Do Latinx Fans Still Love Morrissey (And Will They Show Up At Hollywood Bowl This Weekend)?
The sound of The Smiths was inescapable in the '80s, but it was as a solo artist that Morrissey's popularity really took off among Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles.
And Morrissey returned the affection in songs like "Mexico" and "First of the Gang to Die."
But those fans, myself included, have had to confront the singer's embrace of hard right, extremist politics.
It may be enough to keep some longtime fans away when he performs at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend.
So how did we get here?
CHAMPION FOR THE OPPRESSED?
The Smiths, and later Morrissey on his own, were among the staples of MTV and alternative, indie rock radio. His music and his lyrics spoke to the outsiders, the loners and the oppressed.
I had a kind of take-it-or-leave-it relationship with his music for years, until a couple of songs from 2004 romanticizing and apparently championing Mexican-American culture sent me swooning.
In Mexico, I went for a walk
To inhale the tranquil, cool, lover's air
But I could sense the hate
From the Lonestar State
And a small voice said
"What can we do?", Oh...
— Morrissey, "Mexico" (2004)
But then, last year, came Morrissey's enthusiastic endorsement of Anne Marie Waters, founder of For Britain, a radically far right political party.
"They'll call us anti-Islam. I'm not afraid to be called anti-Islam," Waters told supporters at a For Britain rally earlier this year. "And I'm not afraid, either, for us as a party to embrace that and go with it," she said, adding that "it's about opposing barbarism."
In announcing his support for the party, Morrissey said, "It is the first time in my life that I will vote for a political party. Finally I have hope."
Morrissey has also expressed support of English white nationalist provocateur and alt-right darling Tommy Robinson, who recently served a jail sentence in London related to his street ambush harassment of Muslims.
The singer's endorsement of such views made a mainstream appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon earlier this year, when he wore a For Britain lapel pin stuck prominently to his jacket.
The controversy over the singer's embrace of hard right, anti-immigrant political figures is now roiling one of the singer's biggest and most devoted fanbases: Latinos in the British singer's one-time home of Los Angeles.
"It's hard to hear that from a man who once sang about 'racist hate in the Lone Star state' in a song called 'Mexico,'" says Melissa Hidalgo, author of the 2016 book "Mozlandia: Morrissey Fans in the Borderlands."
Hidalgo is also lead singer of The Sheilas Take a Bow, an all Latina Morrissey cover band now on hiatus. When Morrissey embraced Waters and For Britain, Hidalgo said she'd had enough.
She points out that Morrissey has, perhaps wisely, mostly avoided commenting about Donald Trump, even if a big subset of his audience is directly impacted by the president's hardline immigration crackdown and his frequent attacks on refugees and asylum seekers.
But at performances in Mexico and Los Angeles in 2017, his entire band wore matching anti-Trump T-shirts.
"I think this is his way of saying, 'Look, I can't possibly be racist, because I love my Latino fans and they love me,'" says Hidalgo over lunch in Monterey Park. "But just because he's said he's anti-Trump doesn't mean he's anti the ideologies that gave rise to Trump and parties like For Britain."
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It's not like fans haven't seen signs of Morrissey's apparently coarsening views.
In the late 1980s, as the number of Bengali immigrants to Britain was at a peak, Morrissey wrote and recorded the song "Bengali in Platforms" for his first solo album (Viva Hate) following the breakup of The Smiths.
Bengali in platforms
He only wants to embrace your culture
And to be your friend forever
Oh, shelve your Western plans
That life is hard enough when you belong here
— Morrissey, "Bengali in Platforms" (1988)
Many heard the song as a rebuke of new immigrants to England. Then, a few years later came "National Front Disco." To some, a cautionary tale about falling prey to extremist ideology. To others, a nationalistic rebel yell.
England for the English!
England for the English!...
