David Bowie

MUSIC IN THE SNOW, SNOW IN THE MUSIC

 

 

 

Regular subscribers to The Blackpool Sentinel – one of the advantages  of digital media means that we have identified someone in West Cork  and possibly another in Eastern Europe – will need no introduction to  the magnificent Scottish band, Trashcan Sinatras, and their seductive,  smart and startlingly soothing pop songs. They are in part the patron  saints of under-achievement and the brothers of perpetual succour and,  over the course of a near flawless thirty-year career – during which time  they’ve dropped six wonderful studio albums – have covered a huge  amount of thematic ground.

The Trashcans are one of a number of bands – Prefab Sprout and The  Go-Betweens are others – to whom I default in times of major events  like births, deaths, anniversaries, personal anxiety and general  uncertainty. Because like all of the truly great artists and writers, they  can bring a serenity and a calm to every occasion, no matter how difficult.

Neither will our regulars need any introduction to snow, in either the  literal sense – and certainly not our regular in Eastern Europe – nor in  the more metaphorical one. Snow – a long-time industry slang word for cocaine – has long been a buzz-word [in every sense] within the entertainment industry, and particularly inside music circles. Many is the coked-up flunkey I’ve encountered around the circuit over the years  :- toot has long been the peccadillo of choice for an entire demographic  sweep since when our Lord determined there would be music.

It was the late comedian and actor Robin Williams’ – no stranger to  snow himself – who asserted that ‘cocaine is God’s way of telling you  you are making too much money’. Which might come as a surprise to  many of those chemical enthusiasts working across all aspects of the  music scene and who tend to be perennially penniless.

It was the inveterate drug addict, Eric Clapton – who also found time to play guitar and make a series of unfortunate records as an addled solo artist – who immortalised the phrase ‘no snow, no show’ back in 1978 as  he was transitioning from one dependency to the next. And his is one of  the most celebrated – if certainly nowhere near the worst – example of  a career that was spectacularly derailed by dust.

Indeed there are numerous lists of albums made by paranoid, agitated and utterly uncoordinated artists while under the very obvious influence of bump, most of which are impenetrable, unlistenable and inconsistent affairs. The Band, The Eagles, Miles Davis, David Bowie, Oasis, Sly And  The Family Stone and Blur are just some of the bigger and better known  artists who’ve ignored the Status Orange warnings and suffered the inevitable collateral damage that tends to follow extreme snow-storms.  Just, indeed, as there are lists of essential records too that were made  and produced in a blizzard of blow, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ easily  one of the best of them. And an album whose enormous international  sales numbers directly mirrors the mountain of cocaine consumed as it was being conceived and recorded.

Elsewhere, the producer Gary Katz oversaw the recording of an entire  Steely Dan album in Los Angeles that neither Donald Fagen or the late Walter Becker – the creative core of the band – could actually recall being present at. The sessions for David Bowie’s ‘Station To Station’ and  the third Oasis album, ‘Be Here Now’, are just as celebrated and for similar reasons.

As Ireland prepares for the arrival of what the Portuguese Meteorological  Office have named ‘Storm Emma’, and what looks like an unprecedented  and havoc-wrecking weather event, its worth noting that the last time  so much snow damage was forecast for Ireland was after Oasis were confirmed as headliners at Slane Castle back in 2009.

But snow – in the literal, meteorological sense – has long been a useful metaphor too and practically every writer and performer of note has  dropped a lyrical reference to it at some point. One of the more obtuse – and, naturally enough, one of my own personal favourites – is the The Cocteau Twins’ ‘Snow’ special Christmas E.P. from 1993, on which  they covered, as only they might, both ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Frosty  The Snowman’. But everyone’s done snow at some point :- from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen to The Go-Betweens, it is literally all around  us.

 

 

And yet no one’s done it as beautifully as our old friends, Trashcan  Sinatras and, given the serious weather event incoming, it’s only right  and proper that they’ll be soundtracking the snowfall across Ireland for  as long as it endures. In my own house, at any rate.

