Morrissey is coming to NZ this December. It's kind of a big deal, I guess, with people of my age, added to that the fact Moz hasn't visited these shores in twenty-one years. There's the sense that this time, a bit like The Pixies maybe and Bowie (though we didn't necessarily see that one coming) is a 'last chance to see' sort of gig. Nevertheless, I'm already double-booked, so there we are, and there I won't be, Boo.
I discovered The Smiths late, like most of New Zealand, the late Eighties being (as I see it) the last gasp of our Antipodean six months/two years-behind-the-rest-of-the-world-in-pop-culture factor that led to most of our punk bands arising in the early Eighties and Acid House not really a going concern until 1989 at best. By the Nineties and the arrival of the Worldwide Web, our embarrassing South Seas Bubble would burst, but 1987-1988, The Smiths were a vaguely-known thing to me; the source of obsession by a schoolmate Mark, and of bewilderment by yours truly.
Enter the video for Girlfriend in a Coma, one of their last singles. This is a video that's a signature of the band, is in a big way irrelevant to the song with its scenes from The Leather Boys (as much as their album and single covers steadfastly eschewed images of the band themselves, opting istead for silver screen idols), yet rewards the viewer curious enough to follow up the images (I haven't) - to get to know the band without actually seeing the band. Front and slightly left or right of centre is enigmatic frontman Steven Morrisey in action, and this as far as I can recall, ismy entry point proper to the world of The Smiths. By my second year of university a couple of years later I'd heard pretty much all I could get my hands on, bought their albums and resold them again for ridiculously small fare (but then I had to eat), and having learned a few songs along the way and taken all I could at the time from them, moved on.
But the video was a serviceable entry point for the band, as late as it was to their story. Here's Morrissey at the corners of the frame, singing devotedly to the black and white image of Rita Tushingham, the singer's colour and the footage's monochrome separating the two subjects until the 1:40 mark where Morrissey's face becomes merged with that of co-star Colin Campbell. The rest of the band are absent, as is the case for the other videos from parent album Strangeways Here We Come, and the vdeo says nothing of The Smiths' internal ructions and impending split - in fact, it's business as usual.But it was enough for me. I'd not seen a video like it, in a decade known more for putting musical artists in increasingly narrative or cinematic contexts, here's a video apparently about adulation and worship. Curiously introverted, studied and coy. It started me on a short road of Smiths fandom.