...There's a country; you don't live there
But one day you would like to
And if you show them what you're made of
Oh, then you might do
— Morrissey, "National Front Disco" (1992)
The bitter pills were perhaps easier to swallow in light of Morrissey lyrics that also tore into the British Monarchy ("The Queen is Dead"), American consumerism and foreign policy ("America is Not the World") and the conservative Tory Party ("Margaret on the Guillotine").
We won't vote Conservative
Because we never have
Everyone lies, everyone lies
Where is the man you respect?
— Morrissey, "Glamorous Glue" (1992)
But in recent years, that last line from "Glamorous Glue" would be flipped back onto the singer himself. "Where is the Morrissey we respect?" some fans wondered, as the singer appeared to court more and more racially tinged controversy.
Speaking out against animal slaughter practices in China, Morrissey called the Chinese people a "sub-species." He also recently said celebrity chef Jamie Oliver should be "gassed" for promoting meat-eating.
When discussing immigration in 2007, Morrissey, the son of Irish immigrants to England, told British magazine New Music Express that "England is a memory now. The gates are flooded, and anybody can have access to England and join in."
"Travel to England and you have no idea where you are," he added.
(For the record, Morrissey's primary residences over the past two decades have included Los Angeles and Rome.)
On a recent evening at the cozy Boyle Heights bar EastSide Luv, patrons packed the venue for MorrisseyOke, a monthly Morrissey karaoke tribute night. Between songs, there was chatter about Morrissey's embrace of a political party that advocates for, among other things, a halt to Muslim immigration to the UK.
Jaime, who asked that we not use his last name, is conflicted. On the one hand, Morrissey's been a lifelong companion, the soundtrack to life's peaks and valleys.
"The lyrics really spoke to me, just the sadness, the unrequited love stuff, just the feeling of an outsider," Jaime said.
"I think even back then I already knew that I was queer, so I just related to a lot of what the songs were saying, a lot of these crushes that I was having on the boys," he said.
But now he's decided to quietly steer clear of the singer's L.A.-area performances.
"I'm not going to stop loving him. On that same note, I'm not as prone to be like, 'Here, I love you, take my money,'" said Jaime. "I will love (him) at MorrisseyOke, but you don't need me in your auditoriums. And some people might say, 'Well then, you're not a real fan'. (But) I respect everyone else's fandom and I would hope people can respect mine."
The cracks in Morrissey's fanbase in the U.S. appear to be spreading. At a performance in Portland last month Morrissey exploded when he spotted protesters hoisting a pair of large signs — one bore the For Britain logo crossed out in red, while the other was emblazoned with the words "BIGMOUTH INDEED," a cutting reference to one of Morrissey's biggest hits with The Smiths.
Oh, bigmouth strikes again
And I've got no right to take my place in the human race
And now I know how Joan of Arc felt...
— The Smiths, "Bigmouth Strikes Again" (1986)
After cancelling the next show in Seattle without explanation, Morrissey resumed his tour without further incident.
"I've actually seen him 13, 14 times since the early '90s," says Adriana Chavira, a longtime fan who is sticking with plans to attend the Bowl show.
Chavira teaches journalism at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in the San Fernando Valley. After class on a recent weekday, she said she disagrees with Morrissey's more extreme views but remains a loyal fan.
But she wishes he'd answer for comments and beliefs that are now dividing some fans.
"I think it would be good for him to just come out and sit down for an interview, to just come out and set things straight," says Chavira. "But I think he's always been very independent, and he'll just say whatever is on his mind, whether people agree or not."
I now have to count myself among the fans who vehemently disagree.
And as I thumb through all of my own collection of Morrissey and Smiths albums, I don't know what to do. I haven't tossed any of them. But I also haven't listened to any of them in well over a year.
I guess I'm just waiting. For an explanation, an apology. Something that'll ease the heartbreak of Morrissey fans around the world.
And right here at home.
And why did you stick me in
Self-deprecating bones and skin
...Do you hate me, do you hate me, do you hate me?
— Morrissey, "I Have Forgiven Jesus" (2004)