‘Snow’, written by Randy Newman and first recorded by Harry Nilsson, the American singer-songwriter for an album called ‘Nilsson Sings Newman’ released in 1970, presents in the spirit of The Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence’ [or perhaps The Smiths’ ‘Death Of A Disco Dancer’ ?] and is another of those soft, tender and dangerously loaded love songs in which they specialise. ‘Its all over and you’re gone’, Frank Reader sings over a slow, rumbling air. ‘But the memory lives on, although our dreams lie buried in the snow’. And apart  altogether from the quality of the writing – ‘Snow’ is easily as gorgeous  as anything they’ve committed to tape themselves and man, have they consistently shot the  lights out in that respect– they’ve also managed a rare sensory feat.  ‘Snow’ has a rare, mesmerising quality :- if snowfall had a sound to accompany it, this would be it.

‘Snow’ doesn’t feature on any of the band’s studio albums :- they’ve  used it twice over the years instead as a bridging piece between  elpees. It first saw the light of day in 1999, post ‘A Happy Pocket’ and  still five years before their fourth album, ‘Weightlifting’. And ‘Snow’ was re-issued in 2006 between the release of ‘Weightlighting’ in 2004  and ‘In The Music’ five years later, even if the record itself remains difficult to find.

The weather, the outdoors, natural history and geography have long  been strong themes across much of The Trashcans material. Snow  features as a backdrop on their magnificent ‘Wild Mountainside’ [‘snow  is falling all over, out of clear blue sky] while, as far back as the band’s  second album, ‘I’ve Seen Everything’, the curious ninety second  shuffle, ‘Iceberg’ remarked how ‘through thaw and freeze, my life’s a  breeze’.

In light of the current weather cycle, The National Emergency Co-Ordination Group has recommended that all Irish citizens, where possible, remain indoors for the bulk of the next couple of days.

Their advice – and it’s sound – is to be careful of the snow. And especially what lurks underneath it.

Appendix

Following a back and forth on the best song about Snow on Twitter we have put together a list of the possible contenders that have been suggested… thanks all. (We will keep adding as we get more suggestions)

Suggested by @mosstinpowers

 

Suggested by @ccferrie

 

Suggested by @Lyricfeature

 

Suggested by @boamorteband 

 

Another one Suggested by @boamorteband 

 

@aslinndubh suggests another 

 

Suggested by @Tconlononthecouch

 

suggested by @westcorkpaul (& @Boamorteband – really pulling out the stops guys.

 

Suggested by @kevsul47

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THE SMITHS IN CORK [AND DUBLIN…]

Morrissey Hayfield Manor

Denis and Morrissey at Hayfield Manor

 

This, our latest guest post came about on the back of a Twitter exchange after Colm’s most recent post, The Smiths in Cork, 1984  That exchange included contributions from Denis Carroll, a massive fan of The Smiths and Morrissey, who posted some great pictures and told a great story in the form of a number of tweets.

We asked him if he’d like to expand on his tweets and tell the story in long form. He did. And here is the result. Thanks Denis!

My name is Denis Carroll, I am aged 55 and from Cork. I got into music in the early 70s, my favourites being T. Rex, Marc Bolan and David Bowie. I was obsessed with T. Rex and Marc Bolan, buying all their records and any magazines within which they featured.

In late 1983, after seeing The Smiths on Top of the Pops, I became a massive fan of the band, and in particular Morrissey. The Smiths have become the band of my life! I have seen The Smiths live twelve times and Morrissey over 100 times across the world.

I first saw The Smiths live in May 1984 in the SFX Concert Hall, Dublin and two days later at The Savoy Theatre, Cork (see ticket – Image 1 – not mine!). Later that year, in November 1984, I saw The Smiths live again at The Savoy Theatre, Corkand this is where I had my first encounter with Morrissey. I was working in a night-club called CoCos, which was attached to The Victoria Hotel, Cork, in which the band were staying (see room layout – Image 2)

That Sunday afternoon [18th November], I went into the hotel with the first two albums – ‘The Smiths’ and ‘Hatful of Hollow’ – under my arm, hoping for them both to be signed. I waited for an hour or so while listening to the chants of 40/50 Smiths fans outside the main entrance. Word got to the manager of the hotel that the band did not want to enter the hotel through the main entrance and asked was there another entrance that could be used? The manager informed them that yes, there was a back entrance on the street behind the hotel and instructed them where to go. He also informed them that someone would be there to meet them to bring them through the hotel…..and that someone was me!

