That time we called Morrissey ‘wimp-of-the-year’

Yesterday, Vice’s music publication Noisey ran an interesting “I Remember” piece by Dan Ozzi on British singer Morrissey’s network television debut on the “Tonight Show” 25 years ago, in 1991. The appearance took place as Mozmania was overtaking the country, and the wild enthusiasm around the morose crooner upstaged lead guest Bill Cosby and thoroughly irritated host Johnny Carson, who was in his final season at the show.

Carson bombed his monologue and even Cosby, who was at peak popularity at the time, could barely control the audience during a disastrous stand up set. When Morrissey took the stage to perform “Sing Your Life” and “There Is A Place In Hell” the room erupted.

The appearance took place during the six-week U.S. run of Moz’s tour supporting his third solo album “Kill, Uncle.” Across the country, shows sold out with lightning speed and arenas filled with young crowds exploding with enthusiasm. The Dallas show was cut short when the venue lost control and the audience swarmed the stage during a performance of “Everyday Is Like Sunday.” Fans grabbed at the British singer’s body and tore off his shirt. Morrissey, feeling overwhelmed, retreated backstage and refused to come back.

Consequently, the following night’s show, scheduled to take place at the City Coliseum, here in Austin, was canceled.

The following week, then Austin American-Statesman music writer Don McLeese wrote this scathing report, disparaging the king of mope and crowning him “wimp-of-the-year.”

Taking the blame – and the fall
In the aftermath of the cancellation of Morrissey’s concert at the City Coliseum a week ago, the calls kept pouring in. There was anger to burn, but few seemed quite sure whom to blame.

It was tempting to fault the promoter, after Morrissey’s management pulled the plug because it deemed the security hired by Houston’s BFD Concerts insufficient. Even so, there was twice as much security as had handled concerts at the same venue headlined by Jane’s Addiction and Slayer, both potentially more volatile situations that proceeded without serious incident.

Some blamed the audience in Dallas, where Morrissey had played the previous evening, and where a swarm of fans on the Starplex stage had brought the show to a premature halt. Apparently, the former Smiths’ singer, in the midst of his first American solo tour, had been sufficiently spooked by the incident that he didn’t risk a repeat in Austin. (Though the Austin crowd that dispersed peaceably after the cancellation didn’t show signs of posing much threat.)

3/16/06 - Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN - Morrissey performs at the Austin Music Hall on Thursday March 16, 2006.

Jay Janner/American-Statesman Morrissey performs at the Austin Music Hall on Thursday March 16, 2006.

Some blamed the Coliseum, one of those barns of a concert facility where the crowd is herded like cattle. Though security is tougher to maintain at a general-admission show, Morrissey’s representatives knew what they were getting when they booked the tour. He could have easily played reserved-seat rooms throughout the tour, but chose the route that would subject his audience to considerably more discomfort (and would allow more bodies to be crammed into a hall).

Plenty pointed the finger at Morrissey’s management, who made the decision to cancel the show and then promised the throng outside that anyone who wanted could have a free bus trip to the concert in Houston the next evening. (It was a promise that went unfulfilled when the Morrissey contingent skipped town.)

Even those who blamed the Morrissey camp, however, stopped short of targeting the singer himself. After all, it was Morrissey who had inspired those fans to spend their money in the first place, who had aroused the hysteria that has made the tour the surprise sensation of the early summer. To his most ardent fans, the betrayal couldn’t be Morrissey’s; the blame had to fall with someone else.

Rock ‘n’ roll infatuation is a lot like falling in young love, as both rites of passage can teach necessary, if painful, lessons in what’s worth valuing, who’s worth trusting. An audience that keeps playing the sucker for the same kind of artist is like someone who continues to fall in love with the wrong kind of person.

Though the irony-drenched ennui of Mr. Morrissey has its bittersweet charm, the guy has long been a bit of a whiny mope. Thus, how much of a surprise was it really when he behaved like a whiny mope and canceled his Austin show? It would have been a major shock for anyone from Bruce Springsteen to Guns N’ Roses to shrink from such a challenge, but the wimp-of-the-year mantle rests easily on Morrissey’s shoulders.

Some callers made a connection between Morrissey’s cancellation and last year’s Sinead O’Connor debacle in Austin, when she left the stage after a couple of songs (and, unlike Morrissey, didn’t even provide for refunds). In both cases, it seems plain that we’re dealing with artists who are way too full of themselves, while showing far too little consideration for the folks who believe so strongly in them. In both cases, it’s a violation of trust, by artists who have revealed themselves unworthy of it.

Fortunately, Austin is filled with musicians who return the respect of their audience, who redeem and reward that trust on a weekly or even nightly basis. Part of the process of coming in age, in rock ‘n’ roll as in real life, is developing a healthy skepticism for style-over-substance phenomena, flashes-in-the-pan, self-styled prima donnas, and learning to recognize those whose values extend deeper and have a little more staying power.

Like loving and losing, rock ‘n’ roll can be a character-building experience. If you get burned once by a guy like Morrissey, it’s Morrissey’s fault. If you allow yourself to get burned again, you have only yourself to blame.

— Don McCleese, June 25, 1991

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