What I said back then:
So, when I came out of my all-consuming heavy metal phase, there was this band. Everyone was ranting on about them and how they were going to change the world, but I couldn’t see it. I remember making some sarcastic, cynical remark about “Oh, Manchester, so much to answer for” in ‘Suffer Little Children’ – but I was doing that ‘not really understanding’ thing again, and I should have learned by now. The music was everywhere in ’84, and into ’85, and some of it must have started to get through. At some point I borrowed a copy of the first album, and properly listened to it. I suddenly realised that here was someone of my generation able to write powerful, almost poetic lyrics in an English idiom – something which seemed, despite the punk outburst, to have died off around the time the Kinks stopped having hits. Add to that quite wonderful musicianship, and I was suddenly hooked, just like everyone else.
I don’t pretend that these songs spoke particularly to me, or on behalf of me or my generation, but they resonate with me like almost no others. They bring back memories of that most uncertain period in my life, when I had left University and was watching everyone else get on with their lives while I wavered and failed to decide about anything, finally ending up in a job I wasn’t particularly good at. I was prone then, and am prone now, to singing ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ at times of stress (you have to hear it, it doesn’t work written down), and several others, including ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More’ or ‘How Soon is Now’ at appropriate moments – their words spring fully into my mind when required, always the sign of a great lyric. And I picked up Douglas Coupland’s ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ because of the Smiths title, and found it stuffed with those same wondrous verbal tags – certainly the only novel I’ve ever re-read in order to find all the Smiths references. Sometimes I don’t feel a particular child of my generation, but I listen to the Smiths and I realise I could be a child of no other.
What I think now:
Smiths music still has the power to move me, and some of Morrissey’s later work kind of does, too, although it lacks that resonance which is associated with a particular time and place in my life. I was always an outsider with it – slightly older than the core audience, and a little cooler towards the posturing – but I think that makes my appreciation for it stronger; I had to work at liking it, and the work paid off.
Sometimes, when you think you don’t like something, you’re wrong.
One of the regrets of parting with my vinyl collection was that I no longer had a copy of ‘Hatful of Hollow’, but it’s now available digitally, and faithfully reproduces those slightly better versions of the great early songs. I don’t actually own a copy of a Smiths album, although I certainly used to; perhaps I should rectify that.
I also own and love pretty much everything Doug Coupland has ever written. This is not a coincidence.
There may well be a light which never goes out. Or if there isn’t, there should be.