Are you ready to rock ... yourself back and forth in the shower while crying?” Stephen Colbert asked his audience in October before interviewing Morrissey, the quintessentially forlorn British singer-songwriter.
Moz, the proudly mysterious, big-chinned, romantically challenged former frontman for The Smiths, looked mildly uncomfortable during that interview but was far more at home answering questions by email. Characteristically acerbic, he trashed his home country’s royal family and suggested U.S. television was so dumb in the ’90s that it “was a way of keeping people in a state of dependency.”
Q: What qualities do you look for in a lead guitarist? Why has it been so consistently important for you to have a strong collaborative voice in that slot?
A: ... because of (late New York Dolls) Johnny Thunders and (late David Bowie collaborator) Mick Ronson and the lordly arrogance of tough guitarists ... the arrogant pride of the second-in-command ... just waiting to elbow the poor singer sideways ...
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Q:. You recently told an interviewer about going to concerts at age 12. You said, “I would stand there, the small imp that I was, and I would expect the world to be laid before me by these artists, and in some cases it was.” How much pressure do you feel as a performer to create this kind of experience onstage?
A: I haven’t ever found it to be especially difficult. I find myself to be naturally odd enough to gain people’s curiosity, and I find the stage more natural than walking down a street. I love to sing, but the question of whether it has any purpose is for others to say.
Q: You’ve been critical, not surprisingly, of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. How important was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 to the birth of punk rock, and how possible is it that the Diamond Jubilee might have a similar countercultural effect?
A: The British media were caught unawares by punk, but that type of ambush couldn’t happen again because we now live in very censorian and controlled times. Music radio is very narrow, and music magazines are far too concerned with sales to cover any artist who is not global.
Q: Why did it take so long for The Smiths to be available on iTunes?
A: I have no connection with The Smiths catalog, apparently no legal rights and no involvement. I know nothing about reissues or remastered versions and I am not consulted. My calls to the record label go unanswered, and they politely tell my lawyer to get stuffed. The situation holds no promise.