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					There is a Light That Never Goes Out:
Saint Morrissey and the Gospel
by Benjamin C. Squires (www.musicspectrum.org)
2007 Festival of Faith & Music


Introduction
        February 27, 1988. I received The Queen is Dead
as a gift from my friend, Nathan, at my 14th birthday
party. He brought it in a brown lunchbag, but I
didn‘t mind—because it was the greatest, most
important gift I had ever gotten. And it would
change me forever. That‘s not an exaggeration. The
Queen is Dead proved to be immensely pivotal in my
sense of music appreciation. Without that gift from
Nathan, I might not be here today presenting this
paper on Morrissey.
        Yet, in that same year the Smiths came to inspire and haunt me, my pastor was
also urging me to consider becoming a pastor. Without his encouragement, I might not
be here presenting a paper at the Festival of Faith & Music. Granted my pastor would
not have know anything about the Smiths, and he would not have recognized what I
am doing now in making a connection between the Smiths, specifically Morrissey, and
the Christian faith. However, my pastor who confirmed me in 1988 and the pastor who
came after him during my high school years were the ones to get me to seriously
consider the ministry. Because of them, I needed to find a way to merge my love for the
Smiths—and pop music (in the best sense of the word)—and my belief in Jesus.

Pop Moment as Spiritual
       In 2004 interview with the British music magazine, Uncut, Morrissey said, ―[The
pop moment is] the second when something hits you and stirs you in the way that it
would when you fell in love with somebody forever. And that still happens with
music, because I find it such a beautiful form of expression. That rush of. . .the blood
pounding through your arteries. That‘s what it is. I think it‘s joy‖ (Uncut, June 2004,
―The Uncut Questionnaire: Morrissey,‖ p. 29).
       Morrissey has spent his career, with the Smiths and as a solo artists, seeking to
write music that will elicit the ―pop moment,‖ an emotional rush like falling in love. As
evidenced by his devotees, Morrissey has certainly created many of pop moments
through his songs. While the pop moment is an emotional response, deeper within the
experience of a listener is a spiritual surge. At its core, the pop moment is a spiritual
rush. Therefore, the pop moments that Morrissey has created are spiritual moments.
       The spiritual dimension of the pop moment is perhaps best hinted at in ―Rubber
Ring‖:
        But don't forget the songs
        That made you smile
        And the songs that made you cry
        When you lay in awe
        On the bedroom floor
        And said: "Oh, smother me, Mother…
        …
        But don't forget the songs
        That made you cry
        And the songs that saved your life
―Rubber Ring,‖ meant by Morrissey as a
metaphor for the Smiths repertoire (Goddard,
177) and the response of their dedicated followers, resonates with anyone who has been
bowled over at the impact of a song‘s way of touching you so deeply. There is a sense
that pop songs could unleash emotions, as well as save you from being overcome by
those emotions. Therefore, pop songs have a salvific effect—which is a spiritual
characteristic.
        Of course, if my parents had understood what I was experiencing, if my pastor
could even contemplate the immediacy of the greatest band in the world and how it
was affecting my emotional state, they would‘ve all freaked out thinking I was losing
my faith in Christ. I might have been singing along with Morrissey about losing my
faith in womanhood, but I hadn‘t lost faith in Christ. In fact, as far as I can tell
searching back through my poems, my memories, and the ways the songs still affect
me, it seems that Morrissey‘s words have always stirred my faith.
        That, of course, is partly blasphemy. It is only God‘s Word that should stir the
soul, and yet, God uses the words of hymns to point us to Christ. God uses the words
of preachers, teachers, friends, and strangers to speak the truth of His Word to us. So,
then, why couldn‘t God have helped my faith through the words of Morrissey?
        The trouble I found when I was 14 was that the pop moment was what stirred
my soul, and the pop moment was far from what I was finding at church. Therefore, it
was up to me to find the way that the two could interact. How could Morrissey both
speak words for my melancholy while also pointing to the hope that I had in Christ?
        I liken the songs now to what I have come to love about the Complaint Psalms,
or Lament Psalms, like Psalm 13 which asks God so many tough questions, but in the
end, clings to a trust in God‘s unfailing love. In that same way, I could sing along with
Morrissey about feeling ―the soil over my head,‖ but yet, rejoice that I was singing
about it rather than actually going through with killing myself. It always seemed better
to sing my life along with Morrissey—to sing all the troubled emotions—rather than
pretend that everything was alright. It‘s why I hated Christian music. I wasn‘t cheery;
CCM always made me feel like I was supposed to be cheery if I was a Christian.
        Basic themes of Christian discipleship (temptation, God, death, Gospel, pastoral
care, and prophecy) are revealed in the lyrics of Morrissey— in the song of the Smiths
and his solo work. While certainly not containing the explicit statement of faith



                                                                   Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 2
expected in a church‘s membership course or confessional document, Morrissey‘s
words—the pop moments which are spiritual moments—strengthen faith more than
tearing it down.

Caveats
      Before diving into this study, I must note a few caveats.
         1. The interpretations I am offering for Morrissey‘s lyrics are not necessarily
             Morrissey‘s own interpretation. Even if he has offered an explicit
             explanation of a song, I don‘t think he has ever said that he meant the
             songs to be used for Christian devotions.

          2. This study also ignores the rich texture that Johnny Marr‘s guitar lends to
             the songs. Morrissey without Marr has never been the same, and that is
             because Marr‘s guitar enlivened Morrissey‘s lyrics—or perhaps, as some
             have suggested, even led to Morrissey‘s lyrics.

