’s record shop?”

Morrissey: “Is that really a serious question? Good grief, yes. Well, any education that I now presently have was gained at this record shop in Moss Side in Manchester in the sixties, where I was raised. I was fascinated by this little record shop with wooden floorboards exposed, with sawdust on the floor. And I would go there as often as I could as a five-year-old, six-year-old. And I would simply stand and examine everything, and read everything.”

Kirsty: “What did you like about it?

Morrissey: “I was completely entranced by the song, recorded song, and the emotion that came from people singing. I found it so beautiful and the recorded noise, the recorded song, I thought was the most powerful, beautiful thing. And I still believe that.”

Kirsty: “So was home a musical place?”

Morrissey: “Yes, it was. I came from a very large family, extended family, and there were lots of young people and there was constant pop music and I knew that I wanted to sing, even then. And I knew there was nothing more powerful than singing. Nothing at all.”

Kirsty: “Did you sing then, did you sing for your mum and dad?

Morrissey: “Yes I did, constantly, constantly.”

Kirsty: “Would you do party pieces?”

Morrissey: “No, even as a six-year-old I was quite selective. Brahms or nothing.” (laughs)

Kirsty: “Is it true you spent a lot of time in your bedroom. You were quite a solitary little boy?”

Morrissey: “I had no choice, I was locked in. I wasn’t very nice to look at.”

Kirsty: “Are you being serious when you say you were locked in?”

Morrissey: “No, I’m not being serious.”

Kirsty: “Because I’m thinking of…there’s a lyric in your latest album, ‘I was a small fat child in a welfare house, there was only one thing I dreamt about.’ Is that about you?”

Morrissey: “Yes…’and fate has just handed it to me.’ Yes, it is about the moment of singing – singing to an audience.”

Kirsty: What was your first moment of singing to an audience? When did you first allow people to hear the voice?”

Morrissey: “That’s a very good question. Perhaps I was 10. And fat. In a council house. It’s embarrassing and I would never really say this, apart from the fact that we’re on national radio and I don’t have much choice. But I would stand on the table and sing. Yes, I did, as a six-year-old. And I was off, even at that stage. I sang the disc that you’re about to play now, which was quite perverted of me, if you listen to the lyrics. But I was six, which is no excuse.”

Marianne Faithfull: Come And Stay With Me

Kirsty: “Morrissey, when did you become Morrissey? You were Steven with a V? When were you Morrissey?”

Morrissey: “When The Smiths began. That’s the answer.”

Kirsty: “OK. It is unfortunate, I think, when you speak to somebody to pull out quotes all the time. But as I mentioned, you do give good quote. You said that in those teenage years you were constantly waiting for a bus that never came? That’s a good one.”

Morrissey: “Why am I laughing? Yes, that’s true. I think that’s typical of teenage frustration. You don’t want whatever’s on offer. I knew I didn’t want to be there. I knew I didn’t want anything that I had. But I didn’t really have the hope to believe that I would achieve.”

Kirsty: “Because there was nobody in your sphere who’d ever done anything like that?”

Morrissey: “No. There wasn’t anybody like me in pop music. So there was no blueprint.”

Kirsty: “And what about the little boy singing on the kitchen table? Did your mum say to you, ‘Steven, one day, mark my words, you’re going to be in the charts?’”

Morrissey (laughing): “No, she marked me. No, she didn’t ever say that. She wasn’t a stage mother, if that’s what you mean. I wasn’t dressed up and prepared.”

Kirsty: “No, no, no, no, but also to have encouraging parents is different. You don’t necessarily have to have stage parents but you can have parents who say, ‘You know,.you’ve got a talent there, boy?’”

Morrissey: “…no. Not really. I think I was just considered to be unbalanced, which helped me greatly, because it simply confirmed everything I knew.”

Kirsty: What, your separateness do you mean?”

Morrissey: “Yes, absolutely…absolutely. I didn’t want to be lovely couple. I didn’t want to grow up to be anything that I knew. I wanted a completely different life and whatever that entailed.”

