The Morrissey Immigration Row: Bigmouth Strikes Again or a Miserable Lie?

Almost two weeks ago, this message was posted on the Morrissey-solo fan site:

I have it in good faith that Morrissey was interviewed by the NME recently to promote a free 7 inch single being offered with each copy of the music paper. However, for whatever reason, the NME have withdrawn the issue of the free cd and are currently considering whether or not to publish the interview. What reasons could they have for not publishing as Morrissey has had the offer of retracting his statements and declined this offer?

NME editor Conor McNicholas posted a response confirming Morrissey’s interview with the magazine. He also confirmed that Morrissey’s 7-inch would not be included with the issue. “We had agreed to make this happen but have been unable to do so because the decision on Morrissey’s record label has yet to be resolved – it can’t be put out on a new label when Morrissey doesn’t yet have a new label. Anything else published as rumour and conjecture is just that – unsubstantiated noise.”

Well, this week the proverbial poo hit the fan, and the fallout has been nastier than anyone could have imagined. Morrissey and his management have even threatened the magazine with legal action. It all stems from the cover NME used to promote the interview:

But it’s not just the cover that has Morrissey, fans, and immigration activists alarmed. In the interview conducted by NME writer Tim Jonze, Morrissey allegedly made inflammatory remarks about UK immigration, claiming that the England that he loves has been lost due to an “influx” of foreigners. Here are some quotes.

From BBC NEWS:

The magazine quoted Morrissey allegedly saying: “Although I don’t have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. So the price is enormous.”

“If you travel to Germany, it’s still absolutely Germany. If you travel to Sweden, it still has a Swedish identity. But travel to England and you have no idea where you are,” the singer is reported to have said.

From The Mirror:

“England is a memory now. If you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won’t hear an English accent.

“You’ll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent.”

Morrissey, who now lives in Rome, added: “Anybody can have access to England and join in.

“The British identity is very attractive, I grew up into it.

“Other countries have held on to their basic identity yet it seems to me that England was thrown away.”

Tim Jonze, the journalist behind the piece, has disowned it, claiming parts of it were “re-written.” But he told the BBC that he found Morrissey’s statements “offensive.” Unite Against Fascism’s Denis Fernando says, “What Morrissey said is just shocking, especially given the vibrant nature of music, which is that way because of the different races of people who live here. Morrissey unfortunately sounds more like an outdated right-wing MP than a cutting-edge pop star.” The Guardian‘s Jeevan Vasagar, who is a Brit of Indian descent, adds:

The latest gaffe is probably one too many. The complaint that Britain is losing itself is the classic whinge of an expat – no more serious than that – but there comes a time when you can’t listen to music made by someone whose views you find repugnant. Indie music is supposed to champion outsiders, not pour scorn on them. “Life is hard enough when you belong here … ” When he said he had someone in mind, I didn’t know he meant me.

As Vasagar notes, this isn’t the first time Moz has faced derision for alleged racist or xenophobic views. He was labeled a fascist and a right-wing sympathizer for his 1992′s “National Front Disco,” which, in my opinion, is his finest song – possibly ever. He was also taken to task for the song “Bengali in Platforms,” which featured the widely misunderstood line quoted above: “Life is hard enough when you belong here…” Listeners have repeatedly failed to see how Morrissey can both provoke them and undermine their expectations. With “National Front Disco,” he made the plight of a young skinhead somehow poignant, connecting the boy’s right-wing fervor to cultural desperation. And yet he subtly mocks it all, referring to the skinhead meeting place as a “national front disco,” with its gay connotations. That’s Morrissey’s genius – making you feel, think, and smirk simultaneously.

Morrissey’s alleged comments in NME would be much harder to explain away. They really do make one shudder. But I also know the pressure journalists are under to get the great quote that can be lifted for a splashy headline. I’m withholding judgment until I hear from the Moz himself.

I’m no blind Moz apologist. If I feel he’s being racist or xenophobic, I’m going to call him on it. The thing is…Morrissey is white and British. He’s part of the ruling class. He, too, benefits from white privilege, which gives him advantages whether he’s in Rome, Los Angeles, or walking down the street in Manchester. His skin color and passport are shields against the concerns of the Other. Thatdoesn’t diminish his keen social insights, but these are facts that you can’t get away from. And it certainly colors his perspective. That doesn’t make him the next James D. Watson, however.

No Rock and Roll Fun has some pretty extensive coverage of the story as well. Do check it out.

In other news:

  • Paparazzi have accused Otis Ferry, son of Bryan Ferry, of reaching in their car and throwing away their ignition keys back in February. The photographers had been following Ferry, his brother Isaac, and actress Sienna Miller when the alleged “assault” happened. When the photographers were stopped at a traffic light, Ferry allegedly approached their vehicle and snatched the car keys. The two paps say that they were left stranded on the road “for hours.”(BBC)
  • Amy Winehouse quit her European tour under “doctor’s orders,” The Sun reports. Now friends and family want her to dump Blake Fielder-Civil.
  • Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne will host the BRIT Awards next February, replacing Russell Brand. I’m sure it will be a blast, as Sharon has likely insulted everyone who will be there.(The Sun)
  • Kelly Osbourne‘s “mystery man” is Matt Emerson, drummer for rock band Trash Fashion.(Daily Mail)
  • Girls Aloud tart Sarah Harding won’t let boyfriend Tom Crane “call the shots”: they had a nasty public row in a London club that ended with the “lovebirds” leaving separately. Or so The Sun says.
  • With T2‘s “Heartbroken” hitting No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart, The Guardian‘s Hattie Collins takes a look at the “bassline” movement in Britain.
  • The Guardian‘s Caroline Sullivan checks out the bands we’ll all be talking about in 2008.
  • BBC has scoured the globe for this year’s Next Big Thing in music. Here are their 20 finalists.(BBC)
  • Lily Allen‘s retirement remarks were a joke, she says.(Mirror)

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

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