A MURDEROUS DESIRE FOR LOVE
In the dream, I was watching the Smiths sing a song I hadn't heard before and will never hear again but was beautiful nonetheless, and crying the sort of tears you cry at revival meetings, that suspension between ruinous and lifted that I merely imagine it to be given that I've never been to a revival meeting, nor to a Smiths gig. It was an odd dream out of how, one, I dreamt it in the 90s after the Smiths had parted ways to become a constantly metamorphosing back catalogue, and two, I've never had much of a hard-on for gigs, an indifference I pin on the 90s as well, as the thought of the bands that mattered to me coming to Manila back then was beyond the ken of logic as to be impossible, forcing the pragmatic in me to take measures by throttling down any residual enthusiasm I might have originally nursed. The Smiths were my Beatles almost. They certainly were my Byrds, at least. And, hackneyed as it seems given the subject of the piece, they were the only band I literally dreamed of watching.
We all trace it back to Morrissey and Marr, of course, and whatever it was they had between them, that rarefied push and pull that transpires between frontman and guitarist, only with them it was more exacting, with no room for graying the area, for overlap. Morrissey took care of the morose wit and the erudite melodrama and Marr the ebullient melodicism and that way he had with his Rickenbacker that few could touch. It was the most fundamental division of labor between a frontman and guitarist, mirroring the stringent classicism of their repertoire: here was a band that never had a dance phase, a hip hop phase, an electronic phase, any kind of phase. A curious dynamic, sure, but one with a particular elegance. Once their alliance was severed, though, iffiness set in. Marr tended to disappear inside every band he was eventual member of, becoming more rampart than color, never as exuberant nor as vivid. But Morrissey was going out on sonic limbs, stumbling at first from the lack of a melodic crutch to prop him up, but eventually finding his sea legs. That's why I only have Electronic albums but have everything Morrissey put out since leaving the Smiths. And why May 13 was a date I would physically punish myself for missing.
But my tenacity was almost thwarted by the usual galore of deterrents: there was the excruciating lack of funds, the false rumors of tickets selling out, the eleventh hour scheduling of a shoot on the day of the gig and lastly, the lack of company to go with. I had friends in the crowd, sure, but I didn't want to move from my place to go looking for them. I would, later on, move around that is, looking for vantage points for each number. But before that, I just diligently nursed my overpriced vodka, waiting for the endorphin of anticipation to spike. It did but it didn't last. The sirens blared. And the band stepped out.
No measure of sobriety could dampen the euphoric surge of the opening song. How Soon Is Now? was both almost a given and out of left field at the same time. The effect of hearing its' colossal, ominous tremble pushed to 11 like that was physiological. Louder than bombs, right. My body couldn't make up its mind if it would pee in my pants or bawl in ecstasy. I did neither, thank god, but my knees were shaking as I screamed myself hoarse:"I am human and I need to be loved." Alma Matters was the next song, quite possibly my second or third favorite Morrissey song, and the only one on that short list he sang that night, and was like my own bullish tantrum slash tenet: " . . it's my life to ruin my way. . ." Our angsts diverged many ways and it's not like his music put up a mirror to my own index of failures, my own ineptitude at happiness, but the songs always felt like fistbumps of solidarity, and almost comforting in how overblown and funny they most of the time got."This is not pop music. This is opera!" he would proclaim later.
There's no way to parse a gig on paper that will make it meaningful to anyone else outside of enthusiastic reportage, it's bound to be different for everybody, and there was an immeidate spate of disappointments among people I knew, conspiracy theories even, of sets cut short, and of over-privileged brat hecklers in the front row. Admittedly, I came in there hopeful for a revue: The Best of Morrissey and the Smiths. I didn't get that, of course. But I was singing along to every song anyway, and he was working the table so fiercely, hearing First of the Gang To Die amplified by power chords or Shoplifters of the World Unite raised to its anthemic rafters or Meat Is Murder with inappropriately, and therefore appropriately, distressing images of animal torture, made me not mind the absence of The More You Ignore Me or Interesting Drug or I Want The One I Can't Have or Frankly Mr.Shankly. But I was still waiting for the last button to be pushed that would tip this over into the eternal. I started tearing up halfway through the first verse of the penultimate song: "Oh mother, I feel the soil falling over my head . . . " I Know It's Over was magnificent but tears were not enough, it turns out.
But then Morrissey reclaimed There Is A Light That Never Goes Out from Zooey Deschanel, and honed his encore, and the gig with it, to near-perfection. There are days I envy his resolute belief in the hopelessness of matters, and long for the force of will to surrender myself to the lassitude it brings. But I am cursed with an innate optimism and an immense capacity for waiting. And mine has always been a blind, dumb hope in that light that never goes out never going out. In being reminded how desperately, how literally, I take that title, how I clasp its implications to my chest, and how I probably will until the day I die, I felt the night tip over into the eternal at last. I felt a prickle of rapture appropriately tinged with sorrow. I felt, in fact, both ruinous and lifted.