Acknowledgments
     Two acknowledgements stand out as deserving mention here at the beginning:
     1.    The subtitle of this study, ―Saint Morrissey and the Gospel,‖ is a direct
           reference (rip off) of Mark Simpson‘s excellent biography, study, and
           memoir about Morrissey titled Saint Morrissey. I do not think that
           Simpson meant the title ―saint‖ in the same way that I am implying,
           namely that God‘s Holy Spirit can do sacred things through the words of
           Morrissey.
     2.    I relied on Simon Goddard‘s incredible little book, The Smiths: Songs That
           Saved Your Life, for the background information for many Smiths songs.
           Song by song, Goddard gives nice details about the development,
           backstory, history, and public/critical reactions.



1. Moz & Temptation

        In seventh and eighth grade, as I discovered the Smiths even as they were in the
midst of breaking up, I was in Confirmation class. My pastor was the same pastor who
had baptized me. He would never have understood why I was writing down Smiths‘
quotes in the margins of my copy of Luther’s Small Catechism. He certainly would not
have been able to see a connection between what he was teaching about Jesus and what
I was learning from Morrissey.
        I saw the connection, though. It wasn‘t like I could have fully articulated it then,
but my ears were perked when it seemed as if Morrissey was singing about the very
lessons I had been learning in Confirmation about the temptation of Satan.




                                                                     Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 3
        As Marr rips into that unmistakably ominous
guitar riff to ―What Difference Does It Make?‖
Morrissey seems to be singing of the tension I was
feeling in Confirmation class—seeing that the very
righteousness expected of a Christian was coming into
stark conflict with a teenagers hormones and
discovery of the world.
                The devil will find work for idle hands to do
                I stole and I lied, and why?
                because you asked me to!
        I don‘t know how many times I scrawled those
words across the cover of a school notebook, so aware of the fact that left alone to my
own devices—and with a shove from the devil—I was liable to fall into great sin. Plus,
the lyric adds the additional temptation that the devil‘s work comes in part due to the
encouragement of some other person—which I‘ve always interpreted as a love interest.
These were the very real quandaries facing me in eighth grade—how to avoid listening
to Satan‘s temptations and how to avoid giving into sin in the hope of impressing a girl,
and yet, it was Morrissey who understood this and put it into words that caused me to
―lay in awe on the bedroom floor‖ (―Rubber Ring‖). Morrissey found this spiritual
moment in a pop moment, even as my pastor tried to explain the spiritual moment in
less than a pop moment in that dark, lifeless room at church on Wednesday nights.

        While certainly there are examples of Morrissey grappling with temptation
throughout his body of work, two of the other strong examples like ―What Difference
Does It Make?‖ come from 1984‘s debut eponymous album. On ―Pretty Girls Make
Graves,‖ Morrissey sings: ―You tug my arm and say: ‗Give into lust,/give up to lust, oh
heaven knows we‘ll/soon be dust....‘‖ This sexual pleading seems like an obvious play
on the commonly held sentiment ―eat, drink, and be merry,‖ which is called into
question in Isaiah 22. The song continues to see that the speaker (Morrissey?) is unable
to follow through on the sexual advances of this forward woman, and yet, he has surely
struggled with the temptation.
        ―Pretty girls make graves‖ is phrase borrowed from Jack Kerouac‘s novel, The
Dharma Bums (Goddard, 84), but it has never been clear to me whether Morrissey
intended to say that the pretty girls have made graves for themselves, or whether they
like vixens have made graves for those who would fall for their temptation. As one
song which established his claim of celibacy, it seems that Morrissey may have meant
both—pretty girls would find their sexual wares to be their undoing, and that those
who allowed themselves to indulgence in sex would also find this a dead end. The
song, then, makes a fine discussion starter when studying the sixth (seventh)
commandment: ―You shall not commit adultery.‖
        Also from The Smiths, the monumental ―Still Ill‖ works within in the realm of
temptation, especially as we remember how the Bible uses the metaphor of sickness
when speaking about sin.



                                                                   Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 4
       Does the body rule the mind
       or does the mind rule the body?
       I dunno....
       Am I still ill?
The song aches with the conflict of trying to reign in the body‘s sinful lusts (of all sorts)
and the mind‘s wandering allegiances. It is the challenge that Paul speaks about in
Romans 7: ―I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do
the very thing I hate‖ (ESV). Morrissey asks, ―Am I still ill?‖ and on the spiritual level,
the only answer is yes.

         One example from elsewhere in Morrissey‘s oeuvre comes from 1986‘s The Queen
is Dead. ―Frankly, Mr. Shankly‖ does not come across as a very serious song with its
sing-songy jangle—a stark contrast coming as track 2 immediately after the epic title
track. However, in ―Frankly,‖ Morrissey delivers some quips with needle-like
precision. In relation to temptation, he says:
         Fame, Fame, fatal Fame
         it can play hideous tricks on the brain
         but still I rather be Famous
         than righteous or holy, any day
Fame corrupts, and yet, pop star fame is what Morrissey has desired since being just a
young lad in Manchester. Morrissey knows that fame has the potential to ―corrode‖ his
soul, but the temptation remains too strong. It still seems more desirable to be famous
than to pursue anything on a more lasting, spiritual level. The lyric almost seems to be
playing on the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:
         Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where
         thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither
         moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal
         (Matthew 6:19-20 (ESV)).
It is as if Morrissey is saying: Frankly, fame will fade, but I cannot resist it; it seems still
better than having a righteousness from the Lord.

   Once again, Morrissey was speaking about the turbulent forces of temptation in my
heart in ways that catechism class was only teaching on a disengaged, academic level.
Of course, faced with temptation, my pastor urged us to turn to God for strength.
Morrissey also turns to God, but he does not necessarily seem to find strength from the
divine.