I arrived at the back entrance to find the band and one or two other people waiting to be left in. I introduced myself to all four members of The Smiths and en route to their rooms, chatted with them about the two albums and that night’s concert. They signed the first two albums for me, in full (Image 3).

That night’s concert was one of the best Smiths shows I saw, only slightly marred by some idiot spitting at Morrissey while on stage. After the show finished I went back to the hotel, where I met with all four Smiths members and Morrissey, who was really upset by the spitting incident. The band all signed the ‘Hatful of Hollow’ promo poster for me (Image 4). Morrissey proceeded to go to bed while the rest of the band went on to party in the nightclub of the hotel.

My next encounter with Morrissey was on the afternoon of The Smiths’ final Dublin show in the National Stadium on 10th February, 1986. While walking along Grafton Street, my three friends and I bumped into Morrissey and one other person. Morrissey stopped to talk to all four of us for about 10/15 minutes about that night’s Dublin show and mentioned that they were eager to have a Cork show also but could not secure a venue for that particular tour. Morrissey asked us if we were going to that night’s show in the National Stadium and of course we told him ‘yes’, that three of us had tickets but that we were short one ticket for my, friend Tony.

We then said our goodbyes. When we got to the show that night Tony went to the box office counter only to be told Morrissey had put his name on the guest list and was escorted to a great side-of-stage seat, while the rest of us proceeded back to the seated area in the main auditorium.

My final encounter with Morrissey was on 27th July, 2011 in the Hayfield Manor hotel in Cork city. just before his show that night in The Savoy Theatre. I hung around the reception area of the hotel for a number of hours that afternoon in the hope of meeting Morrissey ;- when finally he appeared, he was being escorted to his waiting car to take him to the concert venue. As he was just about to sit into his car, I approached him for an autograph and picture; he got back out of the car and signed a number of CDs and also posed for some pictures with me (Images – top of post).

I spoke to him about that night’s show in the Savoy and the two Vicar Street [Dublin] shows that I was also attending later in the week. He was extremely polite and friendly and gave me a grand wave from the back seat of his Mercedes as he sped off to the show.

 

Smiths Savoy

Image 1

 

 

Smiths Hotel Room

Image 2

 

Smiths and Hatful of Hollow

Image 3 – Signed Albums

 

Hatful of Hollow poster

Image 4

 

Smiths Tour Dates

Image 5

 

 

Smiths MCD

Image 6

 

 

Morrissey signed pic frame

Image 7

 

 

 

DAVID BOWIE :- THE CORK YEARS

 

‘Him ? Sure, he doesn’t know if he wants to be a man or a woman’. It was the end of the summer, 1980, and David Bowie at his most theatric, glamorous, playful and compelling, wasn’t convincing my mother. And seeing him in lavish make-up, polarised and in complicated Pierrot garb doing ‘Ashes To Ashes’ on Top Of The Pops, was just that bit beyond her. My mother fostered a real love of music in all of her children and our house regularly resounded to the sound of her radio and, on the special occasions, her record player, which she’d roll out to give Marianne Faithful or The Beatles a spin for us.

As her first child to start school, she made sure I left for Junior Infants back in 1972 with a basic ability to read and write and, after four years spent almost exclusively at her elbow at home, an even better ability to hear a tune. She was wary of those who didn’t like music or who, as she’d say, ‘didn’t have music in them’, but Bowie’s latest incarnation was troubling her. He’d changed quite a bit since ‘Space Oddity’, her introduction to him years earlier, and something strange was going down.

