As previously discussed, I didn't get into buying pop records until I was 15. Before then, my musical education was filtered through (much) older siblings and parents who were firm Radio 2 listeners. Growing up, I did encounter some of the more contemporary, chart-bound songs of the day that my friends were into... and I would often rebel against them. Actively dislike them, no, HATE them, just because everyone else was raving about them (or because CERTAIN people were).
Anyway, I thought I'd start a new (occasional) series featuring and trying to explain why I hated these songs back in the day. And why, in many cases, I came to love them.
There was only one song I could kick off with...
1. The Smiths - Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
(Oh yeah, I thought I'd count upwards, 1 - 10, for these posts. It made more sense.)
The Smiths' most famous song was released in 1984, when I was 12 years old, still in the first year of high school. I hadn't started retuning the dial to Radio 1 yet, and I certainly wasn't watching Top of the Pops regularly... still, I very much doubt many of my fellow First Years were aware of The Smiths at this point either. Let's fast forward a year or so to be on the safe side...
OK, now I've just started the Third Year. I'm definitely listening to Radio 1 now, because I remember being very fond of Janice Long's Selectadisc on a Friday tea time. I liked this show a lot because girls (and sometimes boys) would phone up and request songs for people they fancied and I was very much into the idea of fancying and being fancied (though there was far too much of the former and bugger all of the latter going on). I know it's 1985 when I was listening to this show because I remember hearing There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart) getting requested a lot and I loved Annie Lennox's vocal gymnastics at the start of that song. I also remember that quite frequently someone would call up and request a song by THE MOST MISERABLE BAND ever, The Smiths. And often they would request the one song that proved this, without a shadow of a doubt: Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now.
Now I was one of those annoying kids who liked to make people laugh. I didn't muck about in class, but I did do a half-decent line in celebrity / teacher impressions outside the classroom. I must have been half-decent as the drama teacher got me to introduce a school performance. I was the link man for this evening, coming on stage in between each little play and filling while they rearranged the sets behind me. I remember I did a Rod Serling Twilight Zone spoof as one of my intros, but I can't for the life of me remember what any of the others were. I'm sure they were excruciating for anyone over the age of 15 (and quite a few people under that age too) but I digress...
One of my favourite impressions soon became this MISERABLE BASTARD "POP" SINGER who kept getting played on Selectadisc.
"Moan moan moan, I hate my life, I'm so miserable, I wish I was dead, moan, moan, moan..."
My impression went something like that, and involved the sticking out of my bottom lip for added emphasis. I had friends - a couple of very good ones by this time (though there's a part of me that always feels I struggled to make friends in school: hence why I was so desperate to make people laugh) - who loved The Smiths, and kept trying to turn me on to them. It didn't work. I resisted their efforts well into the Sixth Form, and persisted with my Moz-mockery. (One of those friends went to a 6th Form Fancy Dress disco wearing National Health glasses and gladioli in his back pocket. I went as the Jack Nicholson Joker. All that face paint played havoc with my acne. No way I was going to pull that night.)
I mentioned on Facebook a couple of weeks back how I didn't get into The Smiths until I was 19 (there's a story behind that, John Peel is involved, another post for another day) and an old school acquaintance and longtime Smiths fan replied I "just wasn't ready for them" until then. There's a truth in that, but it's not the whole story. One of the reasons my friends kept trying to change my stubborn opinion is that in many ways The Smiths were made for me as a teenager. I had a dark sense of humour, a cynical outlook on the world, and was prone to bouts of morose depression. I was also incredibly lonely in that epically sad teenage way that stops you from enjoying the friends you do have and making the most of that most difficult time.
In my lifeMorrissey was there for me throughout my 20s, when I really needed him. Ironically, I became one of those people who argued vociferously whenever anyone dared to call The Smiths "miserablists" and defended Morrissey through some of his dumbest attempts at verbal self destruction. (Nobody opens his mouth and inserts his foot like Moz.) But even after I'd learned the lyrics to every obscure Smiths b-side off by heart, there was still a part of me that refused to fully embrace Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now. It would take a long time to lift that self-imposed stigma.
Why do I smile
At people who I'd much rather kick in the eye?
I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible...*
(*Yeah, I know that's a different song. It just seemed a very appropriate line to finish on.)