How The Smiths Made Me Realize I Wasn’t Alone
Many people might not see it as lucky, but I believe it was lucky that I grew up so close to Canada. Many times, I would watch Canadian TV (Video Hits with Samantha Taylor) and listen to Canadian Radio which was more DJ controlled than the US (CFNY 102.1 FM: “The Spirit of Radio”), and yes, the Rush song came from this time since they were having trouble finding airplay on other stations. But we also ventured into Canada many times as well (again, stories for another time). But by listening to this amazing station, I was able to hear a lot of the Punk/Post-Punk/Romantic/New Wave music that wasn’t hitting American airwaves yet. I will be forever grateful for that, and the strong independent music scene in Buffalo, NY for exposing me to the music that spoke to my soul. Not having a lot of money growing up, I would save what I could to go buy albums and singles from the independent record store downtown (on vinyl, of course) even taking the bus down there many times because no one would take me. I had been a fan of The Smiths since their first album (since they didn’t have that many years as a producing band, that isn’t saying too much), but when I got my hands on “The Queen Is Dead”, I knew that finally, someone really “got it” and maybe even understood me. I know this seems dark and “emo” – but this is before the terms emo, or even goth, came into play. I just realized the beauty of the music, the instrumentalization, and the lyrics were something very special. I have not changed my mind on that to this day.
The Smiths, although their reign was short, are one of the best bands of all time. The talent that came together to create the magic they did for just a few years has almost never been matched. They took music to a new emotional level and paired it with lyrics that spoke from conviction, from the heart, and were brutally honest. All four of their official studio albums and their U.S. compilation album, “Louder Than Bombs”, that included B-sides and singles previously unavailable in the US (unless you lived close enough to Canada to snag some) appear on the Rolling Stone’s list of Top 500 Albums of All Time. NME magazine in the U.K. stated that this was the number one best 500 albums of all time. I tend to agree: “The Queen Is Dead” is one of the best albums of all time and it helped me to learn to speak up for myself and others. I mean, my family is pretty liberal and always taught me to stand up against injustice, but I was always scared and doubting myself. What difference could I make? I was so sad, confused, and I never felt right in my own skin. How in the world could I be there for anyone else? Then, I took the trip downtown to Home of the Hits on Elmwood Avenue and everything fell into place.
I had heard “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and I already felt the emotions that flowed through the creation of this masterpiece. As soon as I got home, I remember just putting it on the turntable and playing it all the way through about five times. Back then (don’t mock my age please), most artists included the lyrics on the sleeve of the vinyl or somewhere on the album jacket. So, I decided to take the time to really read what Morrissey had been talking about. I was sort of in shock at the honesty and the fragility of his prose. I knew he was a great lyricist, but this was another level. Then, I took the time to listen to the compositions of the instruments. Yes, Johnny Marr was (and is) a genius, but there was a magical symbiosis with Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce that all of it just clicked. It was one of those perfect storms that I am not sure could ever happen again.
Then, I realized it. I wasn’t alone. All of the crap things that I had endured in my life (again – story for another time – trust me), were not mine alone. Someone else had experienced hurt. And potentially hurt worse than mine. But, instead of losing himself in it all, he embraced it. He felt it more than you thought was possible. And he just sang it out. With beautiful lyrics and music to envoke all of the emotion as well.
There were plenty of times when I would just feel like I was at the end of my rope, That trying anything was useless. So, I would turn off all of the lights in my room. Lie in the middle of the floor. And just play this album knowing that sometimes, something beautiful comes out of all of this hurt. And, if Morrissey was still willing to bear it all, I could too. Which really fueled my desire to start writing, which I have yet to stop. Even though I am sure many of you would care less to hear what I have to say. I still want to say it. And I will continue to say it. And with that, I finally did something I have thought about for years. I made the most important lyric to me permanent.