I turned twelve years old that same summer and was about to start secondary school just as ‘Ashes To Ashes’ was topping the singles chart in Britain and as David Bowie was entering the most commercially successful period of his long career. I remember my hometown at that time as a bleak, smoggy and hard place and, when I’d accompany my father on his calls around Leitrim Street and Watercourse Road, it seemed to me that every second premises was a coal yard or a garage. I enjoyed a brilliant, bright childhood in Cork but, for as long as I could recall, Blackpool was seriously dilapidated, in bits. One of it’s most popular pubs, The Unicorn on Great William O’Brien Street, looked like it had been bombed during the war and been left untouched in the years since. Which didn’t seem to deter the regulars, mind, of which there were many.

So it was far from mime, avant-garde and Berlin we were reared but, every weekend, The Evening Echo newspaper carried a series of clues that hinted at a far more interesting part of town and, in underneath the cinema listings, were regular adverts for ‘nite-clubs’ ;- Krojacks, The Bodega, The Arcadia and numerous others. Not un-connected, pirate radio in Cork was having it’s first flushes and several proscribed outfits were broadcasting furtively from caravans, back-rooms and attics around the city. Much of the pirate output was as dire and ramshackle as you’d expect, but the likes of CCLR and CBC at least gave us a local entry point to the pop charts and a connection outside of the mundane. And the pirates themselves were accessible too ;- you’d ring in and, almost always, would get straight through to the duty jock with a request or a dedication. Many of which were scurrilous.

From the release of ‘Scary Monsters’ onwards, and certainly for the remainder of the life-span of the pirates, David Bowie was a staple on their play-lists, a strange fish on stations that, initially at least, tended towards soft disco and popular soul music. Most of the jocks, with their footballer aliases, were doubling up at night in the night-clubs around town where, one suspects, they mis-pronounced Bowie’s surname as liberally as they did on the airwaves.

I attended The North Monastery, a huge, Christian Brothers-run school at the bottom of Fair Hill, in one of the most deprived parts of Cork city. I’ve written previously about the history of music in the school during my time there, and that piece is available here. I enjoyed ten terrific years in the school, most of it good-humoured and positive – and all of it free – but others among us weren’t so lucky and several were lost in the system to the usual ills, unemployment and poverty mostly. But enabled by our parents and by several excellent teachers, we were always encouraged to read widely and, for those who did, our smart-alecry was tolerated a bit more as a result. The school, as you’d expect, broadly reflected the tone and outlook of the community it served which, in 1980, was over-whelmingly white, Catholic and straight. Fianna Fáil had swept to power in 1977, led by arguably The North Mon’s most famous past-pupil, Jack Lynch, and the Dáil seats in the area tended to mostly go to the two traditional political heavyweights. Even in such a working class area, with unemployment and taxation levels touching record highs, the constituency tended to still vote cautiously and, following a by-election in 1979, the Labour Party held no seat at all in Cork city.

north mon

via Cork Past and Present

 

1980 was also the year when The North Monastery’s senior hurlers claimed Dr. Harty Cup and All-Ireland Colleges titles, back-boned by some of the finest players to ever don the blue and white. Local boys like Tomás Mulcahy, Tony O’Sullivan and Paul O’Connor were among the many stand-out players on that team and, on returning to the school after their successes, were greeted by bonfires in old Blackpool and in the quarry off of Gerald Griffin Street where Neptune Stadium now stands. The school retained the Dr. Harty Cup the following year – with a team that featured Teddy McCarthy – when they beat Coláiste Chriost Rí in the final at Páirc Ui Chaoimh in front of a crowd of over 6,000. That side was captained by John Drinan, from Carrigaline outside of Cork City, who provided one of the most interesting links between sport and music in the school ;- when he wasn’t a marauding forward, he was also a member of the Carrigaline Pipe Band.

To be lateral or notional in appearance or outlook up in the school was often to run a gauntlet there. Every morning during the heart of the playing season, the school’s outstanding hurlers would be fed sandwiches and soup over in the big hall, set apart. But for many others, the yards, playing fields and the walk home were less hospitable and fraught and, on occasion, the climate inside the school  wasn’t much better. I remember a talk about careers at which one of our class-mates fetched up wearing an earring and a mohair jumper. Notwithstanding the school’s rules on such matters, or the cockiness inherent in such grand gestures, the reaction of one of the Career Guidance teachers from the stage at the top of the room pretty much summed up the school’s undertones. ‘Is that an earring you’re wearing ?’, the teacher asked. ‘Because if it is, you can take it off and put it into your handbag’.