Kirsty: “What was it you saw that so repelled you?”

Morrissey: “Repulsed me? I think it was fear, above anything else, of normality. I just didn’t want the norm, in any way. And I didn’t get it. And I’m very glad. I’m very, very glad indeed.”

Kirsty: How did you get on with your parents, because the feelings that you’ve articulated about your teenage years are feelings that would be entirely familiar to a lot of people, if they were to talk honestly about their teenage years?”

Morrissey: “Yes…yes. I think my parents were very worried for a very long time. But then when you become successful it seems to authenticate any kind of insanity or madness, however people view it.”

Kirsty: “And so pre-success, were they railing against your separateness, were they telling you to shape up?”

Morrissey: “Not necessarily. But I think they were privately praying.”

Kirsty: “Because, of course, Catholic parents?”

Morrissey: “Yes. Why do I laugh when you say Catholic? But yes.”

Kirsty: “Why do you laugh?”

Morrissey: “I don’t know. Because your face looked a bit funny when you said it.”

Kirsty: “That’s just the way it looks. Were you brought up in a religious household? Did you have to go to Mass?”

Morrissey: “It was very religious, yes. It was very religious. Then we had a couple of horrendous family deaths and everybody turned away from the church for a while. But returned.”

Kirsty: “Does it comfort you?”

Morrissey: “Nothing comforts me. No, nothing at all. Nothing comforts me at all. I think the world is a mesmerizing mess. I think human beings are mesmerizing messes and there we are. And the next song is…(laughs)
Which brings us quite naturally to The Ramones. How could it not?”

The Ramones: Loudmouth

Kirsty: “Why didn’t you go to university? It would seem to me you would have been the ideal candidate – somebody who didn’t want what surrounded you, wanted something else, had a keen intellectual brain, loved poetry, was thoughtful?”

Morrissey: “I was working class, we had no money. We lived in central Manchester in the late sixties, early seventies, when I went to school and it was a very barren time. Things didn’t begin for me until I left school. Then I began to become educated, which is a bitterly sad story.”

Kirsty: “Morrissey, your profound connection with the people who, in the beginning, were your fans, fans of The Smiths, was this ability to articulate the truth of a working class experience, people thought, ‘Here is somebody telling it as I found it to be?’ Do you think that’s about right?”

Morrissey: “I often think this is just simply because most other people at the time were very, very, very drab. So, therefore, anybody who had any interest in film and literature and so forth seemed to be messianic or something.”

Kirsty: They were originally poems, were they not, the songs that you first wrote for The Smiths, some of them?”

Morrissey: “I always thought so, yes, I always thought so. But the thing is, it’s very difficult in pop music to find anybody, any musician who has anything to say. So, therefore, I think in the very beginning, to go back to your question, I was seen as a bit potty and bit loony because I had read books.”

Kirsty: “But I don’t think you were seen by the people who were listening to you as potty or loony. I was one of them. In 1983, I remember running through the school playground, after seeing you on Top of the Pops, I think it was November 1983, I’m sure thousands of people have said this to you, I don’t think for a minute this is an original story – but saying to my friends, ‘Did you see that last night?’ People thought, ‘Really, somebody’s talking about me and my experience.’ That’s what people thought.”

Morrissey: “Which in itself was potty.”

Kirsty: “So you were 22 when doorbell went. It was 384 Kings Road. The doorbell went and it was Johnny Marr at the door.”

Morrissey: “Yes, I believe so.”

Kirsty: “What did he say?”

Morrissey: “He said, ‘I’ve come to pick up a parcel and you are that parcel.’ (laughs) He said hello and I said hello, and he said, ‘Can I come in?’ And I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ And we got on absolutely famously. We were very similar in drive and ambition and it rocketed instantly. It was instant. We played a great deal but we didn’t struggle at all. It was very automatic. The press supported us instantly. There were massive reviews everywhere and life began, at last.”

Kirsty: “Do you remember that Top of the Pops performance?”

Morrissey: “Yes, I do. We were billed as Dismiths, as in disregard, which I thought was quite apt.”