2. Moz & God

       John Hughes did so much for a generation of people who were taken in by The
Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and the other Brat Pack movies. The stories came straight
from the hallways of school, and yet, they made those daily dramas into stories that
could change the world.


                                                                         Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 5
         Of course, Hughes‘ movies gained a large amount of their emotional weight not
from Molly Ringwald (I always preferred Ally Sheedy anyway) but from the
soundtrack.
         Having a Smiths track on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack seems quite natural
alongside the Psychedelic Furs, New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, and others, but the
Smiths song should have actually shaken us to our spiritual senses. By including
―Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,‖ Morrissey was delivering a pop
moment for the movie that actually is a prayer, and Brat Pack movies did not usually
have many prayers or spiritual moments.
         ―Please Please Please‖ is such a plaintive piece of
music and has almost been treated as if it was an
afterthought. It first appeared as a B-side to ―William, It
Was Really Nothing‖ (1984). On the Pretty in Pink
soundtrack, it appears last.
         However, the song remains one of the most
popular (Goddard, 123), and however stealthily crafted,
it is a prayer. The request is offered in the second
stanza of the song: ―So please please please,/let me, let
me, let me/get what I want/this time.‖ It is not until
the final stanza that we get more of an indication that
the song is actually addressed to God.
         So for once in my life
         let me get what I want
         Lord knows it would be the first time
         Lord knows it would be the first time
This is one of few places in Morrissey‘s Smiths years where he comes closest to
addressing God directly. While still veiled, ―Please Please Please‖ rings out as a
hopeless request, hoping against hope that God might actually look upon Morrissey
with favor.
         Of course, what Morrissey was wanting is never revealed, and so we do not
know how God answered this prayer.
         Elsewhere in the Smiths catalog, Morrissey implies that God is aware of him in
―Heaven Knows I‘m Miserable Now.‖ While ―heaven knows‖ is a throw away phrase
in conversation, it may not necessarily serve that same function here. Coming only 3
months before ―Please Please Please,‖ the two songs show that Morrissey may have
been contemplating divine questions making the lyric much more pointed upward.
         I was happy on the haze of a drunken hour
         but heaven knows I'm miserable now

      I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
      and heavens know I'm miserable now
      In my life
      why do I give valuable time



                                                                  Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 6
       to people who don't care if I live or die
Where the lyric may be asking for God to bring him out of misery, the singer also is
aware that it may be better to court God‘s favor than the fickle natured people around
him, a similar sentiment to the temptation of fame in ―Frankly, Mr. Shankly.‖

         Setting those references to God during Morrissey‘s Smiths years aside, the song
that actually set this whole ―Saint Morrissey and the Gospel‖ project rolling is 2004‘s ―I
Have Forgiven Jesus‖ from Morrissey‘s solo album, You Are the Quarry. From the title,
it is clear that Morrissey is confronting convention by implying that Jesus needs to be
forgiven. Yet, in one of the most confessional songs up to that point—in the career of a
very confessional songwriter, he comes right to God with his frustrations.
         1. I was a good kid, I wouldn't do you no harm,
         I was a nice kid, With a nice paper round
         Forgive me any pain, I may have brung to you,
         With God's help I know, I'll always be near to you

       Chorus
       But Jesus hurt me,
       When he deserted me, but,
       I have forgiven you Jesus
       For all the desire,
       He placed in me when there's nothing I can do
       with this desire

       2. I was a good kid,
       Through hail and snow, I'd go
       just to moon you,
       I carried my heart in my hand
       Do you understand, Do you understand?

       Chorus

       Bridge
       Monday - humiliation,
       Tuesday - suffocation,
       Wednesday - condescension,
       Thursday - is pathetic
       By Friday life has killed me,
       By Friday life has killed me,
       Oh pretty one, Oh pretty one

       3. Why did you give me so much desire,
       When there is nowhere I can go to offload this desire?
       And why did you give me so much love in a loveless world,


                                                                    Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 7
       When there is no one I can turn to
       To unlock all this love?
       And why did you stick in self deprecating bones and skin?
       Jesus, do you hate me?
       Why did you stick in self deprecating bones and skin?
       Do you hate me? Do you hate me?
       Do you hate me? Do you hate me?

        The underlying, unspoken question for Jesus is: why has Jesus given Morrissey a
desire to love, a love that Morrissey feels will remain unrealized. Perhaps that desire is
a homosexual desire, and if so, we continue to see why Morrissey has always said he
will remain celibate. He is conflicted about his homosexual desires, seeing how God
views homosexuality. Morrissey says that he forgives Jesus for this, but this most direct
prayer-song shows that Morrissey is still torn apart inside. This song—more than many
fine so-called Christian songs—works really well as a devotion and Bible study
discussion piece. In connecting with Romans 1:24-2:1 and 3:21-24, it is a struggle
against what we see in ourselves, what we see in God‘s Word, and wondering just how
God let all of this happen to us.
        In 2006, Morrissey returned with Ringleader of the Tormentors and returned to the
theme of talking to God about his desire. ―Dear God Please Help Me‖ is a rather
graphic, organ-drenched torch song about Morrissey‘s apparent sexual tryst. Morrissey
has told Spin, Mojo, and Uncut, that the song describes his hook ups with some ruffian
boys in Rome during the recording sessions.
        If it‘s true, then there goes the celibate pride which has always defined the oddly,
asexual, hetero-homosexual, sexual angst in Morrissey‘s music and persona. The cover
of Spin said crassly, ―Morrissey Gets Some: It‘s About Time,‖ which seems exactly the
point—if the song is a true tale, it is so far removed from Morrissey‘s greater lyrical
desire for someone who really loves him. Did Morrissey really give out for some cheap
one night stands, or is this just another hideous trick on the brain‘s of media and media
watchers from the publicity mill of Morrissey‘s brain? If ―Dear God Please Help Me‖
isn‘t description an actual encounter, what is the song? Yet, another song exploring
Morrissey‘s fantasies, fears, demons, and spot-on emotional connections with the hearts
of his listeners.
        The Smiths: Under Review, An Independent Critical Analysis (DVD) offers some
insights into the sexual conflict that‘s always been apparent in all things Morrissey.
Journalist/author Mark Simpson says that Morrissey had set out to ―reinvent gender,‖
seeking to rise above the categories of male and female, heterosexual and homosexual.
Morrissey himself is seen in an interview saying that he feels that he is able to sing from
anyone‘s point of view. This certainly informs us as the possible motives behind ―Dear
God‖ and Morrissey‘s interview comments, and yet, as always, the truth remains
elusive.
        However, the purported account of sexual exploits with Rome‘s street ruffians
would also seem to fit with musician/writer John Robb‘s assessment regarding


