For the deeply devoted—and they are legion—there are but two periods in the history of mankind: The time Before Smiths and the time After Smiths. The years B.S. ended in Manchester one May afternoon in 1982, when Johnny Marr—his rockabilly quiff stacked high and retro, Brando-esque Levis cuffed just right—ambled up to 384 Kings Road and knocked on the door. One Steven Patrick Morrissey, terminally unemployable bookworm homebody, who at the ripe old age of 22 was beginning to get the distinct feeling that life had passed him by, answered the door. Marr did not bother with the inane niceties of small talk, and told Morrissey, in so many words, that he was starting a band, it was going to change the world, and you are going to be the lead singer. In that case, Morrissey said, you had better come inside. Years later, after he’d been ensconced as the mopey poet laureate of a lost generation, Morrissey would say he had expected something like this all along, that for years on end he sat vigil in his bedsit sanctum in his mother’s house waiting for destiny to knock on his door.
And so it had.
They went up to Morrissey’s bedroom, which was wallpapered with floor-to-ceiling shelves heaving with books, and all roads seemed to lead to a typewriter on a desk. A failed rock critic, Morrissey had taken to writing poetry as of late. They bonded immediately over a shared love of ’60s girl groups like the Shirelles, the Crystals and the Shangri-Las. “There was so much yearning in those records,” Johnny Marr told me few years ago. “They had a great sound, there was a real magic and exuberance about them. Phil Spector’s production work had a gothic intensity. He created these three-minute explosions of sound. It was these mini-symphonies sung by teenagers in Brooklyn and Queens, and each one made a statement. It meant more to me than whatever tired shit was going around in the U.K. in 1982. I wanted to make records that had that kind of intensity. I thought that Morrissey was the only other person who liked the kind of music I liked for the same reasons I did. There is an understanding there, you know?” The next time, they met at Marr’s house. Up in his attic bedroom, they sorted out the truly important things—the color of the label on their first single (blue), the record company they were going to sign with (Rough Trade)—and then they started writing songs. Thus setting into motion a decades-long series of events culminating with the arrival of Morrissey at the Tower Theater on Thursday.
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