Kirsty: “Can you remind us of who was around in the charts at that time?”

Morrissey: “I’d rather not, for my own sake. You’ll just have to research that yourself. Which brings us to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, of course. Talking of the modern poet in modern music and listening to Lou Reed as a part of The Velvet Underground, we are really listening to the WH Auden of the modern world. Once again, not existing in print poetry but in recorded noise. And this is The Black Angel’s Death Song:”

Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground: The Black Angel’s Death Song

Kirsty: “Your life then is a sort of obsessive drive against normality, as you yourself have characterised it. Does that mean that sometimes you’re attracted to doing some things that are rather conventional but you still shy away from them? Or are you never naturally attracted to the conventions of life?”

Morrissey: “I never am, no. And by the conventions of life you really mean specifically what? Like feeding the pigeons in the park?”

Kirsty: No, I suppose I mean conventional things like settling down with somebody, like having children with somebody?

Morrissey: “Settling down? I’m waiting to explode. Settling down? No, I don’t want to settle down until I’m carried out feet first. I don’t want to be any kind of a happy couple with a photograph on the television set. I find it quite embarrassing. I’m happier with horses.”

Kirtsty: “Embarrassing that somebody would know you that well and get bored with you? Or what is it?”

Morrissey: “All of those things, yes. But specifically being in a frame on the television set.”

Kirsty: “You don’t have to that bit.”

Morrissey: “Yes you do. And you have to get involved with relatives and other people’s great aunt Bessie’s and things like that. And I’d rather not. I’m 50 years old now and a pattern emerges and I accept that and I don’t mind at all, really.”

Kirsty: “Tell me about your fans? Obsessive wouldn’t even really cover it? Your fans are incredibly dedicated to the cult of Morrissey. You seem to find a lot of things uncomfortable. Is that another thing you find uncomfortable?”

Morrissey: “No, not really. I understand the reasons why. I think they feel I’ve been slighted generally and I’m disregarded and I’m overlooked and so forth. And I think they’re quite right. Nothing’s ever easy. I release a new single and it’s very hit and miss whether anybody will play it. And most people don’t play it.”

Kirsty: “But something like I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris got huge radio play? It was everywhere.”

Morrissey: “It did, indeed. It was quite freakishly accepted.”

Kirsty: “How do you reconcile any sort of acceptance then, with the idea that you broadly disregard the popular music culture? If a radio station, let’s just pick one out of thin air…Radio Two, says Morrissey’s on the playlist, do you shudder slightly and wonder what you’ve done wrong?”

Morrissey: “No. (laughs) No I don’t. I beam, I beam, yes, I do. I’m very, very pleased. Because I want people to hear the music. I don’t want to be an island, except emotionally.”

Kirsty: “Let’s have some music. Tell me about your next track?”

Morrissey: “Why? (laughs) The next disc is by Klaus Nomi and is called Der Nussbaum, which means The Walnut Tree.”

Klaus Nomi: Der Nussbaum

Kirsty: “Separateness and this thing that you feel? You were a vegetarian before most people were a vegetarian. What age were you when you became vegetarian?”

Morrissey: “Eleven years old.”

Kirsty: “Was there a catalyst for that?”

Morrissey: “There was. It was a BBC documentary on the abbatoir, the workings of the abbatoir. And I couldn’t quite believe that such a thing as the abbatoir could exist. And obviously it continues to. And I could never be a part of a society that would condone the abbatoir. And I still feel the same way.”

Kirsty: “You must have talked to your mum and dad about that at the time?”

Morrissey: “My mother was vegetarian and she doesn’t consider anything to be inferior just because it doesn’t look like she does.”

Kirsty: “Do you think that’s something that is an important part of the heart of your separateness, then? The feeling that most people seem to subscribe to this thing that you find utterly abhorrant and unacceptable?”

Morrissey: “I think, yes. most people do subscribe to it and once I realised this, I felt very, very, as you say, separate.”

Kirsty: “That was very interesting that you say your mother was a vegetarian. What sort of person is your mother?”