                                                                     Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 8
―Shoplifters of the World Unite‖: ―Morrissey‘s lyrically always been interested in
ruffian types. Some people say that maybe he fancies people like that. Maybe that‘s
why he sings about them, maybe not. Maybe he likes hanging around the rough boys.
He went to a rough school. Maybe he‘s fascinated about that because it‘s something he
never was.‖
       No matter how one interprets ―Dear God Please Help Me,‖ it seems to be the
next step beyond You Are the Quarry‘s ―I Have Forgiven Jesus.‖ While I am tempted to
agree with Morrissey later on the song ―I‘ll Never Be Anybody‘s Hero Now,‖ feeling it
is much more difficult to look into his heroic eye, yet Morrissey continues to struggle
with his sexual and emotional feelings, and he should at least be given credit for taking
those struggles before God.

       On the opposite side of the spiritual conversation, Morrissey has also been quite
aware of Satan‘s interest which courts his soul. Whereas ―What Difference Does It
Make?‖ spoke about the devil‘s temptation, two songs in Morrissey‘s solo career are
sung as if he has thrown his hands up in the air, given up on finding peace in the next
world, and sees only eternal fire and smoke in his future.
       From Kill Uncle, ―There‘s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends‖ may be a most
stark statement of how people outside of the Church may feel as they hear the message
of Christians.
       There is a place
       reserved
       for me and my friends
       and when we go
       we all will go
       so you see
       I'm never alone
       …
        all that we hope
       is that when we go
       our skin
       and our blood
       and our bones
       don't get in your way
       making you ill
       the way they did
       when we lived
A more typical Christian response to this song would focus on condemning Morrissey‘s
glibness—even hopefulness—about his eternal damnation. However, it should be a
wake up call for Christians to watch how they are responding to people that they deem
as unfit for the Kingdom of God; our response is perceived as landed them in a hell on
earth of sorts.




                                                                   Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 9
        However, with Maladjusted‘s ―Satan Rejected My Soul,‖ Morrissey even feels too
corrupted even for residence in hell.
        Satan rejected my soul
        He knows my kind
        He won't be dragged down
        He's seen my face around
        He knows Heaven doesn't seem
        To be my home
        So I must find
        Somewhere else to go
        …
        As low as he goes
        He never quite goes this low
From within Morrissey‘s deep spiritual malaise, he finds no home—in heaven or hell,
but it is not for lack of searching. Morrissey may not have claimed the bright torch of
the Gospel as his own, but these conversations with and about God—and the devil—
certainly leave room for that light to shine. What Morrissey expresses as he sings about
God are the darkest thoughts that Christian music dare never put in words—yet we
find lurking in our hearts anyway.



3. Moz & Death

        In conversation with the owner of Manitowoc‘s record store, Dr. Freud‘s, I told
him I was working on this presentation about Morrissey and the Christian faith.
Another customer overheard me, exclaimed as if he immediately also saw the
connection, and then said, ―Of course you‘ve got to talk about suicide.‖
        For as much as Morrissey speaks about death, I have always bristled at the
implication that Morrissey‘s lyrics celebrate, advocate, centered on, or even really were
about suicide. Certainly songs like ―I Know It‘s Over‖ (The Queen is Dead) speak in
suicidal terms, but the grander theme is how Morrissey
relates to death—which could be physical, but could also
be emotional death, career death, death of lust or other
vices, and death to fame.
        While I am sure there are stories to the contrary, I
never felt like Morrissey was encouraging me to off
myself. Rather, he was the only one who was giving me
permission to express any of my own depressive
thoughts. In that sense, Morrissey comes closer to
speaking like Scripture, especially the Psalms, than I
have often seen in the Church and Christian literature.




