Morrissey Posts Blog Entry About NME “Racism” Row

Morrissey has finally broken his silence against the “devious, truculent, and unreliable” NME – and lets the once-legendary music mag have it in today’s Guardian.

And he does it with surgical precision: he riffs expertly on the magazine’s decline from totem of original thought to industry shill (“the ‘new’ NME is very much integrated into the industry, whereas, deep in the magazine’s empirical history, the New Musical Express was a propelling force that answered to no one”); and he chides the magazine for lowing its quality standards (“The wit imitated by the ’90s understudies of [Paul] Morley and [Julie] Burchill assumed nastiness to be greatness, and were thus rewarded. But nastiness isn’t wit and no writers from the ’90s NME survive.”)

But he reserves his most biting words for his interviewer, Tim Jonze, who in an earlier Guardian blog entry, called Morrissey’s comments “racially inflammatory” and suggested the singer “educate himself on race issues.”

I do not mean to be rude to Tim Jonze, but when I first caught sight of him I assumed that someone had brought their child along to the interview. The runny nose told the whole story. [NME editor] Conor [McNicholas] had assured that Tim was their best writer. Talking behind his hands and in endless fidget, Tim accepted every answer I gave him with a schoolgirl giggle, and repeatedly asked me if I was shocked at how little he actually knew about music. I told him that, yes, I was shocked. It was difficult for me to believe that the best writer from the “new” NME had never heard of the song ‘Drive-in Saturday’; I explained that it was by David Bowie, and Tim replied “oh, I don’t know anything about David Bowie.” I wondered how it could be so – how the quality of music journalism in England could have fallen so low that the prime ‘new’ NME writer knew nothing of David Bowie, an artist to whom most relevant British artists are indebted, and one who singlehandedly changed British culture – musically and otherwise.

OK, being the Mozhead I am, I fear that I too would become that “giggling schoolgirl” in his presence. He does have that effect on people, you know. But, no, I think I’d pull it together. And I sure as hell would know “Drive-In Saturday.” Seriously, what music “journalist” worth his Bic is ignorant of Bowie’s ’70s material? Isn’t that equivalent to not knowing Revolver or Songs in the Key of Life or Exile on Main Street? Unthinkable. Moz continues:

Tim’s line of questioning advanced with: “What about politics, then … the state of the world?” which, I was forced to assume, was a well-thought-out question. It was from here that the issue of immigration – but not racism – arose.

Me: “If you walk down Knightsbridge you’ll be hard-pressed to hear anyone speaking English.”

Tim: “I don’t think that’s true. You’re beginning to sound like my parents.”

Me: “Well, when did you last walk down Knightsbridge?”

Tim: “Um… Knightsbridge… is that where Harrods is?”

So, Tim was prepared to attack and argue the point without even being clear about where Knightsbridge actually is! The ‘new’ NME strikes again. Oh dear, I thought, not again. I chose to mention Knightsbridge because it had always struck me as one of the most stiffly British spots in London. I am sorry Tim, but you are not yet ready to interview anyone responsibly.

Ouch. Well, if Mr. Jonze was going to throw stones, he should have known that Morrissey, one of the most impressive wits in the business, was going to lob boulders in return.

Moz doesn’t really deal with the content of the allegations, but really, must he? As The Guardian‘s Dave Simpson notes, Moz’s music has hankered “back to a nostalgic, almost mythical England of tea rooms and bowler hats as long ago as the Smiths.” As I said last week, Morrissey’s white/male/wealthy privilege allows him to be nostalgic without having to question himself. (If he were a British Indian, that sort of nostalgia would mean denial of Britain’s imperialist past.) But he’s certainly more thoughtful than most about what his privilege means. And, even under these circumstances, it’s a rare delight to see one of music’s greatest minds pen such a hard-hitting screed in a national newspaper.

My only misgiving? He falls into that “Some of my best friends are…” b.s. that people hide behind when accused of bigotry: “Uniquely deprived of wisdom, Conor would be repulsed by my vast collection of world cinema films, by my adoration of James Baldwin, my love of Middle Eastern tunings, Kazem al-Saher, Lior Ashkenazi, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and he would be repulsed to recall a quote as printed in his magazine in or around August of this year wherein I said that my ambition was to play concerts in Iran.” Yeah, that doesn’t quite jive as an explanation. Frankly, his brilliant discography is a much more compelling defense against charges of racism.

In other news:

  • Georgette Fielder-Civil slams Amy Winehouse for neglecting her son: “What has she done to help him? Nothing.”(Mirror)
  • It’s a paparazzo’s wet dream: Pete Doherty turns up at Amy Winehouse’s house at 4 am.(Daily Mail)
  • Robbie Williams will be forced to pay damages and issue a formal apology to Nigel Martin-Smith for alleging that the former Take That manager stole from the band.(The Sun)
  • No backflips for Mel C. on the Spice Girls tour: her knee is shot, she says. (Mirror)
  • Damon Albarn will team up with a former MI-5 agent not to overthrow the monarchy, not to weed out terrorists in London, but to…edit a radio program? Is anyone else mildly disappointed?(NME)
  • Reverend and the Makers frontman Jon McClure is at odds with his record label over the release of free tracks.(NME)
  • Is Led Zeppelin set to play their first U.S. show in 31 years at next year’s Bonnaroo?(NME)
  • A Pitchfork interview with Simian Mobile Disco.

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.

See more posts by Kevin Wicks