Morrissey: “She’s incredibly strict where food is concerned and she will spend hours and hours rescuing any kind of animal or insect that’s in distress.”

Kirsty: “You said earlier, it was a throwaway comment about your mum, that you said, ‘Oh, she marked me.’ Was she a strict mother? Did you feel the back of her hand?”

Morrissey: “I was raised very firmly. Not roughly, but very firmly. She was never a wishy-washy mother with a pinny on, rolling out the pastry. She was never like that.”

Kirsty: “Are you close?”

Morrissey: “Yes. She’s an individual, which is very rare.”

Kirsty: “How has she dealt with your careeer and success?”

Morrissey: “She has a very balanced view. So she remains aloof from it.”

Kirsty: “Does she praise you?”

Morrissey: “Yes, she does. And she’s never silly about it. Which is quite helpful.”

Kirsty: “And what about your father, what sort of father was he when you were little?”

Morrissey: “He was quite happy and very good looking and out there enjoying life and very athletic. So, therefore, when I hit my teens and I was very interested in things, like the New York Dolls, he thought I was a bit of a lunatic. So that was the great separating point.”

Kirsty: “So how did he handle your success, because, as you say, it came early and fast.”

Morrissey: “He was very pleased…he was very pleased, yes.”

Kirsty: “Does he come to see you?”

Morrissey: “Yes, absolutely, yes. And he seems to enjoy it.”

Nico: I’m Not Saying

Kirsty: “You moved to LA in 1998, just over a decade ago. You were 40. Was that a mid-life crisis?”

Morrissey: “Yes, obviously. (laughs) Why else would anybody go to Los Angeles?”

Kirsty: “You sold out The Hollywood Bowl faster than The Beatles. Why do you think they love you so much there?”

Morrissey: “I wouldn’t question it too deeply. I just accept and I’m grateful. Let’s just leave it at that.”

Morrissey: “Is it true you’ve got a bit Latino following?”

Morrissey: “It’s very big, yes. It’s very big. And I think they’re very taken by anything that has a sweep of passion and urgency and rodomontade, whatever that word is? Do you know what that word is?”

Kirsty: “No, I don’t.”

Morrissey: “Rodomontade. No, nobody knows. Well, that’s what I’ve got, anyway.”

Kirsty: “Wel, we’re all suitably impressed, whatever it is. You talk about how difficult it is to exist in the conventional pop music market. It must give you quite a lot of muscle with the record companies is you sell tickets that fast and if you have constituencies who are as enthusiastic as they are?

Morrissey: “Would you believe absolutely none. No. I don’t think they pay attention to anything like that. They are a strange breed of people. But it just so happens that naturally I am quite separate. I’m not a celebrity, I’m not a part of anything, and the music industry has never grabbed me, in the way that the sea might grab a sailor. Am I talking rubbish now?”

Kirsty: “I wouldn’t dare say, even if you were. But, no, I don’t think you are. Shall we have some more music?”

Morrissey: “That means I am talking rubbish.”

Kirsty: “No, it absolutely doesn’t. But we’ve got to get in the eight tracks in a restricted amount of time.”

Morrissey: “Well, Kirsty, do you know your pretty face is going to hell?”

Kirsty (laughs): “You’re not the first person to say that.”

Iggy and the Stooges: Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell

Kirsty: “I won’t take it personally, Morrissey.”

Morrissey: “Well, did you know that at the average modern funeral, that’s a very popular tune now.” (Laughs)

Kirsty: “When I watched the young Morrissey, and I was fascinated, like so many people of my generation, by the young Morrissey. Part of the fascination was in your discomfort with the world, the angles emotionally and often physically that poked out from you.”

Morrissey: “Yes. Yes.”

Kirsty: “When I meet you today you seem somebody at 50, entirely at home with themselves. You seem so…I’m not going to use the word ‘Zen’, because it’s ridiculously cheesy, but you seem entirely un-spiky, and thoughtul.”

