Maximal Moz

Morrissey in Conversation: The Essential Interviews, ed. Paul A. Woods (Plexus 2016)

It’s very Mozzean that one of the most Mozzean things in this book is marginal. That is, it’s not in the interviews or anything Moz himself says: it’s in the mini-bios of the “Contributors” section at the end of the book. For example, Dave McCullough interviewed Moz for the long-defunct Sounds in 1983. And I thought it was a joke when McCullough’s mini-bio ended with “His current whereabouts are unknown.”

But it happened again for Shaun Philips, who interviewed Moz, again for Sounds, in 1988: “His
current whereabouts are unknown.” And again for Elissa Van Poznak, who interviewed Moz for The Face in 1984: “Her current whereabouts are unknown.” And that sentence is the last in the book, apart from the acknowledgements. What happened to these three journalists? They had lives and careers, friends and family. Their writing was once regularly read by many thousands or even millions of people. And then read again in this book. But “Their current whereabouts are unknown.” They’ve dropped out of sight, even maybe out of life, and the editor of the book, Paul A. Woods, hasn’t been able to find out what happened to them. Not even in this ultra-connected internet age.

That’s very Mozzean. You could even wonder whether they’ve succumbed to a belated form of the Curse of Moz, or the career-failure that strikes bands after Morrissey praises them or takes them on tour as support. Or you could wonder whether, like Morrissey himself for so long, they were struggling with depression and an urge-to-self-annihilation even as they achieved professional success. You’d certainly expect the first publication of this book in 2007 to have flushed them out. But it didn’t. Nor did the second publication in 2011. But perhaps the third publication did in 2016.

I don’t know and I’d rather not know. I like the Mozzeanism of three missing journalists. And I liked this book too. A lot. Obviously a lot of other people did too, or it wouldn’t have been printed three times. But I suspect it won’t be re-printed again. Why not? Coz of Moz on Muz. Guardian-readers were not pleased by Morrissey’s comments on Muslims and Muslim immigration after the Manchester bombing in 2017 or by his support for Brexit and the “far-right” For Britain party. You can get T-shirts now that say “Shut Up, Morrissey!” and there have been a string of anathemas and excommunications issued at Moz from woke bastions like the Quietus (where bad English goes to die). Guardian-readers feel deeply betrayed by Morrissey, who once said all the right things about economics, animal rights, vegetarianism, and the evilness of the Conservative and Republican parties – as you can read here.

But you’ll also read here about disturbing early signs – or sounds – that Moz wasn’t prepared to buzz with the hive-mind on everything. After he began his solo career in 1988 he released songs with titles like “The National Front Disco” and “Bengali in Platforms”, the latter of which opined “Life is hard enough when you belong here.” But there was enough ambiguity and authorial distance in the songs for him to deny plausibly that he was being racist or sympathizing with racism. And he still had a whole heap of good-will from the Smiths, so he survived the first campaign to cancel him and came back as strong as ever.

Well, the good-will has disappeared now. Moz has burned all his bridges to the Guardian and I don’t think there’s any chance of this book being re-re-re-printed. Indeed, I bet a lot of former fans have thrown out their copies or even ritually burned them. It’s their loss, because Morrissey is one of the wittiest, most interesting, and most intelligent interviewees who ever lived. As the back cover says of an earlier edition of Morrissey: In Conversation:

It’s proof, lest we forget, that in terms of great copy, Morrissey has rarely been anything other than interview gold. – Q magazine

But that quote itself needs trimming of its Guardianist fat: “It’s proof, lest we forget, that Morrissey has rarely been anything other than interview gold.” Moz himself is rarely guilty of saying more than he needs to. He’s both articulate and acute. It’s hard to believe that he came from a big working-class Irish family in Manchester and spent years on the dole after being shunted into a bad school by failing his eleven-plus. If he’d passed that selective exam he would have gone to a better school and most probably on to university. But I think university would have been bad for him. He probably wouldn’t have had a career in music and he certainly wouldn’t have become the Morrissey that millions of people either love or loathe.

But he would have become someone who habitually said “in terms of” and “prior to”. Alas, he does sometimes say “in terms of” in later interviews here, but it’s a minor blemish and I read everything in the book. Except – speak of “in terms of” and the windbag appears – Will Self’s “The King of Bedsit Angst Grows Up” from 1995. As usual with Self, I began losing the will to live half-a-paragraph in and gave up. If it had been a proper interview rather than Self blotivating on themes Mozzean, I might have persevered. But it wasn’t, so I didn’t.

