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Wednesday 10 July 2019

Billy Bragg Writes

Billy Bragg posted this on Sunday, a powerful and fantastically well written piece about Morrissey and his dangerous association with the far right, white supremacist propaganda and racist ideology (also taking in Stormzy, Brandon Flowers, Johnny Marr, Donald Trump, Rita Tusingham, The Smiths and culture generally). I can't find anything in it to disagree with.

'Last Sunday, while much of the British media were lauding Stormzy’s Glastonbury headline show as epoch defining, Morrissey posted a white supremacist video on his website, accompanied by the comment ‘Nothing But Blue Skies for Stormzy...The Gallows for Morrissey’. The nine minute clip lifted footage from the grime star’s Pyramid Stage performance while arguing that the British establishment are using him to promote multiculturalism at the expense of white culture.
The YouTube channel of the video’s author contains other clips expressing , among other things, homophobia, racism and misogyny - left wing women of colour are a favourite target for his ire. There are also clips expounding the Great Replacement Theory, a far right conspiracy trope which holds that there is a plot of obliterate the white populations of Europe and North America through mass immigration and cultural warfare.
My first thought was to wonder what kind of websites Morrissey must be trawling in order to be able to find and repost this clip on the same day that it appeared online? I came home from Glastonbury expecting to see some angry responses to his endorsement of white supremacism. Instead, the NME published an interview with Brandon Flowers in which the Killers lead singer proclaimed that Morrissey was still “a king”, despite being in what Flowers recognised was “hot water” over his bigoted comments.
As the week progressed, I kept waiting for some reaction to the white supremacist video, yet none was forthcoming. Every time I googled Morrissey, up would pop another article from a music website echoing the NME’s original headline: ‘The Killers Brandon Flowers on Morrissey: ‘He’s Still A King’. I’m well aware from personal experience how easy it is for an artist to find something you’ve said in the context of a longer discourse turned into an inflammatory headline that doesn’t reflect your genuine views on the subject at hand, but I have to wonder if Flowers really understands the ramifications of Morrissey’s expressions of support for the far right For Britain Party?
As the writer of the powerful Killers song ‘Land of the Free’, does he know that For Britain wants to build the kind of barriers to immigration that Flowers condemns in that lyric? Party leader Anne Marie Walters maintains ties with Generation Identity, the group who both inspired and received funds from the gunman who murdered 50 worshippers at a Christchurch mosque. How does that sit with the condemnation of mass murder by lone gunman in ‘Land of the Free’?
As an explicitly anti-Muslim party, For Britain opposes the religious slaughter of animals without the use of a stun gun, a policy that has given Morrissey a fig leaf of respectability, allowing him to claim he supports them on animal welfare grounds. Yet if that is his primary concern, why does he not support the UK’s Animal Welfare Party, which stood candidates in the recent European elections?
Among their policies, the AWF also aim to prohibit non-stun slaughter. If his only interest was to end this practice, he could have achieved this without the taint of Islamophobia by endorsing them. They are a tiny party, but Morrissey’s vocal support would have given the animal rights movement a huge boost of publicity ahead of the polls.
Instead, he expresses support for anti-Muslim provocateurs, posts white supremacist videos and, when challenged, clutches his pearls and cries “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me”. His recent claim that “as a so-called entertainer, I have no rights” is a ridiculous position made all the more troubling by the fact that it is a common trope among right-wing reactionaries.
The notion that certain individuals are not allowed to say certain things is spurious, not least because it is most often invoked after they’ve made their offensive comments. Look closely at their claims and you’ll find that what they are actually complaining about is the fact that they have been challenged.
The concept of freedom pushed by the new generation of free speech warriors maintains that the individual has the right to say whatever they want, whenever they want, to whoever they want, with no comeback. If that is the definition of freedom, then one need look no further than Donald Trump’s Twitter feed as our generation’s beacon of liberty. Perhaps Lady Liberty should be replaced in New York Harbour with a colossal sculpture of the Donald, wearing a toga, holding a gaslight.
Worryingly, Morrissey’s reaction to being challenged over his support of For Britain, his willingness to double down rather than apologise for any offence caused, suggests a commitment to a bigotry that tarnishes his persona as the champion of the outsider. Where once he offered solace to the victims of a cruel and unjust world, he now seems to have joined the bullies waiting outside the school gates.
As an activist, I’m appalled by this transformation, but as a Smiths fan, I’m heartbroken.
It was Johnny Marr’s amazing guitar that drew me to the band, but I grasped that Morrissey was an exceptional lyricist when I heard ‘Reel Around the Fountain’. Ironically, it was a line that he had stolen that won my affections. “I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice” is spoken by Jimmy, the black sailor, to his white teenage lover, Jo, in Sheila Delaney’s play ‘A Taste of Honey’
The 1961 movie, starring Rita Tushingham was an early example of a post-war British society that would embrace multi-racial relationships (and homosexuality too). By pilfering that particular line for the song, Morrissey was placing the Smiths in the great tradition of northern working class culture that may have been in the gutter, but was looking at the stars. Yet, by posting a white supremacist video in which he is quoted as saying “Everyone prefers their own race”, Morrissey undermines that line, erasing Jo and Jimmy and all those misfit lovers to whom the Smiths once gave so much encouragement.
A week has passed since the video appeared on Morrissey’s website and nothing has been written in the media to challenge his position. Today it was reported that research by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a UK based anti-extremist organisation, reveals that the Great Replacement Theory is being promoted so effectively by the far right that it is entering mainstream political discourse.
That Morrissey is helping to spread this idea - which inspired the Christchurch mosque murderer - is beyond doubt. Those who claim that this has no relevance to his stature as an artist should ask themselves if, by demanding that we separate the singer from the song, they too are helping to propagate this racist creed'.

