What I remember most about Morrissey’s concert in Tel Aviv in 2008 wasn’t the whole crowd ecstatically singing along to lines like “If a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die” or the generous set list, varied between the storied classics of his prototype post-punk pioneers The Smiths and his much longer and diverse solo career. What I remember is that his backing band, consisting of young American players, wore T-shirts and shorts looking like they had been rejected for the John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson diner scene in Pulp Fiction – an arch contrast to the fashion plate front man who made numerous shirt changes that allowed him to bare his toned torso to the crowd. Maybe they lost their luggage upon arriving in the country and had to buy some quick souvenir replacements in their hotel gift shop, I don’t know. But it always left an odd memory of something that didn’t quite fit together, much like the way that Morrissey’s entire public persona has been a little off kilter.
Labeled by the BBC as “one of the most influential figures in the history of British pop” and by Rolling Stone as one of the greatest rock singers of all time, Morrissey has uniquely made moroseness and loneliness seem desirable throughout his almost-30 years as a recording artist and performer. With a cutting wit, a journalist’s eye, a suitcase full of hang-ups and the ability to make bleak seem funny, he’s been called the “Oscar Wilde of rock” and “the greatest-ever lyricist of desire that has ever moaned.”
When the articulate “big mouth” brings his pompadour back to Israel this weekend for his July 21 show at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds, it could be a swan song. According to rumors that the 53-year-old Steven Patrick Morrissey from Manchester has perpetuated himself in recent interviews, he plans to retire at 55, after “aging a lot recently.” If that’s the case, this could be the last time for fans, who are some of the most dedicated and rabid around, to see their hero in the flesh before he sets out to his own self-defined pasture.
According to one scenario, a 33- date tour later this year in the US following his current European run will mark the end of the performance road for the singer. If so, he’ll leave behind a formidable legacy that’s crowned by his 1980s work with The Smiths and his songwriting partnership with guitarist Johnny Marr, the Lennon and McCartney of the decade. Since parting ways with Marr in 1988, Morrissey has released nine albums, most recently 2009’s Years of Refusal, while adding to his reputation rock’s most potent iconoclast.
As of four years ago, he still created a formidable presence onstage, and though he occasionally misfired reaching the high notes, his vocals were in fine form, and his music as theater ethos was in full throttle. Whether there’s been a noticeable decline since will only be judged by his fans, but they’ll be so busy singing along to the lyrics that they all know by heart, that Morrissey will get a free pass in any event. Let’s just hope his band members have finally found their stage clothes.