Most of the other pieces were proper interviews, but either way I always persevered. You can read how Moz’s ideas and allegiances changed. And you can also see how Moz himself changed, because there are some good photos too. I bet some of the interviewers now regret their association with Morrissey and their appearance in this book, but that adds to its appeal for me. Moz has bitten the hands that typed about him and they’ll never forgive him for it. But they were warned:

Are you a bad man?

Only inwardly. (“The Importance of Being Morrissey”, Jennifer Nine for Melody Maker, August 1997)

And here’s more from the man himself:

What else could you do [besides perform]?

Nothing. I’m entirely talentless… it was all a great big accident – I just came out of the wrong lift. (“Mr Smith: All Mouth and Trousers”, Dylan Jones for i-D magazine, October 1987)


What does your music do to your fans?

Well, they wear heavy overcoats and stare at broken lightbulbs. That’s the way it’s always been for me! (“Wilde Child”, Paul Morley for Blitz, April 1988)

“I often pass a mirror,” he confides, loving the attention he’s getting, “and I glance into it slightly, and I don’t really recognize myself at all. You can look into a mirror and wonder – where have I seen that person before? And then you remember. It was at a neighbour’s funeral, and it was the corpse.” (“Wilde Child”)


What was it like playing live again when you appeared in Wolverhampton in December [1988]?

It was nice. I did enjoy it. It was nice to be fondled.

Was it good to be back on stage again?

No, it was just nice to be fondled. (“Playboy of the Western World”, Eleanor Levy, Q magazine, January 1989)


My perfect audience are skinheads in nail varnish. And I’m not trying to be funny, that really is the perfect audience for me. But I am incapable of racism, and the people who say I am racist are basically just the people who can’t stand the sight of my physical frame. I don’t think we should flatter them with our attention. (“Morrissey Comes Out (For a Drink)”, Stuart Maconie for New Musical Express, May 1991)


I would rather eat my own testicles than reform the Smiths – and that’s saying something for a vegetarian. (“The Last Temptation of Morrissey”, Paul Morley for Uncut, May 2006)


My best friend is myself. I look after myself very, very well. I can rely on myself never to let myself down. I’m the last person I want to see at night and the first in the morning. I am endlessly fascinating – at eight o’clock at night, at midnight, I’m fascinated. It’s a lifelong relationship and divorce will never come into it. That’s why, as I say, I feel privileged. And that is an honest reply. (“The man with the thorn in his side”, Lynn Barber for The Observer, September 2002)


Favourite shop?

Rymans, the stationers. To me it’s like a sweetshop. I go in there for hours, smelling the envelopes. As I grew up I used to love stationery and pens and booklets and binders. I can get incredibly erotic about blotting paper. So for me, going into Rymans is the most extreme sexual experience one could ever have. (“Morrissey Answers Twenty Questions”, Smash Hits Collection, 1985)

Oh My Guardian #8

“When it comes to Harry Potter, JK Rowling just can’t leave it alone. This is not necessarily a bad thing – fans have got to see Harry and friends all grown-up in the Cursed Child plays – but she’s also managed to muddy the waters by her constant rejigging of the original narrative furniture.” — Fantastic Beasts isn’t racist, but JK Rowling should stop tweaking the source material, Hannah Flint, The Guardian, 28ix2018.


Oh My Guardian #7 — the previous entry in this award-winning series
Reds under the Thread more on mixed metaphors… in terms of The Guardian
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates

The Hum of Heresy

I don’t know any exceptions to the rule that someone who likes William Burroughs will also be a member in terms of core issues around the hive-mind. From Kurt Cobain to Will Self: if you get a buzz outa Burroughs, that won’t be the only buzzing you’re corely acquaintanced with… And I predict that you’ll frequently use, hear and read core items from the hive-mind term-set such as “in terms of”, “prior to”, “issues around”, “engagement with”, “spike”, “skill-set”, “core”, “key”, “toxic” and “edgy”… You’ll also like italics and trailing dots

“There was a certain edgy excitement to turning on the computer every morning and immediately checking to see what Mark had thrown down in terms of an ideas-gauntlet.” – Simon Reynolds in the foreword to K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004–2016), edited by Darren Ambrose, Repeater Books 2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Ex-term-in-ate!
Don’t Do Dot…
Prior Analytics
Spike-U-Like?