Now, as for my review of each song:
“The Queen Is Dead”: Johnny Marr certainly puts an edge on the anger as Morrissey realizes that to his disgust, and being Irish mostly, he finds that he has royalty for ancestors. True Story and not happy for an rebel against the crown. Best Lyric: “life is very long when you’re lonely”
“Frankly, Mr. Shankly”: Sounds like it could be a, but has some great musical moments is a jangly-guitar, The Monkees tribute sort of way. It is blatantly obvious that it is a dig at their record label by Morrissey for thinking they should be more famous than they were at the time. I guess he just needed some patience. Best Lyric: “Frankly, Mr. Shankly, since you ask you are a flatulent “Keats and Yeats are on your side / But you lose because Wilde is on mine.”pain in the ass!”
“I Know It’s Over”: I will tell you that my mom, usually very laissez-faire and flower-child-like in her mannerisms was very concerned that this song was the one that spoke to me the most. She sat me down after listening to it and sincerely asked me what it was about the song that made me identify with it so much. I told her what was real. I never knew anyone could feel that much pain – and it would even be more than my own. And the fact that he could talk about that so clearly and openly was beautiful. He didn’t let it bury him, even though he felt like it would. Best Lyric: Too many, but it is saved for the end iif you took my hint from my Instagram.
“Never Had No One Ever”: Beautiful orchestration. Speaks for itself. Although, now that I am older and have had unwanted advances, it feels a bit stalkerish and red-pill like. Sincerely, I am sure that was not what was intended.
“Cemetry Gates”: An obvious nod to Morrissey’s literary heroes, especially Oscar Wilde. But also lots of rumors that this may have been a dig at Robert Smith of The Cure. I love them both so much, so let’s hope that rumor is just that. Best Lyric: “Keats and Yeats are on your side, but you lose because Wilde is on mine.”
“Big Mouth Strikes Again”: This was at their peak of success. People wanted more of them, and they were all too happy to keep cranking out perfect singles. But who knew that a line about a “Walkman” would become obsolete so fast? I am sure most people don’t even know what that is anymore. Also – Johnny Marr felt that this was their homage to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones. Best Lyric: “Now I know how Joan of Arc felt / As the flames rose to her Roman nose / And her Walkman started to melt.”
“The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”: This song was actually released as a single way before it was included on The Queen Is Dead, but who can blame them for continuing to promote such a gorgeous song? Best Lyric: “And if they don’t believe us now, will they ever believe us? And when you want to live, how do you start?”
“Vicar In A Tutu”: Everyone needs a little church cross-dressing ahead of its time, right? Best Lyric: “In the fabric of a tutu, any man could get used to. And I am the living sign!”
“There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”: This is the song that I think most people associate with The Smiths. They think it is all about death, wanting to die, and despair. But it isn’t. It is about feeling your emotions. It is about being honest and truly recognizing pain so you can hopefully move past it. It is about the beauty of humanity and how we can connect to one another. Best Lyric: “And in the darkened underpass I thought oh God, my chance has come at last (but then a strange fear gripped me and I
Just couldn’t ask)”
“Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”: I’ve kind of always held the rule that an album can still be amazing, front-to-back, even if you have to throw out one song. Unfortunately, for The Smiths, this is one of those songs. But then again it isn’t! I know I am further aging myself here, but no one is going to listen to Synchronicity by The Police and NOT skip over “Mother.” And I always want to skip over this song because the lyrics are just way too over-the-top. But, listen to Johnny Marr play his guitar and the instrumentalization. And you just wish Morrissey had taken just a little more time for a better lyric. Even Marr thinks of this as some of his best work, despite the fact that it is not a good overall song.
So – why wax nostalgic over all of this? Well, as I said, this album changed my life. And I cemented that emotion appropriately last week by getting a tattoo that I have been thinking about for 7 years.
I would LOVE to hear from you as to what music means to you and if there is a song or album that changed your life as well. You know how to reach me and nothing will be shared with anyone unless you give consent.