Monday, October 10, 2005

Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ

The Smiths

Summary: When I was an alterna-teen growing up in Hickville, Indiana, The Smiths spoke to me.

First, a brief history of the band (from Yahoo! Music):The Smiths were the definitive British indie rock band of the '80s, marking the end of synth-driven new wave and the beginning of the guitar rock that dominated English rock into the '90s. Sonically, the group were indebted to the British Invasion, crafting ringing, melodic three-minute pop singles, even for their album tracks. But their scope was far broader than that of a revivalist band. The group's core members, vocalist Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr, were obsessive rock fans inspired by the D.I.Y. ethics of punk, but they also had a fondness for girl groups, pop, and rockabilly. Morrissey and Marr also represented one of the strangest teams of collaborators in rock history. Marr was the rock traditionalist, looking like an elegant version of Keith Richards during the Smiths' heyday, and meticulously layering his guitar tracks in the studio. Morrissey, on the other hand, broke from rock tradition by singing in a keening, self-absorbed croon, embracing the forlorn, romantic poetry of Oscar Wilde, publicly declaring his celibacy, performing with a pocketful of gladiolas and a hearing aid, and making no secret of his disgust for most of his peers. While it eventually led to the Smiths' early demise, the friction between Morrissey and Marr resulted in a flurry of singles and albums over the course of three years that provided the blueprint for British guitar rock in the following decade.

My History with the Band: My family moved to Marion, Indiana, in the middle of my 5th grade year. Anyone who has moved in the middle of a school year knows how hard that can be. Well, fairly early on, I could tell that I did not really fit it, which is not to say that I was antisocial at all. I had plenty of friends, but I didn't really want to be from Marion. In high school, the divide became even greater. I did not want to cruise the mall in a Camaro listening to Poison, nor did I want to hang out in the mall listening to New Kids on the Block.
Shortly after I found New Order, I made another important discovery. In middle and high school, MTV had an alternative music show called 120 Minutes, which came on at midnight on Sundays. That was too late to stay up on a school night, so I taped it every week. On Mondays, I could not wait to get home and watch the 2 hours of alternative videos.
One day, I saw the premiere of a song called "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard this One Before" by The Smiths. I had run across the group in my reading about music, but I had never heard any songs. (The Ft. Wayne radio station, WMEE, was all Top 40.) But now . . . I had in front of me a song of heartbreaking beauty.
As was the case with New Order, I came to The Smiths late in their careers -- in fact, after they had broken up. The video I saw was from their last album, Strangeways Here We Come, and the song had brilliant lyrics:

I was delayed, I was way-laid
An emergency stop
I smelt the last ten seconds of life
I crashed down on the crossbar
And the pain was enough to make
A shy, bald buddhist reflect
And plan a mass murder

. . . and so I rushed out and bought the album. And then I rushed out and bought their other albums: first The Smiths, then Louder than Bombs, then Meat is Murder, and then The Queen is Dead.
I had found music that spoke to my teenage angst and "I don't want to be from here" mentality. My small group of alterna-teen friends and I embraced the gloriously depressing moodiness of The Smiths and their iconic leader, Morrissey. (I will have a separate Morrissey entry someday.) In school, I was fairly popular, with lots of "in-school" friends -- you know those people that you like but never see outside of school. But my group of real friends was a tight circle of kids who had crazy haircuts, bought clothes at The Salvation Army, wore Chucks, were liberal, and listened to all kinds of "weird" music. In fact, at my 10 year high school reunion, one of these "in-school" friends came up to me and said, "You know, John, when we were in high school, you used to rave on about The Smiths, and none of us knew what you were talking about. But when I met my future wife, she turned me on to The Smiths, and now I understand. I only wish I had listened to you in high school so I would not have wasted my time on shitty music." Alas.

And so, instead of cruising the mall or going to keg parties, my friends and I embraced our angst. We went for a lot of drives -- driving through the farm country of east central Indiana, trying to get lost. A particular pleasure was running across old-time cemeteries. I have always thought that cemeteries were very peaceful places, and those old farming town spots with ancient gravestones were always quite a find. I found them romantic, and probably helps explain why I considered The Smiths' love songs so romantic:

And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure - the privilege is mine

Beautiful. Now don't get me wrong -- I have never been obsessed with death or anything, and my friends and I were nothing close to "goth." We just knew that Marion, Indiana could not hold us, and The Smiths helped us deal with it.

Favorite Smiths Album: The Queen is Dead

Favorite Smiths Song: "How Soon is Now?"; "Shoplifters of the World Unite" (tie)

Other Seminal Smiths Songs: "This Charming Man"; "The Queen is Dead"; "There is a Light That Never Goes Out"; "Sheila Take a Bow"; "Is it Really So Strange?"; "Panic"; "Ask"; "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want"; "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now"; "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard this One Before"; "Girlfriend in a Coma"

There's a club if you'd like to go . . .


At 3:54 PM, Blogger Josh posited...

fuck yeah

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Johnny V posited...

If only we could have spent AP Lit listening to your music instead of Hewitt's. Hewitt's awesome -- Avril Lavigne isn't.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger jimaal posited...

you are one

At 8:39 AM, Blogger Kid C posited...

Uh, two words: sk8r boi

At 10:42 AM, Blogger chris posited...

This is so effing awesome I dont know what to say. All my love of the Smiths has been brought out in one timely post....

At 3:27 PM, Blogger P "N" K posited...

The First Cut Is The Deepest? Anyone? Every day? Yeah...4th hour AP lit 2003/2004 feels my pain.

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Jake posited...

I think you now owe it to us to post a high school photo of yourself. You know the one I'm talking about.

At 1:05 AM, Blogger CoachDub posited...

I will have to try to dig it up. The last time I had it, I was showing it to students one year. So I have no idea where it might be now. I have some "school hodgepodge" boxes to look through...

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Toby Rider posited...

Nice... Marr is great. The only man in the 80's who wasn't afraid to drop Maj7th chords into songs.

At 3:24 PM, Blogger Jackel posited...

Love is Natural and Real
But not for you, my love

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Da-veed posited...

This evening I was searching for explanation to songs by the The Smiths. In my path I ran into your blog. I was right there with you during your high school years. I was in Dallas,TX.


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