Prior Analytics

In terms of ugly, pretentious phrases used by members of the Guardian-reading community, the “signature” phrase is undoubtedly “in terms of”. But there’s another phrase habitually deployerized by Guardianistas that is perhaps even worse in terms of its core Guardianisticity. To get to it, let’s first engage issues around the title of this post: “Prior Analytics”. I took it from the title of a book on logic by Aristotle, Prior Analytics, known in Latin as Analytica Priora.

Are you surprised to learn that Prior Analytics has a companion called Posterior Analytics, or Analytica Posteriora? No, of course you aren’t. “Prior” and “posterior” are high-falutin’ words that go together: when the first appears, the second naturally follows. And you might think that this obvious pairing would alert Guardianistas to the ugliness and pretension of another of their signature phrases, “prior to”:

• Foreign press warn over dangers of new UK media laws prior to Leveson report — headline in The Observer, 24xi2012
• “Prior to its emergence the trend was not to talk truth to power but to slur the powerless.” — The Great Gary Younge in The Observer, 6xi2011
• “Prior to a prang outside Tesco which, for insurance purposes, wasn’t actually my fault”… — The Great Zoë Williams in The Guardian, 8ii2005

Why do I think “prior to” may be even worse than “in terms of”? There are times when “in terms of” isn’t particularly bad English. I don’t like to admit it, but there are even times when it’s the best phrase to use. But “prior to”? It’s almost always just an ugly and pretentious way of saying “before”. I say “almost always” because you can make an exception for a technical usage like “Existence is logically prior to essence.” But that’s a rare exception, so I repeat: “prior to” is almost always just an ugly and pretentious way of saying “before”.

And guess what? You’ll find this in the Guardian and Observer style guide under “P”:

prior to, previous to

   the word you want is “before” (see Guardian and Observer style guide: P)

Guardianistas should be able to realize that for themselves, because “prior to” naturally suggests “posterior to”. However, even Guardianistas don’t habitually say “posterior to” instead of “after”. Even a Guardianista’s ugliness-and-pretension-o-meter is tripped by “posterior to”. But only in the flesh, as it were. Guardianistas are apparently incapable of two-step logic: first, noticing that “prior to” rather than “before” naturally suggests “posterior to” rather than “after”; second, deciding that because “posterior to” is ugly and pretentious, they shouldn’t use “prior to” either.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates

Oh My Guardian #7

As I pointed out in Ex-Term-In-Ate!, my excoriating interrogation of “in terms of”, this ugly and pretentious phrase is especially “popular among politicians, who need ways to sound impressive and say little”. But I’ve rarely seen even a politician blether like this:

Cox’s predecessor, Mike Wood, the town’s Labour MP from 1997 to 2015, has said he felt it prudent not to rise to Lockwood’s provocation while in office. But, breaking his silence, [he] told the Observer: “Lockwood has never been anything other than a major issue in terms of trying to unstick what a lot of people were trying to do in terms of community relations.” — Tommy Robinson and the editor: how a newspaper ‘sows division’ where Jo Cox died, The Observer, 2ix2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Oh My Guardian #6 — the previous entry in this award-winning series
All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates

Oh My Guardian #6

[…] the whole vintage package – which started as essentially a rediscovery of simple skills, tying generations together and serving as a visual cake-based bulwark against modern turbulence – has been used to sugar-coat a free-market nationalism that isn’t sweet at all. — Zoë Williams, Let’s ditch the nostalgia that’s invaded our TV and seeped into our politics, The Guardian, 30iv2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Oh My Guardian #5
Zo with the Flow
Reds under the Thread (more on mixed metaphory)

Oh My Guardian #4

• The past 16 years have involved a lot of questioning and reflecting, both in terms of what it means to be “good”, but also on the various racist myths about Muslims. — Let’s be clear: Muslims are neither good nor bad. We’re just human, Farah in terms of Elahi, The Guardian, 14/xii/2017.