Johnny Marr's set at Glastonbury seemed to be, at least partly, an artist and a crowd revelling in reclaiming those songs from the damage the lyricist has done to their memory, a celebration of outside culture and what The Smiths meant- Bigmouth Strikes Again, There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out- and what they can still mean. But still, with every sentence Billy writes above, the songs are tarnished further. 

This re-edit of How Soon Is Now by Maceo Plex will probably annoy the purists but would I imagine sound pretty great chucked into the midst of a DJ set, possibly pitched down a tad. Can't imagine Morrissey's a fan.


The Swede said...

A superbly written piece by Billy.

Anonymous said...

Remember the 1980's? What has become of Morrissey? Professional sensitive man, darling of the emotionally disenfranchised and bard of mordant humanism is now spouting fascist nonsense and turning into Oswald Mosley.
While Nick Cave writer of numerous visceral, nihilistic car crashes such as 'Dead Joe', '6'' Gold Blade' and 'Mutiny in Heaven' has turned into as cross between Marje Proops and G.I. Gurdjieff and is now spreading peace, love and harmony (I've been reading his 'Red Hand Files').
Who would have guessed it? Funny old world!

Swiss Adam said...

It is indeed. The current political and cultural situation throws up Morrissey in bed with Geoffrey Boycott, Peter Shilton and Roger Daltry. Meanwhile the voices of reason are Charlotte Church, Lily Allen and Gary Lineker.

Michael Doherty said...

In don't want to know what Peter Shilton said. Yep, Bragg's pretty much 100%. I fooled myself for far too many years about Morrissey, it's almost cathartic reading this.

Rol said...

I agree with much of what Billy wrote - I usually do. But I also agree with much of what Nick Cave said on the same issue a week or so ago. I can't listen to Morrissey at the moment, which is something I've not felt since I was 16 when I "hated" him (oh, the irony). I suspect I will listen to his past work again at some point in the future, because it meant so much to me for the last 31 years (post-16!)... maybe when it stops leaving such a sour taste in my mouth. But I won't defend him anymore (as I have done many times in the past) and I won't pretend it doesn't break my heart that it's come to this.

At least we'll always have Billy.

Echorich said...

Excellent commentary from Mr. Bragg. LIke Rol, I can't bring myself to listen to Morrissey - something that has been going on for about a year now. The Far Right will always have an easier time spreading its words and having an impact because the conservative values cloak themselves in comfort and security. The Left will always challenge our way of thinking or perceiving the world, the Right will always attempt to lead us back to a past that we have moved on from.

Michael Doherty said...

Nicely put Echorich. In theory I believe can still listen to The Smiths but I haven't actually wanted to listen to them in a long while.