                                                                   Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 10
        Burdened with a history of the Church teaching that suicide is the unforgivable
sin, Christians have spent far too much time on proving that suicide is a sin instead of
teaching disciples how to talk to God honestly about the tortured emotions we
experience as humans—even as Christians. The psalmists often do not mince words
about their anguish and feelings of rejection at the hand of God, while the very act of
putting those emotions into words seems to lead toward the closing statement of faith
and trust in God despite appearances.
        This is the glimmer of hope that appears in ―I Know It‘s Over,‖ a small flash that
from the outside may be passed over without ever noticing. Morrissey‘s brooding
begins:
        Oh Mother, I can fell the soil falling over my head
        and as I climb into an empty bed
        Oh well, Enough said
        I know it's over—still I cling
        I don't know where else I can go
Morrissey is not singing the words of someone who has completely succumbed to the
grave, because despite feeling that it is over, ―still I cling.‖ There is something that
propels him to continue living—albeit while singing this song that rails against the very
emptiness that seems so overwhelming.
        A cursory reading of ―I Know It‘s Over‖ leads to the comment that Morrissey
just sings about suicide, just as a cursory reading of the so-called complaint psalms
(Psalm 13, 22, etc.) leaves the impression that they were written by people who have
lost faith in God. Even as Christ quoted Psalm 22 from the cross, ―My God, My God,
why have you forsaken me?‖ the assumption is that this is the point when Christ lost all
hope in God the Father. However, if that line quoted from Psalm 22 is kept within
context, the psalm includes words of sure hope: ―O Strength, come quickly to help me.‖
While Morrissey sang my life as he put into words the dark places of my soul, he also
gave me a way to conquer that darkness by singing it aloud—a kind of therapy that
most often happened while driving around alone with the stereo on full blast.

        Of course, relating to Morrissey‘s sense of death is his sense of life after death.
Reading Mark Simpson‘s Saint Morrissey, it would seem that the only life after death for
Morrissey is fame. Achieving fame is the immortality that has always celebrated at the
graves of Oscar Wilde and James Dean.
        Yet, growing up nominally Catholic has seemed to influence Morrissey‘s latent
belief that there is something better beyond this veil of tears. In two places, Morrissey
speaks about life after death with hints of paradise, although those thoughts are
qualified with his own doubts to the veracity of such a second life.
        In ―Asleep‖ (Louder Than Bombs), he sings:
        I don't want to wake up
        On my own anymore
        Don't feel bad for me
        I want you to know



                                                                    Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 11
      Deep in the cell of my heart
      I really want to go
      There is another world
      There is a better world
      Well, there must be

        In ―Death of a Disco Dancer‖ (Strangeways, Here We Come), he sings:
        Love, peace and harmony?
        Oh, very nice...but maybe in the next world.
If there is a next world—and that is not altogether certain, then perhaps that world will
have love, peace, and harmony. Perhaps. Even as Morrissey sings about death, he is
clinging to a hope that there is something beyond the anguish, depression, injustice,
loneliness, and darkness that he has experienced. This is an opening for the Gospel‘s
hope in a way that might easily be missed if the sentiments were too quickly dismissed
as suicidal, sadistic, or blasphemous.



4. Moz & Gospel Metaphors

        Standing on Mars Hill, Paul quotes back to Greeks from one of their own poets,
―We are his offspring‖ in trying to explain that we were created by the God of the Jews
(Acts 17). That move inspires this chapter‘s attempt to find Gospel metaphors in the
language of Morrissey. The Greek poet probably never intended Paul to use his words
to point to the Jewish Messiah, and Morrissey probably never intended his words to be
used a metaphors for the Gospel of Jesus. That said, Morrissey‘s lyrics are replete with
phrases, images, and stories that work well as metaphors for biblical concepts.
        We begin with the namesake of this paper, ―There is a Light That Never Goes
Out‖ from The Queen is Dead. The lyric is the ultimate Romeo & Juliet, we‘ll-die-
together drama, as Morrissey dreams about crashing into a double-decker bus or being
killed by a ten ton truck. Much of his dedication to his lover comes because he says, ―I
never never want to go home, because I haven‘t got one.‖
        After setting such a dark narrative, Morrissey ends the song with the title lyric:
―There is a light that never goes out.‖ What that light or hope is remains an
unanswered question in the track as is? According to Goddard (189), the original lyric
was: ―There is a light in your eye and it never goes out.‖ Goddard does not know any
explanation for the change, but either way, it is another case of Morrissey clinging to
hope in the face of rather dreary melancholy. Morrissey does not name the source of
this light—even allowing the lyric as edited to become a disembodied light. Where
Paul said to the Athenians, ―What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to
you,‖ it can be said to Morrissey, ―What light therefore you see as unknown, this we
proclaim to you as Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.‖




                                                                   Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 12
       ―There is Light That Never Goes Out‖ makes a natural connection with the
Gospel metaphors to be found in Morrissey‘s lyrics, and as an exquisite pop moment,
the surging anthem musically also has the power to deliver the spiritual moment.

        More complex in interpretation, ―How
Soon is Now?‖ (The Smiths) is centered on what
is essentially an eschatological question. The
biblical writers ask, ―How long, Lord?‖ The
saints under the altar in the throne room of God
cry out, ―How long before you judge those who
dwell on earth?‖ (Revelation 6:10). Morrissey‘s
question soaks up that strong desire for the
future to be now. As with some of the other
examples in this chapter, ―How Soon is Now?‖
deserves a very deep and rich exploration side-
by-side with Scripture. For our purposes here, I
will simply point to some of those connections.

