It took many years for the NME and Morrissey to make up after the paper called him on his flag-waving, skinhead-teasing live appearance at Madstock in Finsbury Park. It seemed, though, that passing time and changes in the editorial team had smoothed over the breach. In 2004, he once again graced the cover.
So it was that Tim Jonze went off to interview Mozzer for this week's paper, expecting a fairly dull elder-statesman-of-rock-speaks piece.
That was, until Morrissey started to talk. Jonze asked about the state of the world:
If this sounds more like the sort of thing you'd expect to see in the Telegraph op-ed page than the NME, more is to come. Mozzer grumbles how there's "no democracy" in England, before moving on to the state of Britain:
This from Morriseey, who has already spent three columns grumbling and moaning about everything from the way people write about him and Marr to how people carry cameras with their phones.
So far, he sounds a lot like those other expats who go off to live in tax exile and pretend it's a cultural rather than an economic decision, like Michael Caine.
Not, of course, that he has anything against people from other countries.
He stresses that he's worried about the loss of identity and concedes that there's something "nice" about the enrichment offered by immigration ("but you have yo say goodbye to the Britain you once knew"), before worrying that, ooh, you don't hear English voices any more:
The converstaion turns to Bengali in Platforms, which Morrissey defends again on the grounds that the song was about someone who didn't belong, "just didn't", but not because of race.
So far, then, this is what you'd expect - a rich ex-pat muttering away about immigration "diluting" a nation, complaining about how you hear funny foreign voices on the bus - it's clear that, as with Dannii Minogue's racism over lunch with GQ a few years back, although this is unpleasant, it's being offered without malice. It's the soft racism that pervaded my parent's generation - "nothing against people from overseas", it's just they're different. Xenophobia from a fear of change, and lazy scapegoating of an easy target to blame.
It's disappointing, of course, to hear this sort of hateful rubbish being trotted out - an intelligent man who complains about the British government and ruling classes and media apparently getting his worldview from the news pages of the Daily Mail. We do love, by the way, that Morrissey cites Knightsbridge as the exemplar of Britishness - hanging around outside Harrods, a shop that sucks in tourists, you would expect to hear the sound of people from overseas.
There's worse to come, though. Worried by the tenor, Jonze sought a second interview to give Morrissey room to - presumably - explain the whole thing away as a silly misunderstanding. That didn't quite happen. Explaining his reasons for accepting a chance for clarification, Morrissey starts off well:
He does mutter on that, rather, it's the "expense" and "pressure" which keeps him away, but the mere fact that he speaks of immigration as an "explosion" rather than an ongoing, two-way process that's been happening as long as humanity have been able to build boats hints that he does see people from overseas as a problem.
Surprisingly, he then claims that the face of Britain in Jean Charles DeMenzes, and how you don't "shoot someone seven times in the head by accident". This is quite surprising - does Morrissey feel that he'd be at risk of an accidental execution if he lived in Levenshulme? Did a man who lived in LA - a place not exactly unknown for difficulties with police over-reacting - really find the prospect of Lancashire so frightening?
Sadly, the question is left hanging, as Moz is pressed on if he regrets anything he said:
Oh, god; he really is using the "how can I be racist, I watched all of Roots and once went to see Sammy Davis Jr play" defence. Albeit slightly QI-ed up.
The NME points out that immigration helped his parents into Britain:
Apart from being sickening - flooded? - this simply isn't true; it's the sort of ill-considered rubbish you hear BNP supporters bleating. Anybody can have access to England? Really, Morrissey? Have you ever spent any time at a immigration office? Who do you think are all those people being deported constantly?
Of course, Morrissey tries to stress that he's only being sensible - you can't let everyone come in and sit on your bed, apparently - and denies being inflammatory. He then worries he's going to be stitched up - although, if he doesn't think he's being inflammatory or offensive, why would he be worried by that?
This is clearly contentious material - indeed, Conor McNicholas feels the need to produce an editorial column to stress that, you know, Morrissey isn't racist, probably:
Oddly, though, this doesn't stop McNicholas slapping this on the coverline:
- which hardly suggests that the paper sees this as just a swansong for a prewar Blighty that never existed.
Meanwhile, True To You Morrissey fanzine carries a piece by Moz manager Merck Mercuriadis, giving a Morrissey view the background to the interview. He says they'd heard NME was planning "a hatchet job":
Clearly, rather than accepting that their man wasn't hatcheted, but more slapped himself round his own head, Mercuriadis then quotes an email he claims he got from
And, indeed, the article does appear under a clumsy "interview: Tim Jonze words: NME" byline, which makes the first person nature of the article a little odd, to say the least.
Morrissey's management sent an email to Conor; the response - claims Mercuriadis - was deliberately delayed to avoid any legal action keeping the paper from entering distribution. The response is quoted in full on True To You, but this is pretty much the tenor:
We wonder if McNicholas actually paused to consider - given the "climate or possible interpretation of his comments" - whether running a coverline of "the gates of England are flooded. The country's been thrown away" would be helpful or not?
Mercuriadis throws himself on our mercy:
It's true that the NME doesn't exactly come out of this looking great - it's trying to have its 'Mozzer race row' piece while desperately stressing that it doesn't believe Morrissey is racist - but the trouble is that even if you ignore the confused editorialising in the article, well, yes, Morrissey does still come across terribly. Not calling for race riots, perhaps, but using inflammatory, ignorant language and unacceptable imagery and singling out "otherness" as being a threat to "Englishness".
It's noticeable that Mercuriadis doesn't quite have the confidence to leave it there, but feels the need to stress just how not-racist Morrissey is:
Well, perhaps they do. One has that clunky bit about how we shouldn't feel racist standing by the Union flag (which sounds like the sort of thing the UK Independence Party trot out); the other two contain kneejerk anti-Americanism which - while it might be delightful to those who indulge in geopolitics by numbers - hardly is the same thing as a condemnation of racism. In fact:
sounds suspiciously like lazy all-Americans-are-fat stereotyping to us.
It's true, though, that he does lament there never being a "black, female or gay" president, so how could he be racist, eh?
Somewhat surprisingly, Mercuriadis signs off by publishing a letter from Mozzer's legal team to Conor - one that's covered in "not for publication"s and "strictly private and confidential"s all over it.
The legal letter insists that describing Morrissey as racist would be "malicious" - although, as we've seen, the NME bends over backwards to deny that it thinks Morrissey is racist and threatens withdrawal of planned Mozzer 7" covermount, besides other comments. It also demands McNicholas apologies to Morrissey for - apparently - having told Tim Jonze that Morrissey wouldn't want "a [black person] living next door".
It's all a bit of a nasty mess - Morrissey revealing more deeply the unpleasant side to his character and then attempting to use legal letters from this being shared; the NME trying to take two positions at the same time; and a suggestion that McNicholas apologise for something he may or may not have said in private.
No, Morrissey doesn't think he's being racist; he doesn't realise he's stirring up a hornets nest. That's what actually makes it worse.
[Thanks to Duncan for the link]