Morrissey: “Well, I think if you reach 50 and you’re not at one with yourself, whatever that may be, then you’re in serious trouble because you’ve had time to work things out. And there isn’t that much time left.”

Kirsty: “Do you struggle with the proximity of death, about how little time we all have?”

Morrissey: “I’m fascinated by the brevity of life and how people use their time, because we all know the axe will fall. It’s inevitable as you and I are sitting here now that the Tuesday will arrive when you, Kirsty, are not here. Nobody can reach you by telephone, nobody can write to you and nobody can email you. You just won’t be here. So we all know this fact and with that at the forefront of our mind in everything that we do, I find it fascinating how people spend their time.”

Kirsty: “Are you happy with how you’ve spent your time. Can you look at it to the point of 50 and think, ‘Yeah, time well spent?’”

Morrissey: “I think so. I think I was in a very awkward situation and I managed somehow to wiggle out and not much more can be asked of me.”

Kirsty: “You mean by dint of your upbringing, you were in an awkward situation?”

Morrissey: “Yes, yes. I was. I think the world is quite dark and I think it is quite mad and I think to be a human being is quite a task. Everybody dies screaming. They don’t die laughing their heads off, as far as I know.”

Kirsty: “But as somebody who has chosen very particularly to fashion a life that is different from most of us, a life that, as you say, most people might interpret as lonely, you absolutely do not see it that way. It is, for you, a choice. Have you thought about being in control of your death? Have you thought about shuffling off this mortal coil at a time of your choosing?”

Morrissey: “Yes I have. Yes I have. And I think this self-destruction is honourable. I always thought it was. It’s an act of great control and I understand people who do it.”

Kirsty: “You can’t really stand other people’s company. I’m imaginging you’ll be very happy on your desert island, all by yourself?”

Morrissey: “I can’t wait.”

Kirsty: “Is that when you’re happiest?”

Morrissey: “Yes, yes. Life is a series of fences, I find.”

Kirsty: “I’m never quite sure when you’re joking. Are you serious about that?”

Morrissey: “Unfortunately, yes. I’m quite serious, yes. God help me, I’m serious.”

Kirsty: “Tell me about your final track and tell me why you’ve chosen Mott The Hoople.”

Morrissey: “This is Mott The Hoople from 1972, a track which made me feel quite charged and quite emotional and quite sad. And still does in its own way. And it’s called Sea Diver.”

Mott The Hoople: Sea Diver

Every castaway is given The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Bible.

Kirsty: “Do you want the Bible?”

Morrissey: “For what?”

Kirsty: “You can use it for any purpose.”

Morrissey: “Well, it’s a best-seller…”

Kirsty: “And you take your own book, too. What book are you going to take?”

Morrissey: “It would have to be The Complete Oscar Wilde.”

Kirsty: “And a luxury too. You can have something on this island to make life more bearable.”

Morrissey: “Well, I would either take a bed because I like to go to bed. Or I would take a bag of sleeping pills (laughs) because I might want to make a quick exit.”

Kirsty: “So which is it, you have to decide?”

Morrissey: “I would really take the bed, I think, because going to bed is the highlight of everybody’s day. I like to be hidden and I like to sink. And I think we all love to go to bed and we love to go to sleep. It’s the brother of death. It means we can just switch our brains off when we go to bed and forget about ourselves, hopefully. So desert island or not, what’s the point without a decent bed.”

Kirsty: “And if you had to pick just one of the eight tracks that you’ve chosen today, which one would you pick?”

Morrissey: “Good grief. There has to be one question I can’t answer.”

Kirsty: “You’re not allowed, I won’t let you out of the studio. I may padlock the door if you don’t answer this.”

Morrissey: “I’m used to that. (laughs) I would say track number one.”

Kirsty: “That’s the New York Dolls and There’s Gonna Be A Showdown.”

Morrissey: “Yes.”

Kirsty: “Morrissey, thank you very much for letting us hear your Desert Island Discs.”

Morrissey: “Young, thank you very much.”

Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs Podcast

BBC iPlayer

Morrissey: ‘Waiting To Explode’

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