       I am the son                                   =original sin
       and the heir
       of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
       I am the son and the heir
       of nothing in particular

       You shut your mouth                            =Reaction against Christians who
       how can you say                                blame non-Christians for their
       I go about things the wrong way                failures as if they should ―fix‖
       I am Human and I need to be loved              themselves
       Just like everybody else does

       There's a club, if you like to go              =Non-Christian goes to Church
       you could meet somebody who really loves you   seeking love, but feels closed out
       so you go, and you stand on your own
       and you leave on your own
       and you go home, and you cry
       and you want to die

       When you say it's gonna happen "now"           =The non-Christian heard that
       well, when exactly do you mean?                eternal life is coming, but
       see I've already waited too long               when? When is now?
       and all my hope is gone

       Elsewhere, Morrissey uses biblical phraseology which may or may not be
deliberate. Because of having grown up in the West, he cannot hardly avoid the fact


                                                                 Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 13
that biblical phrases are so commonly a part of our speech. This is most apparent in
―The Boy With the Thorn in His Side‖ (The Queen is Dead) which immediately hearkens
back to Paul‘s struggle with the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). We never learn
what Paul‘s thorn is, but Morrissey‘s thorn relates to his continuing struggle with
matters of the heart:
        The boy with the thorn in his side
        behind the hatred there lies
        a murderous desire for love.
         Secondly, there are the places where Morrissey‘s ―love songs,‖ if they can be
called that, work to describe our relationship to God. Even as it seems that much of
Christian praise and worship music are simply romantic songs with the object changed
from a girl/guy to God, so Morrissey‘s expressions of love can also sometimes work at
the level of a spiritual relationship. For instance, ―I Know It‘s Gonna Happen
Someday‖ (solo, Your Arsenal) most certainly speaks about the confidence that one day
the addressee will have a romantic relationship, but those same words could also be
applied to our trust that one day we will celebrate the marriage feast of Christ:
         My love, wherever you are
         Whatever you are
         Don't lose faith
         I know it's gonna happen someday
         To you
         Thirdly, there are the places where Morrissey takes on a messianic role with his
statements of dedication and ability to defend or save others. Perhaps in response to his
supposed long life of being spurned as a lover, it is as if Morrissey has often tried to
prove the great lengths he would go to in showing his love to someone. Not
surprisingly, then, those broad strokes may be overblown for the fallible Morrissey but
apply right nicely to Jesus. Having seen our predicament of sinfulness, Jesus comes to
us with the lyric of ―You‘re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side‖ (solo, Your Arsenal). It
is a lyric that needs pulling apart (see the right column), but then could be developed
into quite a good devotion on how Christ gave Himself for us.
        With the world's fate                      =original sin
        Resting on your shoulder
        You're gonna need
        Someone on your side
        You can't do it by yourself                =failure of our righteous acts
        Any longer
        You're gonna need
        Someone on your side
        Someone kindly told me                     =God the Father sent the Son
        That you'd wasted
        Eight of nine lives                        =Hope is all but lost
        Oh, give yourself a break
        Before you break down                      =Don‘t lose hope



                                                                  Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 14
      You're gonna need someone on your side
      And here I am, And here I am              =―I am,‖ Yahweh, the Name of God
      Well, you don't need
      To look so pleased!                       =Jesus was/is not readily accepted as Savior

       In this same vein, ―The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get‖ (solo, Vauxhall &
I) shows the persistence of the messianic Morrissey—as well as God‘s own persistence
as He pursues His children.
       The more you ignore me                   =God does not let our hard hearts stop Him
       The closer I get
       You're wasting your time
       …
       Beware!                                  =God‘s judgment on sin
       I bear more grudges
       Than lonely high court judges
       When you sleep                           =God works through our conscience
       I will creep
       Into your thoughts
       Like a bad debt                          =We are unable to pay for our sins
       That you can't pay
       Take the easy way                        =Salvation is a gift which God works in us
       And give in
       Yeah, and let me in
       Oh, let me in
       ...
       IT'S WAR                           =God‘s Spirit in us wars against our sinful nature

        I am quick to see Morrissey as messianic as clearly evidenced by my memory of the one
live show I attended. It was the Kill Uncle tour at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. I was
completely overcome with awe watching Morrissey croon, pose, and soak up our admiration.
We stood on our chairs (why they put those folding chairs out for a general admission show I
don‘t know) straining to see even more. As Morrissey closed a typically short set with hardly
a warning, tossing his shirt to the crowd, we all lurched forward only to have those wrestling
with the shirt to shove themselves and the rest backwards. Like dominos, those rows of
interlocking folding chairs starting falling backwards.
        As five rows of chairs and people fell on top of my legs, laying me flat against row 6, we
all cried out for more. I never really thought he‘d return to the stage again that night, and as
they turned the bright house lights on so that we could sort out of legs and bodies from the
chairs, I left feeling exhilarated—my hero had sung anthems for me—and hugely
disappointed—I waited in line, shoved as far ahead as possible, stole seats from those who left
them unguarded, stood on the chairs on tip toes, and risked having my legs broken in half, and
it was all over in less than hour.




                                                                   Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 15
        Even after being left wanting more at the Chicago concert, finding the solo albums
always to be missing some elusive ingredient, I found that I could not resist the connection I
felt to Morrissey. He can still sing my life.

        Having grown up in the Church, Jesus as Messiah is such a common spiritual construct
that it has lost much of its deep hope and crying need for a Savior. As the Israelites of the Old
Testament languished in Exile, their need for the Messiah was readily before them, but living
comfortably in America as a supposed Christian nation, there is little resonance in my day-to-
day life with the need for a Messiah.
        Perhaps that is why I find Morrissey to be such a compelling person for me—spiritually.
He has been a messiah of sorts for me, and seeing how he leads and saves me helps me as a
metaphor for Jesus, the true Messiah, who comes to rescue me.


5. Moz & Pastoral Care
        I was tempted to submit Morrissey‘s picture
in a clerical collar for my Festival biography. I am
no Morrissey, but of course, Morrissey ain‘t no
pastor.
        Yet, Morrissey does show a surprising
amount of pastoral care in his music. There are
countless times when Morrissey tells someone‘s
story in order to get us as listeners to care about that
person. He weaves these tales with a compassion
for unlovable characters (perhaps because Morrissey
sees himself in their lives). While Morrissey
masquerading as a cleric may seem as an affront to
the holy Christian Church, that would be another
knee-jerk reaction which obscures a connection with God‘s love within Morrissey‘s
music.

