In el Paso
a gang of quiffs reaches high to the peachy-blue American clouds above; the Pachuco
s are acting like they don't care, which is not incongruous to what the quiff
signifies. These are my contemporaries, those who have the biggest quiff you can get away with in a small town like this. I'm here to tell you that just when you think one of your sullen teenage idols has disappeared, he may emerge like your phoenix with a Latino
Yes I have had a tan actually. I went to Los Angeles recently and got one there, but it didn't make it back to Britain. It got stopped by customs - you're not actually allowed to come through customs with a tan.
MOZ, October 1987
I know sunny Southern California is many miles away from a trolley dumped in a canal, in Manchester, England, but what you hear is true, Morrissey is a gringo in the Latin Quarter, a James Dean being told it's time to come home. He is an ice cold black sombrero that landed out of nowhere in the dusty square, attracting attention through his very relocation. It's a sombrero fallout for the big man.
Irish Blood, English Heart, his first new studio album since 1997's Maladjusted, has a Mexican theme, and one song is called Mexico. He has supported the Mexican rockers Jaguares and El Vez, and inspired the growth of popular Mexican tribute band, The Sweet and Tender Hooligans. One reason cited for the near partisan fanbase - 85% of those at Morrissey's latest shows have been Latino - has been the correlation of first generation Irish immigrants into England with the similar working class background of American-hispanics. However, up til now, Mozzer's heritage has not been at all obvious in his songs, so it could be that the 'phenomenon' is partly the result of fashion.
In the late 80s and early 90s there were plenty of romantic Latinos in the LA area, where I grew up just outside, and lots of Latinos I knew totally digged Morrissey since that time. My older brother stuck to gangsta rap but often wore his Smiths T-shirt to high school. It was the hip thing to do, especially if you paired it with Harley Davidson boots. Some say it wasn't until the greasers, rockabilly and retro-50s scene gathered momentum there that these fans emerged in large numbers, possibly through peer pressure alone. However, once they found out what Morrissey was spitting about, they embraced him to their bosoms.
I don't mind the label; I'd rather have a label than be a nobody. Someone who tries to touch the subzero sombrero: "Ah! The Smiths are over, done with, called it quits, let them rest in peace! Why speak of them anyhow?" They resent the impersonator as an embarrassment, that is, to himself and everyone who swoons over him, who should be embarrassed as well. Its temperature is slowly rising.
What some find hard to take at the tribute shows and LA Moz concerts, is the perceived direct contradiction of the Latino fans to the froideur of the Morrissey Word. They scorn our girls for making all their fat fleshy fingers to moving, unable to afford half a shirt or filling skirts three ages below them, before making out on the dancefloor with dirty-mouthed, Corona-swilling throwbacks. But a fight does break out nearly every time the tribute band plays at The Brave Bull.
Jose R. Maldonado, the Mexican Morrissey, was on stage. There was a guy next to me with a pile of shit on his head, and as he harmonized in flat tones the classical indictment, "Then why are you on your own tonight?" his hands spilled and guarded over something irrepressibly feminine. Someone shouted "you faggot" and it was over. I think it's the idea of blasphemy, and not the fact that we are Latino, that puts this fanbase under such media scrutiny. Morrissey is the lone palm tree and we are the community thriving in his shade, although some of his male Latino fans reel around the fountain in packs, then at the concert concern themselves with what their friends are saying, maintaining little patches of school-disco all over the venue.
And Morrissey's reaction? It is true that he has seen footage of one of his impersonator's shows and was absolutely tickled pink that Jose does excel at taking his silk shirt off, rubbing it in his crotch and giving it to the baying, cinnamon-skinned impeachers. A lot of the Latino goth girls are part of the rebel scene, who by the way are just as irritating now as they were then. They get wet. I adore Morrissey, but my pompadour and Levis are not permafrosted onto me. I'd like to know what things he finds distasteful here in his adopted homeland - you know what they say about a prophet in his or her own country. Perhaps you know, he is disgusted at Ricky Martin or Tito Puente; one thing's for sure, he hasn't mellowed too much over here.
My own Ma, she found comfort in the lyrics of groups such as Los Iracundos, who sang to her, "porque se ocupan tanto de mi / yo quiero que me dejen sufrir". This translates as, "because they take care of me so much / I want them to let me suffer". Such pleas parallel Morrissey's themes of isolation, lost love, and mortality.
My vegetarian friend has Viva Hate tattoos on her voluptuous body, I tell her hey Concha, getting fatter over the years will only make them look worse...
Because Pops gave us Quixotic genes; he will defend us, and say, "I cannot think why so many people can say so many bad things of my son. I thought that my son did not have enemies, but now am seeing that that is not certain." The Latino soccer hooligans at the tribute shows really do love us. "After all their calls to my house, we are thinking about changing our telephone number. They are awful bores! Did their mothers not instill good morals in them? Please, can they stop calling us at the house with those threats... I fear for the health of my son."
So Maggie and I drove up and down the streets of Santa Ana and blared his music in the hope that those around us would join in our urgency for urgency. She told me that hearing someone else is miserable now appealed to her because she has false memories of an upbringing as Anne Frank in Puerto Rico. Perhaps the displacement we collectively identified with him stemmed from our marginality, and the binary opposition of hot and cold. Most of us inwardly acknowledged the notion of not fitting into one particular group, Latin American or white. So loss and lament come easy to us; we feel no shame in letting it out in one loud wail. Britain mistrusts Don Juans who wail if you even pass them the pepper, but that is our every desayuno, and it's where I can see, Morrissey's Irish extravagance is like our own. Culturally, we relate in a way that Britain was seen to paper over, and personally, there is none of London's drizzle to crumble away the fluorescent fliers for his gigs, gigs that will not ebb in the blink of eyes.
Morrissey was knocked down in Europe, burning out of town to the tune of washed-up and racist, but he rides the renaissance in his exile, here where we accept the past. Maybe we are ten or fifteen years behind everyone else, the children of Texas mods. Even further back, as Octavio Paz once said regarding Chicanos and the Zoot Suit, "Su disfraz lo protégé y, al mismo tiempo lo destaca y aisla: lo oculta y lo exhibe": it's 40s drapes all over again.
And everyone is looking to pick up the sombrero for their own gain.