I went for a walk to inhale
the tranquil, cool, lover’s air
I could sense the hate
of the lonestar state
And a small voice said, “What can we do?”
— Morrissey’s “Mexico”
Thanks to her rendition of Juan Gabriel’s ballads, in the world of Latin pop music no Spaniard is more Mexican than the late Rocío Dúrcal. Thanks to his ability to soothe an immigrant’s heart without even trying, in the world of rock no one is more Mexican than Morrissey.
It always fascinated me how and why in the country of machos a supposedly gay man like Juan Gabriel could overcome prejudice to become a national icon.
“I have four sons,” he once told me in 1995 when I asked him about his sexuality in a Los Angeles Times piece. “How many do you have? In show business, if you’re male and cute and gracious, people assume you are blah, blah, blah,” he added. “But people don’t understand that art itself is female — it is full of graciousness, cadence, color, rhythm. It’s full of love and grace.”
If Juan Gabriel is gay, Morrissey is … Well, he’s El Moz. A sexual enigma who has become an iconic underground hero not for what he is, but for what he says and how he says it. No single Anglo solo artist is more beloved in the Latin alternative world than Morrissey.
“To argue that Morrissey’s contemporary audience skews Hispanic would be inaccurate,” wrote Chuck Klosterman in SPIN magazine. “Morrissey’s contemporary audience IS Hispanic.”
And Morrissey, it seems, couldn’t care less.
“I’m going to sing a couple more songs ... then all of you can go back to Mexicali,” said Morrissey years ago at a concert in Arizona, where the crowd was screaming a loud, soccer-style “Me-hee-co, Me-hee-co!”
“Only one white man in the world — and he’s not the Pope — can tell a group of Mexicans in the United States to return to Mexico and not only avert death, but be loved for saying so,” wrote ¡Ask a Mexican!’s Gustavo Arellano in the LoopdiLoop fanzine.
While the study of the “Mexican Morrissey” phenomenon has endless angles, most commentators agree on one thing: Morrissey’s lyrics and attitude touch a nerve among immigrants (especially Mexicans) everywhere.
“Morrissey sings to the disaffected, and God knows alienation is part of the assimilation tradition — the equal and opposite reaction of the immigrant’s drive to blend in,” wrote Arellano on the OC Weekly. “We ache; Morrissey soothes.”
More specifically, many of Morrissey’s lyrics could — and have been — compared to the poetry of Mexican ranchera classics, but the fact that Morrissey is an Englishman, not an American, makes him even more appealing to rebel Mexicans.
In an email, Chihuahua-born Gabriel Rodríguez-Nava (former Rumbo National editor, now with Univision Online), once a die-hard Smiths and early solo Morrissey fan, remembers when he showed up to class in Monterrey wearing a Smiths T-shirt.
“The `British` teacher said, ‘But how could you like them so much? — They’re so, so ... English!’ To which I replied: ‘That, dear, is precisely why I fancy them.’ I don’t imagine myself replying the same way if I had been wearing a T-shirt of … of … forget it! I’ve never wore a T-shirt of an American band, even though I love many of them, but there isn’t a single `American` band I can fully identify myself with.”
Sensing the legion of Morrissey fans who speak Spanish as a first language, Lost Highway and Nacional Records (a leading Latin alternative label) formed an unlikely alliance: Years of Refusal, Morrissey’s new album (released on February 17), will be heavily promoted by Nacional Records in the Latin market, while Lost Highway will promote Manu Chao’s Latin Grammy-winning La Radiolina among its Anglo contacts.
“I have seen magazine photo spreads on the Morrissey phenomenon within the West Coast Latino world, and they hit the look right on the head,” said Nacional’s Tom Cookman in an email. “This devotion and attraction to Morrissey is a wonderful example of an artist really connecting with an audience through music, lyrics, fashion, and even attitude.”
To my surprise, Rodríguez-Nava is not too crazy about Morrissey’s new album.
“To be honest, I stopped buying his albums several years ago,” he said, “and I’ve only heard one of the new songs. The reason? Partly, because I’m an adult well-situated in the world who has overcome my student traumas, and partly because Morrissey is an adult well-situated in the world who has overcome his student traumas ... and, therefore, has become a little boring.”
Too bad: Years of Refusal is a solid album that indicates — to me, at least — that Morrissey is the type of person who gets better with age.
But that’s my luck. Now that I’m getting a little bit into Morrissey, I don’t know too many barely situated adults to share El Moz with.
“Don’t despair,” Rodríguez-Nava says. “I still listen to my Smiths albums and tear my clothes off remembering the torment that it was growing up in `Ciudad` Juárez.”
Or, as Morrissey said (to himself?) on “You Were Good in Your Time,” one of the new tracks:
“You made me feel less alone/You made me feel not quite so/Deformed, uninformed, and hunchbacked/Time takes all breath away/You were good in your time/And we thank you so.” •
Morrissey will play Houston’s Jesse H. Jones Hall on April 11, and Austin’s Bass Concert Hall on April 12.
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