The line reduced the hall to fits and, no doubt, reduced our class-mate a bit too ;- it was a sharp, instinctive and instructive exchange and the intention was clear. Earrings had no place in a school like ours, which was exclusively male. Maybe it wasn’t only my mother who was put out by those who may have just wanted to buck the trend and test the bend a bit ?

Myself and one of my friends still recall a conversation in the schoolyard one time about David Bowie ;- a member of our class was certain that the singer had under-gone a sex change. Sure, why else would he look like he did ? And, by looking like he did, looked nothing like either ACDC, Status Quo or Madness, the most popular music acts among our peers. And that’s how absolutely dopey we were ;- sexual ambiguity never featured on our radars, nor did it feature in any of our biology, religion or civics classes. The closest our parents and teachers got to the subject was when April Ashley, a British model who had actually undergone a full sex change in the 1960s, appeared one night on The Late Late Show and left a week of consternation in her slipstream around Ireland.

Cork folk in general – and Blackpool people especially – like to remember their own successes proudly and loudly and you’d hear regular mention of the great entertainers, actors and performers from around our way ;- Niall Tóibín, Joe Lynch, Walloo Dunlea, Paddy Comerford and others. But you’d hear far less talk about Danny La Rue. La Rue was born Danny Carroll in Madden’s Buildings, a loft of a bowl, literally, from where our house was, although his family moved to London in the early 1930s while he was still a young boy. He’d enjoyed a stellar career as a singer and stage performer in Britain and even by 1980, was still one of the most popular draws on the British theatre circuit and a regular on the stages in The West End. Danny La Rue was a gay man, best known as a female impersonator and drag artist. He’d routinely return to Cork, where he’d fill The Opera House and, in his flamboyant frocks and rubber bosom, bring the house down with his arch routines and songs.

Danny La Rue’s performances in Cork never attracted protests outside of the local theatres. Nor did I once hear my parents ever suggest that he didn’t know if he wanted to be a man or a woman. But then, as a regular fixture on prime-time television in Britain, La Rue was a safe bet and just faintly ridiculous;- beyond the crinolines and the smutty one-liners, he was harmless.

David Bowie, though, was a far more legitimate threat ;- he was younger, more provocative, smarter, more beautiful and open. And yet he – and Freddie Mercury – always found favour among the local gutty boys, many of whom would rather open your skull than ever open a book. And who, when they weren’t trying to score girls to the strains of ‘Let’s Dance’ or ‘Radio Gaga’ in Chandras or St. Francis Hall, had little time for ‘faggots’ and ‘steamers’ and weren’t slow in saying as much. Those local toughs whose concession to diversity extended as far as crossing, the odd time, over into the Southside and yet who, in the same breath, loved ‘Boys Keep Swinging’.

Some of our teachers weren’t spared either and the abuse doled out to one or two of them in particular was savage. To speak or behave in a particular tone or manner, to be effete in any way, was simply a weakness in any male teacher and was exploited at every turn. And yet, when it came to David Bowie, who was sexually ambiguous and very outwardly so, there was never an issue.

Maybe he was just too subtle, too popular and too complicated for the hardy bucks, many of whom, in their Bowie suits and slip-on shoes were already paying their respects openly with their choice of trousers ?

The Bowie suit was an iteration of the wide-boy uniform for a couple of years from around 1983 onwards, based [very loosely] on Bowie’s look during the ‘Let’s Dance’ period. Comprised of a jacket cropped in above the waist and a pleated trouser for narrow men of narrow mind cut in a baggy style, the look was often complimented by a knitted jumper tucked into the elaborate waist-band. It was, for a while, the home kit of every gowl in Cork and, alongside imported leather jackets and American-style cardigans, made a household name of at least one Cork-based retailer.

