I was at Morrissey's Los Angeles stop of his North American tour last month, and was the guest of someone who had warned me that, mid-set, she'd be stepping out. She knew the introduction and performance of "Meat Is Murder" was coming and that the video presentation that came with it contained footage of animals being slaughtered and abused, and the generally very poor conditions meat animals endure in slaughterhouses.
When these videos finally did launch, I saw streams of people headed up the aisles of the Sports Arena. Some people fired up their lighters, or "woooed" and gravitated closer to the stage, others crossed their arms or checked their phones or took video of the screens.
The guy standing left of me -- who arrived to the concert, like so many Morrissey fans, dressed to the nines -- started shelling out obscenities, as loud as he could. "F*ck you Morrissey! I love meat! I wish I had a big f*cking burger right now!" he'd rattle at the famous PETA spokesperson, giving the bird to his entertainer and his friends. "No! Shut the f*ck up and sing!"
The man in front of me was either making out with his arm or crying into it.
They both were singing every word to "First of the Gang to Die" a couple tunes later.
Fans' relationship to Morrissey, and vice versa, is fascinating. That is not to say that Morrissey is necessarily some rare beast or species. I think his activism, how he articulates his manner and politics, the branding, the imaging, the sex and the age make a very particular mix of him as an icon. He is a complicated artist, and I think it's good for people to have complicated relationships to art.
This week, Morrissey canceled the rest of his tour in support of "World Peace Is None of Your Business" his next album. Via his Facebook:
"It is with great sadness that the remainder of the US Tour has been cancelled. The respiratory infection Morrissey contracted in Miami has worsened, and in the interest of making a full recovery, all further touring plans have been halted. Morrissey thanks his fans for their compassion, understanding, and well-wishes during this difficult period as he recuperates."
And it's not just that he is stepping away from the road due to illness -- speaking through soapbox True To You, he explained further.
"Difficulties had arisen on May 31st following Kristeen Young's opening set at the Miami Knight Concert Hall, after which Kristeen confessed to 'a horrendous cold,' the symptoms of which were passed on to Morrissey resulting in the cancellation of the next show in Atlanta. For the good of all, Kristeen was asked to step down from the immediate upcoming shows, but instead she decided to leave the tour entirely. Morrissey and the band wish her well and hope she is now in good health."
So Morrissey is, effectively and with no known motivation, blaming Kristeen Young for getting him sick and causing cancellation of the tour. Young volleyed back that in Miami she "had an allergy attack that was over within 16 hours," that she offered to have Morrissey and his camp a follow-up with her doctors. She also said that she was asked to leave the entire tour because a replacement had already been called.
"I am very sorry that Morrissey is not feeling well. But I will not tolerate these lies....particularly about my health," she wrote on Facebook. "This is really too much and bizarre."
Kristeen Young (under the name KRISTEENYOUNG) also opened for Morrissey in 2007. Described as his protege at one point, she as was booted from that tour for what she later called a metaphor, for telling the crowd, "Morrissey gives good head, I mean, um, cunnilingus..."
Morrissey has cancelled and postponed many tour dates in years past on the basis of illness, visa problems, a blown voice, meat on arena menus or rowdy and unruly crowds. He nixed more than 20 shows in 2009. Longtime bandmembers would quit mid-tour. Morrissey would sometimes quit mid-show. (For a fun read, here's "Every Time Morrissey Has Canceled.")
In the Bay area last month, concert-goers, the band and the singer himself were in danger due to a "stage invasion," of fans rushing to get hugs from the former Smiths singer.
He's also stormed off stage for being hit in the head with a water bottle.
Read the concert reviews of the shows that actually transpired on this tour, and you'll see raves up and down, about what a fine and stunning performer Morrissey is. And it's true. I'm not a dyed-wool fan, but the man has swagger, a voice like a muscle ripples, tone and control for days. He's coquettish, romantic, chic and mean as a presence.
When I saw him, he seemed somewhat guarded as fans clung to his outreached arms to the front row, and who can blame him. For a misanthrope whose best-love rep includes titles like "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get," "Disapoointed," "We Hate It When Our Friends Are Successful" and "I Have Forgiven Jesus," he's got the poetry of push-and-pull, a little something with which Kanye West fans may be familiar.
Look to the title of his next album: "World Peace Is None of Your Business" (due July 15). Most people (the ones I know anyway) are firmly pro-World Peace. The confrontation begins.
For every song on the album, Morrissey also recorded a spoken word version of the song. In the case of the third single "Earth Is the Loneliest Planet," he released a video, but for the spoken word version, featuring another PETA enthusiast Pamela Anderson and him standing on the roof of the Capitol Records building. It went wide while the song itself could only be streamed via Spotify. (Also: spoken word, but there's bathwater and there's babies.)
On the 17th this month, all three of the available songs from the record will be officially go up on Vevo and YouTube and the other usual suspects. Then, or now, you should give them a spin -- so far, the album is shaping up nicely with an especially lovely croon on "Instanbul." It's high-minded stuff, and yet easy to rally around, even when the extraordinary artist himself makes even the act of enjoyment all the more complicated. It says as much about us as it does him.