¿Viva Hate?

Mexican fans ‘Negotiate Morrissey the person and Morrissey the music.’

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Twenty years ago, editors at OC Weekly asked me what was, for them, a beguiling question and, to me, a pretty dumb one:

Why do Mexicans love Morrissey so much?

How could a group whom mainstream America pegged as macho, backward people with a propensity for accordions and tubas revere the ultimate new wave emo divo and his former group, the Smiths? Why did tatted men with shaved heads flutter at the opening drum snaps and guitar strums and vocals of “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”? Why did women with hair like Bettie Page rush the stage to grab onto their ambiguous man?

This essay was adapted from the Alta newsletter, delivered every Thursday.

So I wrote a long feature on the subject, cycling through the many tired answers music journalists and fans traded among one another like CDs. (The most obvious: new wave music matches the emotional rhythms of ranchera music; Morrissey cultivated Latinos as a fan base early; Mexicans have better taste than most Americans.) But I also ridiculed the very question by criticizing a media obsessed with it, calling their obsession “universally condescending, if not outright racist.”

I’d hoped that my article would put this question to rest once and for all—and here I am, writing about the same pinche subject. But the question now isn’t, Why do we Mexicans love Morrissey, but how can we continue to do so?

How can a group who mainstream America assumes is liberal revere an artist who music journalists and fans alike now say should be canceled?

In recent years, the Mancunian has snuggled up to right-wing causes and thoughts. He supported Brexit and went on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2019 wearing the badge of For Britain, a far-right party that the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which monitors the U.K. press for fairness, said espoused proposals that “are established conventions of both national socialism and far-right ideology.”

The hits kept coming: he said in an interview that Hitler was a left-winger and that halal meat—prepared in accordance with Islamic dietary rules—is “evil” and “requires certification that can only be given by supporters of ISIS.”

In another interview, Moz said, “Everyone ultimately prefers their own race.… Does this make everyone racist?” and “Diversity can’t possibly be a strength if everyone has ideas that will never correspond. If borders are such terrible things then why did they ever exist in the first place?”

Is this the same guy who sang so lovingly of Keats and Yeats and Wilde and prophetically crooned, “We look to Los Angeles / For the language we use / London is dead, London is dead,” in “Glamorous Glue”?

Sadly, .

Somehow the Latino love for Morrissey—especially in California, where he’s been performing for the past week, with shows in Oakland and San Francisco tomorrow and the next day—persists.

In Los Angeles, where Morrissey lived for years, the love runs deep. In 2017, the city declared November 10 Morrissey Day, with Mayor Eric Garcetti proclaiming, “Los Angeles embraces individuality, compassion, and creativity, and Morrissey expresses those values in a way that moves Angelenos of all ages.” The following year, he was a co-headliner for Tropicalia, a wildly successful Latino-geared music festival.

When Morrissey performed at the Hollywood Bowl in 2019, a publication asked me to write something on why Latinos continue to love him. My response: get back to me when music journalists ask white people why they’ve long supported Eric Clapton, who in a 1976 concert said, “Keep Britain white,” in a speech that got far uglier as it went on. He just got around to walking back those comments in 2018! And what about David Bowie, who told Playboy in 1976 that “I believe very strongly in fascism” and that Hitler “was one of the first rock stars”?

So why am I writing this essay now? Because of a raffle for two tickets for Morrissey’s November 28 show in D.C. The sponsor? VDare, the rabidly loser anti-immigrant website named after Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America. Praising Morrissey for his pro-border stances and defense of “the actual British people,” the announcement enthused, “Without [borders], you have the disorder VDARE documents daily, as with what’s transpiring on our border with Mexico, courtesy of a Biden Administration and Democrat Party busy electing a new people via The Great Replacement.”

The “great replacement,” of course, is the preposterous idea that liberal elites are importing people of color from outside the United States to replace white people. The irony, of course, is that this is exactly what happened to Morrissey’s fan base in the United States long ago. So any bigot who might win VDare’s raffle will most likely be in for a brown surprise.

I called up Richard T. Rodríguez, a professor of media and cultural studies and English at UC Riverside and the author of the fabulous new book A Kiss Across the Ocean: Transatlantic Intimacies of British Post-Punk and U.S. Latinidad, which examines in further detail why Latinos love British new wave overall. (Tellingly, Rodríguez devotes only a few pages to the Morrissey/Smiths Latino love-in.)

“You already wrote it!” the profe said with a laugh when I told him I wanted to write about Latinos and Morrissey. Getting serious, he pointed out that Morrissey has long been criticized for his problematic politics, which his fans know all about. And yet…

“They still follow him because they have an attachment to him, but they can negotiate Morrissey the person and Morrissey the music,” Rodríguez said.

Rodríguez encountered this conundrum this May outside the Rose Bowl, at the Cruel World Festival. There, Morrissey headlined alongside other acts Latinos love, like Blondie and Bauhaus. “We were talking about how we were going to leave before he got onstage, but we stuck around,” Rodríguez admitted. “Was I thinking about his deeply troubling stance? Yes. Did it make me feel good? No. But did that music resonate with me? Yes. I couldn’t just get rid of that music forever.”

Same here.

And yet as I was driving home last week listening to SiriusXM’s 1st Wave channel, a familiar voice came on. “Ouija board, Ouija board, Ouija board,” Morrissey sang in his song of the same name, from 1990’s Bona Drag. “Would you work for me? I have got to get through / To a good friend.” Despite everything I knew, I found myself singing along.

I want the one I can’t have—and it’ll always drive me mad.•

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