But it wasn’t just with cheap imitation clobber that Bowie was publicly lauded in Cork. I remember plenty of graffiti acclaiming his genius daubed on walls around the Northside, most memorably along the side of Farranferris college, around where we lived and which, for decades, served as Cork’s diocesan seminary. And this at a time when street art around the city was largely confined to scrawled support for the I.R.A., for outing those who had allegedly snitched on dole cheats and standard punk rock slogans. Deb Murphy, who grew up as a David Bowie fan on Blarney Street, has written a lovely piece on this subject on her blog and that piece is available here

The point has been made repeatedly in the many obituaries and tribute pieces since his passing that, apart entirely from his body of work – which is utterly magnificent – one of David Bowie’s most telling impacts was in how he enabled society to tolerate difference, an example of sorts to those who, for one reason or another, felt like they were being unfairly restrained. And this much is undoubtedly true.

Away from the school, especially during holidays and weekends, you’d see a handful of Mon boys from all over the school with their earrings in, their hair un-furled a bit and maybe even wearing an odd bit of slap or eyeliner. I half-knew a couple of lads from around Dublin Hill who, in their tight tank tops and Henna-dos, cut brave, impressive shapes and it wasn’t too difficult to know what, and who, they were listening at home in the evenings.

The North Monastery has long been a renowned centre of education and achievement and boasts a rich, proud and far-reaching history that endures to this day. But to many of us, for a number of years from 1980 onwards, one of our finest teachers and most impressive and impactful educators was someone who never once stepped foot into our classrooms. But whose prints are all over the ambitions we’ve long determined for ourselves.

 

 

 

 

THE SMITHS. AND MY MOTHER.

 

I was born, luckily, to a mother who adored music. I remember many occasions during my childhood when she’d power up her old record player – and it was very definitely her record player – and stack it with a variety of old 7 inch singles and all manner of albums. It was my mother who bought me my first record – E.L.O.’s ‘Shine A Little Love’ – and it was her devotion to daytime music radio [she was the housewife in ‘housewife’s choice’] that re-inforced the message and exposed me to all kinds of wonderful. I had no idea at the time, of course, but the rose was being sown ;- in my mother’s world, and later in my own, those who didn’t have music in them just weren’t worth the effort. They were queerhawks, so you went there lightly.

 

She introduced me, one way or another, to The Beach Boys, Marianne Faithful and The Beatles. She was appalled then, as she is now, by the more lurid aspects of rock and roll and was especially suspicious of David Bowie, outwardly at least. ‘That fella doesn’t know if he’s a man or a woman’, she’d regularly say, more to get a rise out of my father than anything else, I imagine. But she ran an honest and good home and, over the years, heartily welcomed many a passing musician who dossed down for the night. ‘How’s the boy from Into Paradise ?’, she still asks. ‘Is he still doing the music ?’.

 

I started secondary school in 1980 and, like my friends, was happy in the haze of the chart hits of the day. I was keeping a close eye on E.L.O, who were still regulars on the hit-parade and who I had now adopted, carefully collecting their new releases while dipping into the bargain bins in search of their older material. At home, various compilation albums – often advertised on television and usually released on either the K-Tel, Telstar and Warwick labels – also helped to broaden my knowledge and expand my breath of reference. And it was here that I first got my ears around the likes of The Sweet, Mud and Gilbert O’Sullivan, all of whom I still love.

 

But it was all a bit different with The Smiths. From the off I felt I was operating a bit more illicitly and under my own steam ;- not like any other love, this one was different. I saw them for the first time on a European-wide music show, late one weekend night on RTÉ, alongside another British group called Immaculate Fools, featured as part of a broader event showcasing emerging bands from countries throughout the continent. The short video clip captured the group performing their new single in a shed filled draped with flowers ;- I noted the name in my head and, on a Saturday morning some weeks afterwards, located a copy of ‘This Charming Man’ upstairs in Eason’s on Patrick Street in Cork.

