As Morrissey’s return to Dublin gets closer, and you’ll surely be made aware of this by the growing number of quiffs on your daily commute, so too do the rumours that this will be his swan song as far as live performances go – at least in Ireland, by some way of countenance anyway. But this is nothing new, there have always been rumours and gossip pertaining to his retirement and, until he actually does throw his shirt into the crowd for the very last time, there always will be; that’s a given. Sometimes the rumours stem from the man himself and sometimes they’re posited by his legions of detractors and ill-wishers. But even his most loyal fans have now started to question if they’ll ever get their opportunity to rush the stage and drape themselves over his meaty shoulders before he goes away for good.
So what’s different about this current spate of rumours? Well, as most of us know, several weeks ago and after years of ostensibly sporadic illnesses and hastily cancelled performances, Morrissey announced that he had been receiving treatment to remove cancerous cells from his body. Although as of yet he is still to reveal the forensically and gratuitously detailed minutiae of such matters, things we have rather shamefully come to expect from media-dependent rock stars. You know the type, a 4-page stool-consistency special in Hello or a fly-on-the-wall reality show dedicated to his every belch, etc. There has been little reliable information about the treatment, and indeed the illness, to which Moz has unfortunately had to become accustomed. So what happens in an information vacuum? More rumours. More half-truths and wilder speculation. Lies and blind-luck accuracies. And even though Morrissey is (thankfully) no longer A-Grade gossip fodder, there have still been missives from fan-sites, those “hateful crèches” where stories are made up, misunderstood and eventually reformed as ITK titbits. But one such nugget has attracted the attention of several fan-sites in particular and it involves the imminent and yet supposed retirement of the iconic former Smiths frontman.
First surfacing in any serious way in 2012, after decades of struggling to find/hold on to a record deal, Morrissey told the world that he planned to retire in 2014 at the ripe age of 55. As is his wont, though, he fairly quickly changed his mind and retraced these sentiments. He had after all spent years in the cultural wilderness bearing as much significance to modern music as Mike Joyce – surely he was entitled to change his mind now that the world was listening again. But this being Morrissey, it’s not as simple as that. His later statements that he had been advised to retire repositioned the whole issue as something outside of his control. Yet anybody with a passing interest in the Pope of Mope would know that advice to him, let alone advice on his music career, is anathema. Simply put, he does what he wants. If several years spent roaming the plains of indie has-beens and outsiders couldn’t convince Morrissey to call it a day, somebody ‘advising’ him to do so stood a burger vendor’s chance at a Moz gig of being taken seriously.
But now, in light of his recent revelations and in the wake of a fairly comprehensive autobiography, perhaps Morrissey is finally and seriously considering life after music. Having already stated that he is “now at an age when I should no longer be making music”, and having ploughed through even further struggles with a record label, what more does he have to achieve? This, obviously, is a rhetorical question but it raises some debatable issues. What IS left for Morrissey to do? Well, it’s not about money, it’s not about success and it’s not about unfulfilled potential, what it possibly boils down to is that it’s still all about him and how he wants things to pan out. Just look at the issues around the publication of his autobiography to understand just how much clout his whims and insistences carry. And what better voice to actually listen to than the one your own physical well-being speaks through?
Making music and touring the world performing it is all he has ever wanted to do – that we know of. Yet he has been doing that for the last 30 years and his fans would surely wish for him to do it for 30 more. But again, it’s all about him, he isn’t giving anything back to the fans, so to speak. Nor should he have to. Touring is what he wants to do and that’s why he does it. But now that the series of hospital stays and their implications have been fired into the public sphere, perhaps it’s him and what’s happening inside of him that will finally bring the curtain down. No record label, manager, band member, band mate, partner or spirit in the sky has ever been able to tell him what to do. So of all of those half-truths, speculations, lies and blind-luck accuracies, is this the one that supports its own weight? There is absolutely zero possibility of a Smiths reunion and very few Smiths fans would actually wish to see one. He once again has no record label and probably scant possibility of signing one. But most tellingly, he is no longer the young man he once was and his body is emphatically and irrefutably telling him so – and who or what else has he ever listened to?
You can catch Morrissey live (perhaps for the last time…) in Dublin’s 3Arena on December 1st. Tickets are available here.