People were paying attention to The Smiths 37 years back. Or, should we say People were paying attention to Morrissey of The Smiths 37 years ago. Because on this day in 1985, that supermarket checkout favorite publication ran a feature article on Morrissey… only one month after running an extensive cover story on Madonna. While Madonna was hot, sexy and controversial at that time, “the Moz”, as his friends call him, might not seemed like an obvious selling point for a mass market American magazine. After all, he was a surly guy who fronted a band only a select few college students seemed to know about in the U.S. at that point.
Nevertheless, the magazine introduced its readers – something in the general range of six million or so then – to the counter-culture darlings in an extensive write-up. They titled it “Roll Over, Bob Dylan and Tell Madonna the News – The Smiths Morrissey is Rock’s Latest Messiah!”. One might just suspect neither Jesus nor Morrissey would love that title, but it surely grabbed people’s attention. The story noted how hot they were already in the UK and that they were touring the States for their Meat is Murder album (which had been released three months prior and already topped the Brit charts.) they gave some background on the singer/songwriter including that “for three years he sat in his bedroom, filling notebooks with words… by day, he’d been a schoolboy track star, by night sought sustenance in the feminist writings of Susan Brownmiller and Molly Haskall.” Which they noted , fueled rumors of him being gay (a bigger deal back then) which he refused to confirm although he did say his childhood and teen memories were “totally morbid” and involved “uninteresting episodes with girls.” Other little bon mots thrown out by Morrissey included that he thought “Michael Jackson has outlived his usefulness,” but he liked Duran Duran and he thought “most records portray life as it isn’t lived.” that led People, the magazine, to suggest people, the crowds, to find him “unacceptably honest” and that songs of sexual rejection would lead them to bad memories of their own. Certainly songs like the great “How Soon Is Now?” or “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” weren’t exactly in line with much of the perky-’80s vibe pop radio favored at the time. All in all, they deemed him “articulate and calculating” and the fitting “spokesman for a generation sagging under rampant unemployment.”
Did it all help? Well, it likely didn’t hurt sales for The Smiths, but they weren’t taking a run at Madonna at the cash register or ticket office despite it. Meat is Murder failed to crack the American top 100 (it did make the Canadian top 40 – likely a function of more alternative rock stations there than a wider readership of People) . However, it did show Morrissey to be more prophetic than he might’ve seemed then in one way. “The U.S. is not asleep,” he proclaimed. “It is a hotbed of radicalism.” Looking at the world of today, they might have been snoozing… but he might have been right. By the way, in a weird turn of events which could well have amused the Smiths frontman, while most People covers featured movie stars or pop ones like Madonna, this particular issue had a mostly black cover saying “I knew Josef Mengele!”.