Posts Tagged Romance
I have a bit of history with The Last Of The International Playboys, more so than with any other Morrissey song.
I received Now That’s What I Call Music 14 for my 10th birthday (a quick note for non-UK readers, the ‘Now…’ series were compilations of popular songs in the charts, and started off as (I believe) annual issues, becoming more frequent over time. I’m writing in the past tense although I believe they still come out semi-regularly, but I’ve paid little or no attention to them for many, many years, because they say nothing to me about my life (as someone once sang)).
I had to check to be sure, and it must have been my 10th birthday as the compilation went on sale about a fortnight before the big day (double figures and everything).
Oddly, I can vividly remember listening and re-listening and re-re-listening to the first tape time after time, and almost all those songs stick with me today, but remember pretty much nothing about tape two. I also remember the cover art, and how it came in one of those two-tape boxes which had a hinge in the middle, opening up like some kind of cheap, communist-era eastern European aeroplane toy… Ah, nostalgia…
But worry not about my limited memory of the complete opus, for tape one contained, yes, The Last Of The International Playboys by Morrissey.
The 10-year-old me picked up on two of Mozzer’s cultural references in particular. I didn’t really get what a ‘playboy’ was (international or domestic), but my mate Darren who lived over the road had bedcovers emblazoned with the Playboy logo and name (what the hell were his parents thinking?), not that I had the slightest inkling who Hugh Hefner was, nor how the bunny logo was reflected back in real life. Of course, I did know what ‘famous’ meant, and seem to remember cobbling together an assumption that a ‘playboy’ must be a man who had a good time of things.
But what really stood out for me were the following passages:
“Reggie Kray, do you know my name?
Oh, don’t say you don’t
Please say you do…
Ronnie Kray, do you know my face?
Oh, don’t say you don’t
Please say you do”
Even at that tender age I had somewhere picked up the awareness that the Kray twins were Very Bad Men. I even remember being aware of the ‘but they looked after their old mum’ line that often seemed to suffix tales about them (and I might be imagining this, but I’m pretty sure I already saw this line as being idiotic in the extreme).
So who was this Morrissey bloke, and why did he seem to want recognition from a couple of nasty men, while at the same time boasting about being the last swinger in town? Also, why had he ended up in prison?
“In our lifetime those who kill
The news world hands them stardom
And these are the ways
On which I was raised…
I never wanted to kill
I am not naturally evil
Such things I do
Just to make myself more attractive to you
Have I failed?”
Ah. That’s why.
I didn’t fully appreciate the attempts at social commentary and derision of the media, and the homosexual undertones passed me by, but the desperate, blame-ducking self-justification seemed to strike a chord. As did the bold, strident guitars and drums, and squiggly keyboards.
I can’t say I loved it, but it certainly intrigued the hell out of me for as long as I listened to Now…14 tape 1 on near-permanent loop.
About 10 years later I had plunged head-long into the complete oeuvre of The Smiths and Morrissey and re-discovered this song. It all came back to me, and, by now much better acquainted with Moz’s worldview, I loved it (I even managed to find the tape at the bottom of my old wardrobe in my Mum and Dad’s house). It’s still one of my all-time favourites of Morrissey’s, and I can now recognise it as the pop-tastic, playful, cheeky, slightly edgy record it was all along.
“And here we come upon what it perhaps the most surprising ‘oxymoronic’ aspect of Morrissey’s work. For, in spite of the sense of pathos and privation that pervades his lyrics, they are filled with moments in which everyday things and experiences are affectionately preserved, and elevated by their preservation; moments which, if they are not epiphanies, nonetheless allow such phenomena to ‘put off’ their ephemerality and exceed their commonplace appearances in the direction of an epiphany.
In fact, I’m not sure Morrissey has ever sounded so full of affection as when, apropos of nothing, he sings of ‘loafing oafs and all-night chemists’ – an affection he transmits to the listener and which is of itself transformative; for in loving such things, he makes them loveable. In aesthetically celebrating the kitsch, the everyday and the ‘lowly’, and in the process uncovering what it is that makes them loveable, Morrissey is, we might say, glorying in their infirmity.”
1985’s Meat Is Murder, The Smiths’ second studio album, was quite a departure from their eponymous debut, both lyrically and musically. The debut album was let down by poor production, resulting in recordings which sound wafer-thin in places, and meaning that the Hatful of Hollow compilation is in some ways a better representation of their earliest work.
By the time of the second album however, the greater force and direction of the music was done full justice in its engineering. The prominence of Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums) are particularly noticeable, and set a thoroughly concrete foundation for Johnny Marr’s melodies. While his familiar ‘jingle-jangle’ is still the defining element, Marr embraces other elements, most notably funk, showing a leap forward in his writing.