       It all begins with the controversial, constantly misunderstood ―Suffer Little
Children‖ (The Smiths) which Morrissey wrote in tribute to the victims of the Moors
murders in Manchester. The tragedy of the children killed in the Moors which
happened during Morrissey‘s childhood was still so raw in Manchester and England
that the song was met with a maelstrom of protests. Others have written of this history
(Rogan), but all of the controversy came to outshine Morrissey‘s intention of the song: a
pastoral care for the families by putting their pain into song as a hope for their peace.
       Over the moors, take me to the moors
       dig a shallow grave
       and I'll lay me down

      Lesley-Anne, with your pretty white beads
      oh John, you'll never be a man


                                                                   Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 16
      and you'll never see your home again
      oh Manchester, so much to answer for

       Morrissey takes this same approach with many other characters, exhibiting more
care for those on the edge of society than many Christians songwriters may show. Here
is a quick list which would be a fine Bible study—connecting these characters with
biblical figures to see how Morrissey and God answer their sorrows.

         ―Rusholme Ruffians‖ (Meat is Murder)
          It‘s the ―last night at the fair,‖ and Morrissey is concerned for the girl who
          says, ―How quickly would I die/if I jumped from the top of the parachutes?‖

         ―What She Said‖ (Meat is Murder)
          This could be the same girl from ―Rusholme Ruffians‖ who again speaks her
          suicidal tendencies: ―How come someone hasn't noticed/that I'm dead/and
          decided to bury me/God knows, I'm ready?‖ However, Morrissey sees
          beyond these death wishes and finds her true pain: ―I smoke 'cos I'm hoping
          for an/early death/AND I NEED TO CLING TO SOMETHING!"

         ―Sweet and Tender Hooligan‖ (Louder Than Bombs)
          As if appearing at a sentencing hearing, Morrissey pleads the case of an
          arsonist and murderer: ―DON‘T BLAME/this sweet and tender
          hooligan/because he'll never, never do it again/(at least not until the next
          time).‖ It is not the most compelling case, but Morrissey does get us to look
          into the hooligan‘s ―Mother-me‖ eyes, see his need for love, and at least
          contemplate the idea of rehabilitation instead of retribution.

         ―Angel, Angel Down We Go Together‖ (solo, Viva Hate)
          Here Morrissey returns to caring for someone contemplating suicide. He will
          not let this ―angel‖ go down alone. Instead, he steps into the angel‘s dark
          hole, empathizes with the misery and pain the angel has experienced, and
          then offers such Christ-like pastoral care: ―I will be here/BELIEVE ME/…I
          love you more than life.‖

         ―November Spawned a Monster‖ (solo, Bona Drag)
          A song about an unwanted child born with some sort of handicap, Morrissey
          does not let us get out of admitting all of the dark thoughts that come to mind
          so easily when we see such a situation. He paints a dark picture of the scorn
          heaped upon this child/girl/woman, but then leaves us with a Gospel-like
          twist: ―oh one fine day/LET IT BE SOON/she won't be rich or beautiful/but
          she'll be walking your streets/in the clothes that she went out/and chose for
          herself.‖ The one we rejected becomes the heroine.




                                                                  Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 17
         ―Billy Budd‖ (solo, Vauxhall & I)
          Playing on the implied homosexuality of Billy Budd in the short story of the
          same name by Herman Melville, the song‘s speaker (Morrissey?) defends
          Billy from the abuse heaped upon the homosexual couple. Rather than
          succumbing to the pressures on the speaker, he declares: ―I would lose both
          of my legs/Oh, if it meant you could be free.‖ (Of course, on another level,
          the speaker has been with Billy Budd for 12 years. Vauxhall & I was released
          in 1994, which is 12 years after the formation of the Smiths. Billy Budd could
          be Johnny Marr, often seen as Morrissey‘s unrequited love and muse, or Billy
          Budd could be a metaphor for Morrissey‘s sexuality, constantly a source of
          mystery, scandal, and intrigue).


6. Moz the Prophet
        Despite the fact that most people focus on how Morrissey‘s lyrics describe
unrequited love, depression, and death, that misses the fact that Morrissey has long also
used his pop stage as a prophet‘s pulpit. He champions the cause of the unloved (as in
Moz & Pastoral Care), while also standing on principle, pointing out evil, injustice, and
paths of destruction. This is the role of a prophet—speak truth, warn of impending
doom, defend the defenseless. It is no wonder that concertgoers interviewed on the
DVD Who Put the “M” in Manchester? talk about how Morrissey saved them. One man
even explains his plan to have another Morrissey tattoo done which says, ―In Moz we
trust.‖ People trust in Morrissey like a savior, because he has spoken the truth like a
prophet.

        Morrissey the Prophet took the pulpit from
the beginning with his declaration of celibacy and
anti-drug use, but with Meat is Murder as album
title and track, he ascended ever more high upon
the lectern. With the songs sound effects leaving
the listener no room to hide from the gory truth of
slaughterhouses, Morrissey sings as prophet:
        it's not "comforting," "cheery" or kind
        it's sizzling blood and the unholy stench
        of MURDER
        it's not "natural," "normal" or kind
        the fleas you so fancifully fry
        as you savour the flavour
        of MURDER
Morrissey even appeals to a sense of holiness in making his case for vegetarianism—a
healthy reminder that God created us to be vegetarians and that in the new world, we
will once again stop looking at the animals as food.




