Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sweet Tooth Jukebox: The Smiths

Welcome to the inaugural Sweet Tooth Jukebox post, in which I'll be posting videos and typing out a bunch of nonsense about the bands featured in my new book about my gay, diabetic adolescence in the eighties, Sweet Tooth, which is available now so go buy it, I'll wait here.

Of course, we have to start with The Smiths, as they are all over Sweet Tooth and they even gave a few chapters their titles. But where to start with The Smiths? They are a wonderland of somber and sick hyper-melodrama, a fantasia of feral self-hate and brilliant self-assurance, simultaneously depressing and freaking hilarious. And oh, the one-liners. Why do we love The Smiths? Probably for some of the same reasons that others hate them, chief of these being their swishy lead singer Morrissey, who was always emoting about some boy or girl who left him at the train station or the iron bridge or Wally Range or the Holy Name Church or Buckingham Palace, all while barely wearing his sheer button-up shirt as he swung and swayed like a teenage girl dancing in front of her bedroom mirror and singing into her hairbrush. He irritated the crap out of some folks, but I couldn't help but admire the man--after all, it takes balls to be that aggressively fey.

But as magnetic as Moz was, he wasn't the sum total of The Smiths. There was also, of course, his writing partner Johnny Marr, the king of the breezy guitar earworm, whose busy and infectious fretwork was a sturdy counterpoint to Morrissey's flights of lyrical fancy; and the other two guys, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, who made up a solid rhythm section and, even more importantly, brought some reserved, boyish sex appeal that Morrissey couldn't manage because he was too busy swishing and swaying, beating himself langorously with a flower bouquet, and making out with his microphone.

The Smiths were only together for five years, but in that time they released an epic number of amazing tunes. Number one on my list is in the YouTube up top: "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" from their album The Queen is Dead. Your number one might be different, but you'd be wrong. Sure, "How Soon Is Now?", "Cemetery Gates," "This Charming Man," and "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" make great cases for themselves as the King of Smiths Mountain, but none of them has this perfect a mixture of mopey-eyed romanticism, soaring gayrotica, lush strings, a tight 'n jangly pop bounce, and a melody to die/kill for. Plus, the song contains one of Morrissey's most poignant lines in "When you want to live/how do you start?/Where do you go?/Who do you need to know?" (I've never gotten a satisfying answer to any of those questions, btw.)

In short, for this ex-new wave boy, The Smiths are the best band the world has ever produced. They're the Fancy Feast of pop, as my cat Stella once remarked to me, and Stella, even though she's a Republican, knows her pop history.