Morrissey, meanwhile, leaves behind most of the callow, reticent, passive persona of the first album (the girl-shy boy of Pretty Girls Make Graves, the impotent despair of Miserable Lie), and reveals a strident sense of assertiveness and outrage.
The Headmaster Ritual opens the album by railing against violent authority figures, rejecting education and life, while I Want The One I Can’t Have sees Moz as the frustrated lover, imploring his unwitting target to call round when they have grown up a little – this song begs more questions of his own sexuality than it gives answers. What She Said is another song which can be comfortably interpreted in any number of ways, in which a bookish, resigned girl is brought to life by a scally from the Wirral.
We see a little of the frailer Morrissey is on That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More (reputed to be Marr’s personal Smiths highlight), and the beautiful Well I Wonder, where even in the throws of death, defiance persists: “Gasping, but somehow still alive / This is the fierce last stand of all I am”.
Both Rusholme Ruffians (tainted at least a little in the knowledge that it, um, ‘borrows heavily’ from one of Victoria Wood’s piano sing-alongs) and Nowhere Fast (with its early pop at the monarchy, and wonderful train-track rhythm) contemplate life mundanities, whether the casual aggression of a northern fairground or a stultifying life of marvelling at the most basic of domestic appliances.
The album closes with Barbarism Begins At Home and Meat Is Murder, Morrissey decrying cruelty to children and the eating of animals. Both tracks feature unusual aural effects, from the singer’s own yelps, to the cries of distressed cows interspersed with the sound of the abattoir knife. These last two bring the album to an appropriate end, being songs of protest and outrage.
If I can come over all pushy for a moment, ignore the acclaim for The Queen Is Dead being The Smiths’ best album: it isn’t, this is. Meat Is Murder is their tightest, most focused, most ‘joined-up’ album. It’s not perfect, but finding the last two tracks to be over-long isn’t too bad as far as criticisms go, and it manages to avoid nearly all whimsy (Victoria Wood pastiches notwithstanding). When writing these album pieces, I generally focus on a select number of key songs from the album; I had to write about all of these (excluding How Soon Is Now?, which was added to re-issues of the album and therefore doesn’t count. The album also sounds better without it).
This is simply an outstanding piece of work. You’ll have spotted I’ve linked to every single song mentioned above (including those not on the album) bar one, and here it is, perhaps my all-time number one (including a video featuring Moz in several lovely blouses):
A few days ago, it was the 20th anniversary of the death of Serge Gainsbourg (and if that isn’t an appropriately respectful sentence to remember the passing of a cultural legend, frankly, I don’t know what is. Seriously, I don’t know what is).
Bonnie and Clyde, an album with on/off collaborator Brigitte Bardot, which he describes as songs of love: “amour combat, amour passion, amour physique, amour fiction”, features a remarkable title track. Gainsbourg romanticises the lives of the two protagonists, painting a picture of two lovers defending each other and their own actions (“they claim we kill in cold blood… we simply need to silence those who scream”) in the face of a society which is to blame for ruining the young Clyde and turning him from “un gars honnête, loyale et droit” (‘an honest, loyal, straight-up kid’) into a callous killer. This is set against rich, hypnotic music, in keeping with the compelling, self-assured nature of the lyrics; a special mention has to go to the bizarre, distracting, but somehow integral, background whooping. Needless to say, the pair of them pull this off while looking impossibly stylish.
Gainsbourg knows full well what he’s up to, and tells us as much in his introduction to the song (itself based on a poem reported to have been written by Bonnie Parker). I especially like the knowing, accusatory nod of “ça vous a plu, hein?”, directed at the same society which (of course) both caused and condemned Barrow’s actions…
Vous avez lu l’histoire de Jesse James (You’ve read the story of Jesse James)
Comment il vécut, comment il est mort (How he lived, how he died)
Ça vous a plu, hein? (You liked it, didn’t you?)
Vous en demandez encore (You asked for more)
Et bien, ecoutez l’histoire (Well, listen to the story)
De Bonnie and Clyde (Of Bonnie and Clyde)
It’s a song about an iceberg. It’s the best song about an iceberg, ever.
I’ve got friends in Germany – are they all like Hitler? Certainly not! I’m sure they’re very proud of their nationality, and maybe not so proud of the things he did. I had a very good friend once, a lady who was a Jew. I met her in between my first and second marriages, and I thought there might have been something there – her religion didn’t bother me. She was very open-minded.
One of the reasons I fell in love with Jan was because, although she’s not well educated, she’s got a very inquisitive mind – loves the Discovery Science channel.