Elsewhere other-available:

Oh My Guardian #1
Oh My Guardian #2
Oh My Guardian #3
Reds under the Thread

The Conqueror Term

True story. I saw a copy of Rub Out the Words (2012) on a library shelf. It’s a collection of letters by core counter-cultural colossus William S. Burroughs. I pulled the book off the shelf, opened it, and began to search for a hit of heresiarchal heroin. Exactly 23 seconds later, my eyes fell on this phantasmagoric phraseology:

I do not think a writer should be called upon to defend his work in terms of a legal system that dates back to the middle ages.

I was stunned. Exactly 23 seconds. Well, I didn’t actually time it, but it would have been exactly 23 seconds if you choose the right base. And it was round-about 23 seconds in base 10. So I think reality was trying to tell me something: that Burroughs was part of the Hive Mind. He used a toxic term that good writers shouldn’t use – never, nunca, nohow, nowhere.

And it wasn’t the sole example in the book, I have since learnt. Here, then, are my suggestions for how Burroughs should have rubbed out the offending words and replaced them with something shorter and less vague (the final two examples are by the book’s editor and by someone Burroughs is quoting):

• I do not think a writer should be called upon to defend his work in terms of a legal system that dates back to the middle ages. → in a legal system
• All this is quite possible in terms of existing techniques. → with / by existing techniques
• I am not talking in terms of a thousand years. I am talking in NOW terms. → not talking of a thousand years. I am talking NOW.
• I am thinking in terms of the no-paying far-out magazines like Yugen and Kulchur. → thinking of / about no-paying far-out magazines
• When two or more letters covered the same ground, I selected the best in terms of quality of writing and completeness of thought. → in quality of writing
• Mr Burroughs writes enthusiastically about apomorphine treatment but I do not feel his enthusiasm is justified in terms of published results. → by published results

Okay, there are a lot of letters in the collection and Burroughs himself used “in terms of” only four (or five) times, which isn’t too bad. However, each use is an echt Guardianism, so Burroughs was undoubtedly a victim of the Conqueror Term, like millions of others, then and now. But it isn’t only English-speakers who can be victims of the Conqueror Term: it has infected usage in French too. This is from a speech by the new French president Emmanuel Macron:

… c’est ensuite les routes des trafics multiples qui nécessitent des réponses aussi en termes de sécurité et de coordination régionale … – Emmanuel Macron empêtré dans une folle polémique, Mediaguinee, 10/vii/2017.

… it is then the roads of multiple trafficking which also require answers in terms of security and regional coordination … – French President Emmanuel Macron is in the middle of a social media firestorm, Vox, 10/vii/2017.

The French and English can be shortened in the same way:

• des réponses aussi en termes de sécurité → des réponses aussi en sécurité
• answers in terms of security → in security

Macron, as you’d expect, is part of the Hive Mind too. He and many other Francophones have succumbed to the Conqueror Term, as you can see from these graphs at Google nGrams (“en termes du” behaves in an interesting way):

En termes de

En termes du

But there are termicides in French too:

Attention, on confond souvent la signification de “en termes de”. Cette expression signifie « dans le vocabulaire de », « dans le langage de » et ne veut pas dire « en ce qui concerne », « en matière de », « sur le plan de ». Cette confusion est sûrement due à l’expression anglaise “in terms of” qui elle a le sens de “en matière de”. Faut-il écrire “en termes de” ou “en terme de” ?, La Langue Française, Nicolas Le Roux, août 31, 2015.

Take care: people often confuse the meaning of “en termes de”. This expression means “in the vocabulary of”, “in the language of”, and does not mean “in what concerns”, “in the matter of”, “after the form of”. This confusion is surely due to the English expression “in terms of”, which has the sense of “in the matter of”. (My translation, so not reliable)

Things were worse than I thought. Pero… ¡La lucha continúa!


Elsewhere other-posted:

The Conqueror Worm — the title of the incendiary intervention above is of course a reference to the famous poem by Edgar Allan In Terms Of Poe
Paradigms Loused

Oh My Guardian #3

“A theatre director and therapist, she had been volunteering in Calais since August 2015, initially distributing donations and then running workshops.” — Borderline: the play finding the funny side of the Calais migrant camp, The Guardian, 21/vi/2017.


Previously pre-posted…

Oh My Guardian #1
Oh My Guardian #2
Reds under the Thread