 

 

The Smiths are still one of my favourite bands ever – as are E.L.O. – and, like everyone else who fell under their spell, changed forever the way I listened to music and what I expected from it. I’ve written about them extensively over the years because a] everybody else has and b] there was always so much to write about ;- to music writers, oiks and pseuds everywhere, they were a gift that just kept on giving. We’ll post some of those longer pieces here over time, but in the meantime …

 

In November, 1996, the French music and culture magazine, Les Inrockuptibles , issued a one-off album, ‘The Smiths Is Dead’, to mark the tenth anniversary of the release of The Smiths’ third studio album, ‘The Queen Is Dead’ [which was actually unleashed in June, 1986]. The magazine asked ten of it’s favourite bands du jour to cover a track each from the acclaimed album ;- and so The Frank And Walters did ‘Cemetry Gates’,  The Trash Can Sinatras took on ‘I Know It’s Over’, The Divine Comedy performed ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, The Boo Radleys did the title track and so on and so forth. It sounded excellent in theory but, in reality, was far from it ;- some bands should just stay uncovered.

 

 

I used the opportunity of the Les Inrockuptibles release to write an easy Sunday Tribune column on October 20th, 1996. As well as re-cycling some of my own well-worn observations on the band , I asked four people – some I knew well, some not at all – to throw a light on the band by selecting their own favourite Smiths song. I didn’t ask one woman for an input, and it never once struck me that this was odd. One of the most common misconceptions about The Smiths was that their audiences were exclusively male, and from across a very broad class spectrum. And besides, I spent much of the 1990s boring other men to tears with intense theory about Morrissey, Marr and ‘the split’, most of which I’d lifted from a long-lunch I’d had with Johnny Rogan, author of ‘The Severed Alliance’ in The Long Valley bar in Cork in 1994.

 

That Sunday Tribune column, which ran under the headline ‘The Smiths : forging an identity’, most of which we’ve re-produced in full below, was merely an extension of some of those boys-club conversations. And I’m still not sure if this was a good or a bad thing.

 

Originally published in Sunday Tribune October 20th 1996

Ask Me. Ask Me. Ask Me. And Me. 

 

There was a time and a place when everyone had an opinion on The Smiths. To many of us they were the defining popular cultural force of our – or indeed any other – generation. To others they were maudlin and self-important which, of course, suited our notions anyway and served only to make us respect them even more. And right now, ten years after the release of arguably the last decade’s most important and pivotal album, ‘The Queen Is Dead’, they are once again very much at one’s elbow.

 

That both the band and the record have endured for so long is a tribute to their own stubborn vision and to the intensity of blind faith they culled from a heretofore beaten and tired generation. Peddling a blatant gang mentality, they played on their own terms and quit while they were ahead by laps.

 

In hindsight The Smiths were the academic soundtrack of our adolescence, a conversation piece and a salvation of sorts. In Morrissey’s words and all through Johnny Marr’s masterful songs, we saw a world of underdogs and inadequates, the clinical antidote to New Romance, beach-pop and synthetics. They dealt in smug, knowing one-liners and, naturally, we believed their every word.

 

The Queen Is Dead’ made itself known to us some ten years ago, quite possibly the last record we have ever awaited so eagerly. But by this time we had already swapped-off that part of our vinyl stack which pre-dated ‘Hand In Glove’. The first ever line to their first ever single went :- ‘Hand in glove, the sun shines out of our behinds’, the gorgeously arrogant intent that was to become par for The Smiths. And that was our first taste of ‘real’ or ‘proper’ music.

 

My friend Dónal Dineen, a television person and writer, spent his adolescence on a farm in Rathmore, County Kerry, taking his social cues – like far too many of us – from late-night radio and bad weekend television. ‘My favourite Smiths song’,  he admits, ‘is ‘This Charming Man’ because sometimes the best songs have the best opening lines, and this one opens spectacularly. I first heard this song, which opens ‘Punctured bicycle on a hillside, desolate. Will nature make a man of me yet ?’ having cycled to a youth club teenage disco in Killarney. Suddenly, the whole world made sense’.