                                                                  Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 18
        Also from Meat is Murder, ―The Headmaster Ritual‖ looks back upon Morrissey‘s
miserable days in school. Yet, the track is not just a historical record but acts as a call to
action: schools, headmasters, and teachers (parents?) must see what ill effects they can
cause for youth. Morrissey the Prophet is looking forward hoping that his experience
will not be the experience of the future generations.
       Belligerent ghouls
       run Manchester schools
       spineless bastards all
       Sir leads the troops
       jealous of youth
       same old jokes since 1902
       he does the military two-step
       down the nape of my neck
       I wanna go home
       I don't want to stay
The prophet‘s dagger comes with the line ―jealous of youth,‖ as the old headmaster‘s
covetousness leads him to treat the students harshly. The question becomes, ―Are your
jealousies causing you to be cruel?‖

        There are other examples of Morrissey‘s prophetic flair in the Smiths catalog, but
jumping ahead to his solo work, we find him painting another vulgar picture on
―Spring-Heeled Jim‖ (Vauxhall & I). Taking its name from a legendary Victorian
criminal/miscreant, the narrative shows that Jim‘s womanizing leaves his empty as his
life ebbs away.
        Spring-heeled Jim winks an eye
        He'll "do", he'll never be "done to"
        He takes on whoever flew through
        "Well, it's the normal thing to do" ... ah ...
        Spring-heeled Jim lives to love
        Now kissing with his mouth full
        And his eyes on some other fool
        So many women
        His head should be spinning
        Ah, but no !

       Spring-heeled Jim slurs the words :
       "There's no need to be so knowing
       Take life at five times the
       Average speed, like I do"
       Until Jim feels the chill
       "Oh, where did all the time go?"
       Once always in for the kill
       Now it's too cold
       And he feels too old


                                                                      Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 19
There‘s almost a sense that in the second verse of the song is Morrissey stepping in like
the Ghost of Christmas Future trying to show Jim that his philosophy (―take life at five
times the average speed‖) is leading nowhere fast. Morrissey presents Again, the
prophet speaks a harsh truth for anyone believing that free love will not hurt you.

        Elsewhere, Morrissey the Prophet directs his words toward the Church—or at
least, he is offering a stern warning to people who might be thinking they would be
well-received in the Church. On ―Yes, I am Blind‖ (solo, Bona Drag), Morrissey faces his
own doubt wherein he has trouble believing that God could love him, and this doubt
could have been reinforced by how Christians have reacted to him (assuming the ―little
lamb‖ is really Morrissey himself).
        God come down
        If you’re really there
        Well, you’re the one who claims to care

        Little lamb
        on a hill
        run fast if you can
        good Christians
        they want to KILL you
        and your life has not even begun!
Whoever is meant to be the ―little lamb,‖ it is clear that Morrissey sees Christians as
being on the attack rather than presenting the Good News of forgiveness and love.
       Uncomfortably this lyric is prophetic with the way it twists the biblical model to
bring it back upon Christians. In the Bible, the Lamb is Christ, crucified by His own
people, and along with crucifying Christ the person, they were crucifying His Gospel.
Morrissey‘s lyric hits with a heavy Law reminding Christians that we too kill the Gospel
(crucify Christ) by our actions.

      Clearly Morrissey doesn‘t let the pop moment slip by empty of meaning. His
prophetic voice comes through loudly, which makes it all the more apparent that the
pop moment is a spiritual moment



CONCLUSION: “Sister, I’m a Poet”
        Pop songs have a salvific effect—whether it points to the truth in Christ or not,
the pop moment as described by Morrissey comes to rally our emotions and lead us
beyond whatever present state of mind in which we find ourselves. Because pop songs
have this effect, and because Morrissey has spent his career developing those moments
to a high degree for his devoted fans, it does a Christian Morrissey fan well to recognize
the spiritual moment in that pop moment as well.




                                                                   Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 20
        The pop moment as a spiritual moment can certainly be found in other artists;
Morrissey serving us here simply as one example. However, there are not many artists
who capture the spiritual nature of things in quite the way Morrissey does.
        As means of conclusion, view
the ―Sister, I‘m a Poet‖ video from
Hulmerist. Morrissey (in front of a
very familiar looking band) is shown
in concert—a designed-for-video
performance. Prior to the song, the
crowd erupts in another chorus of the
Morrissey/football chant. Then as he
sings this swaggering number
declaring his role as poet (and
prophet), the security is purposely lax
to allow many stage crashers to have a
moment with Morrissey.
        The video shows the messianic
quality of Morrissey—the people will follow their Savior and do as much as possible to
just touch the hem of his robe. Yet, more than popstar idol worship, the stage crashers
show a genuine thankfulness; you can see it in the look of their eyes. Morrissey has
saved them with his words, and they hug him eternally grateful. Morrissey has
touched their souls, and perhaps in seeing that, we can see how Morrissey is speaking
more Gospel truth than anyone may have imagined.

      All over this town
      Yes, a low wind may blow
      And I can see through everybody’s clothes
      With no reason
      To hide these words I feel
      And no reason
      To talk about the books I read
      But still I do
      That's 'cause I'm a ... Sister I'm a ...
      All over this town

      Along this way
      Outside the prison gates
      I love the romance of crime
      And I wonder
      Does anybody feel the way I do?
      And is evil just something you are
      Or something you do?
      Sister I'm a ... Sister I'm a ...



                                                                 Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 21
All over this town

All over this town they pull over
In their Citroen vans
Not to shake your hand
With meths on their breaths
And you with youth on your side
A plastic bag stranded at the lights
This once was me ...
But now I'm a ... Sister I'm a ...
All over this town ... Oh, oh, oh
All over this town, All over this town, Oh ...




                                                 Saint Morrissey and the Gospel – p. 22

				
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