It’s easy to make the mistake of forgetting that artists are flesh and blood people. That we might love their films, their books – in this case their music – but that a person exists behind the art who is inevitably flawed and strange and probably thoroughly inconsistent.
This is the mantra I keep repeating to get me through Morrissey’s latest blather.
In 2011 he opened his mouth to offer his thoughts on the mass slaughter in Norway. For Morrissey, apparently there was no more perfect time to wax lyrical about the horrors of animal consumption than after the deaths of 77 people.
Today Morrissey’s fickle finger of shame has been shaken at the Duchess of Cambridge. Apparently she is complicit in the suicide of Jacintha Saldanha and needs to feel some remorse.
Publicly apparently, because we all like a good and open repentance.
It’s, of course, no surprise that Morrissey has never been a fan of The Family. His lyrics are rife with both reference and rarely restrained repugnance for the Royals.
If you’re a fan – I’m a fan – you accept that part of his anti-establishment shtick is sticking it the man. And there are many men for Moz.
Yes, watching him do it all at 53 appears a bit akin to Iggy Pop getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and giving The Finger to the audience – all a bit late and passé – but it’s what he does.
He wouldn’t be Morrissey without the hyperbole.
Whether or not the art and artist can be separated is something that keeps literary critics and art historians occupied for eons, but for this piece I’m going to assume we can. At least for the point of criticism.
That I can love his music but also narrow my eyes at Moz, give a slight tilt of the head and ask, “Really?” Is this really the time? Are you really in a position to comment about complicity in something as highly complicated as suicide?
A lot of curious things have emerged from the hospital tragedy. The British press – those well-established bastions of virtue – taking the moral high ground is perhaps my favourite. Another is pundits around the world – I include my beloved Morrissey in this – playing pop psychologist. Without qualifications, without access to a patient, without any information at their disposal other than frequently inflammatory media reports.
Granted, there is an innate need to solve puzzles, to make sense of things. The greater the tragedy and the more inclined we are to look for answers, to work out what can be done to make sure that the horribleness doesn’t get repeated.
For the British press the answer is simple: two radio presenters were, apparently, also psychics and undoubtedly could have predicted the fallout from their prank. Their fault.
For Morrissey apparently it’s the Royals with their pesky – if not, apparently, hypochondriac – need for medical attention. Their fault.
For my turn, I’ll volunteer the egregious price of London real estate meaning that the nurse had to live far away from her family during her working week. Real estate’s fault.
Suicide is an enormously complex issue. Nearly everyone offering their two cents never ever met Jacintha, knew nothing about her family life, her work life, her past. And yet somehow nearly everyone offering their bit feels perfectly equipped – perfectly qualified – to play forensic psychologist and work out whodunit.
One of the reasons, needless to say, that the legitimate press is so very careful about reporting on suicide is because of the fear of copycats. That vulnerable people seeing the enormous amount of coverage a story like this is reaping – the enormous amount of shaming that is being done – might prompt folks who want to punish others to take their own lives.
Along with press-sanctioned bullying and random blaming, the suicide contagion is another of the awful fallouts from this story.
I love Morrissey. There’ll be no systematic deletion of his albums from my iTunes list. But he’s just an artist. He’s not an oracle, he’s not a prophet and he’s most certainly not a forensic psychologist.
And neither are most of the rest of us.
December 14, 2012
© Lauren Rosewarne