 

But The Smiths made their own rules, pushing their boat out far beyond the beyond. By the time of ‘The Queen Is Dead’ they were articulating, through popular music, with guitars and with words, everything we’d long suspected but could never actually admit. Nick Kelly, boy-wonder rock-kid at The Times, remembers the record like it was yesterday. ‘My favourite Smiths song is ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, he pops, ‘because in it’s time it gave a certain hope to all of those pale boys at teenage discos that couldn’t quite muster the courage to either dance or flirt. It should be made required listening for all teenage boys going to their first school disco’.

 

In many respects of course, The Smiths were grossly out of time and out of kilter and yet they were very quickly essential, if only because they stimulated our every sense. Marr’s songs, even ten years on, stand any time-test, a truly spectacular and prolific canon that, with it’s sheer scope and ambition, dominates an entire musical era like a blanket on a cage. Morrissey’s words, meanwhile, have long-since become biblical and Eddie Bannon, this town’s funniest new comedian, remembers them fondly.

 

‘My favourite Smiths song is ‘Panic’’, he says. ‘The one where the chorus goes ‘hang the D.J., hang the D.J.’. Its basically a memory-linked thing – although having said that, I just also despise disc jockeys. But I can remember seeing them on television, on The Old Grey Whistle Test, I think, and just being completely entranced’.

 

But by now of course, just before and certainly during ‘The Queen Is Dead’, Morrissey had assumed legendary status. Not only were his band on a very definite roll but they had long-since become a large-scale mainstream alternative, albeit one that very truly irritated our parents, sisters and, it appeared, the tabloids. This, in our book, was well cool. Morrissey gave spectacularly good copy to anyone willing to listen, and the further he pushed, then the quicker he became a celebrated cause. And we, blindly and bizarrely, just loved him.

 

Gerard Crowley is a free-lance cartoonist. ‘My favourite Smiths song, for several reasons, is ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’’, he says. ‘Not only does it have a gorgeous sleeve [later banned] but the song is suitably downbeat. Up-tempo songs generally make me depressed, and this is truly beautiful. Johnny Marr’s mandolin wouldn’t be out of place on the ‘Cinema Paradiso’ soundtrack. It’s that good’.

 

All of which leads – in a circular and misty-eyed way, I know – to this. At the end of this month, the French rock music monthly magazine, Les Inrockuptibles, celebrates one of popular music’s most important anniversaries with a tribute album of odds and ends ;- ‘The Queen Is Dead’ as played and shaped by a quirky bin of fans and opportunists. And while most tribute records largely say nothing to anyone about either self or life – often no more than record-label hi-jacks and credibility cash-ins – it’s pretty cool to at least see something from our own petty histories come back and shame us and enthral us in equal measures and in all of the best possible ways. It’s weird, I know, but they really probably were our very own Beatles. That, at least, is my excuse. 

 

THE ESSENTIAL SMITHS :- MY SUGGESTED 20 GOLDEN LIGHTS

 

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ From ‘The Queen Is Dead’ album [1986]

Accept Yourself’ From ‘This Charming Man’, 12-inch single [1983]

Rubber Ring’ From ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’, 12-inch single, [1985]

This Charming Man’ Single [1983]

Sheila, Take A Bow’ Single [1987]

The Headmaster Ritual’ From ‘Meat is Murder’ album [1985]

This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ From ‘Hatful Of Hollow’ album [1984]

William, It Was Really Nothing’ Single [1984]

Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What  I Want’ From ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ single, [1984]

I Won’t Share You’ From ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’ album, [1987]

Cemetery Gates’ From ‘The Queen Is Dead’ album, [1986]

Well, I Wonder’ From ‘Meat Is Murder’ album, [1985]

Is It Really So Strange ?’ From ‘Sheila, Take A Bow’ single [1987]

Hand in Glove’ Single [1983]

I Know It’s Over’ From ‘The Queen Is Dead’ album, [1986]

Asleep’ From ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ single [1985]

Death Of A Disco Dancer’ From ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’ album [1987]

Shoplifters Of The World Unite’ Single [1987]

Reel Around The Fountain’ From ‘The Smiths’ album, [1984]

Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ From ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’ album, [1987]