Girlfriend In A Comedy: Amy Lame's Morrissey Show Unhappy Birthday
, August 21st, 2012 09:54
With her hit show about being a Morrisey fan running at the Edinburgh Fringe, Amy Lame tells David Peschek about her childhood as a chubby, closeted kid in suburban New Jersey, her fabulous permanent adolescence and why Morrissey is for life
‘A sad fact widely known
The most impassionate song
To a lonely soul
Is so easily outgrown
But don't forget the songs
That made you smile
And the songs that made you cry
When you lay in awe
On the bedroom floor …don't forget the songs
That made you cry
And the songs that saved your life
Yes, you're older now
And you're a clever swine
But they were the only ones who ever stood by you’
‘Rubber Ring’ The Smiths
Amy Lame has fingers in a lot of pies. Hostess of alternative homosexual nitespot Duckie (at London’s Royal Vauxall Tavern), she’s also known for her tenure as Mayoress of Camden, opposite openly gay Mayor Jonathan Simpson, her takes-no-prisoners Huffington Post blog, and as foil to Danny Baker on BBC London’s afternoon show. A hit in London a few months back, her immersive new show Unhappy Birthday – a sometimes funny, sometimes extreme look at obsessive fandom and how it shapes us – will shock anyone who sees her as a cuddly (and sometimes not-so-cuddly) comedian. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say here that in a previous life as a record label PR, I did press for Morrissey’s Maladjusted album in 1997 – an experience that began as blind-sidingly surreal moved through high comedy and high drama into something approaching traumatic. I also, at Amy’s request, sang ‘Sheila Take A Bow’ at the very first Unhappy Birthday scratch night, over a year ago.
When did you come to the UK?
Amy Lame: I arrived the end of December 1992.
Why did you come here?
Was it to try and meet Morrissey?
AL: [Laughter] I think probably listening to so many Smiths and Morrissey records did have a little bit of an influence on the decision. But my family was going through a very difficult time… It just so happened I’d finished university and there wasn’t any reason for me to stay in New Jersey…
Where in NJ?
AL: A small town called Keyport. Not far from Asbury Park. I’m on the shore, the first beach when you come south from NYC. It’s sort of on the ley-line between Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. So I thought: I’ve got nothing to stay here for, I need to get out, and that’s exactly what I did. I came here on a six month work visa. I knew, when I was at the airport, that I was never coming back, and I just had to find a way to make that happen. I think it’s a survival technique, actually…
It’s interesting you came here instead of going to New York.
AL: It’s only an hour away; I could see New York across the bay.
Was it not far enough?
AL: It really was not far enough. And New York is just full of people from New Jersey who feel really smug that they made it through the Lincoln Tunnel! I could do that any day of the week. I wanted something bigger and better and more adventurous. Something more radical – New York isn’t radical. I had never been to London – well, for half a day en route when I was going to see a friend in Leamington Spa… I was literally there for half a day…
"I left my bags in Newport Pagnell"!
AL: Yeah yeah! I didn’t know anyone here. I had no friends here, I had no connection here whatsoever, I just came with a couple of hundred dollars and a backpack. I look back now and think, was I mad? Yes I was! But I had this catalogue of pop songs in my mind – Smiths and Depeche Mode, every kind of pop record that ever meant anything to me, in my heart.
Do you remember the first record you bought?
AL: Yes. The first records I had weren’t bought but actually earned – I was a child model, a chubby child model. When I was six – I was a catwalk model in the local mall for this clothing store for chubby kids. They spotted me in the store and said would I like to model? I’d walk around the store at the weekend in their outfits. They’d pay me in clothes, which my mother loved, but even better for me they also paid me in pop records. The first record I got as a result of that was the Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr album which ‘You Don’t Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show)’ was on [laughter] – sort of a defining record of my life, and then I got the Donny and Marie album, and then there was a hiatus. When I was ten, I got two albums for Christmas that changed my life – Blondie’s Parallel Lines, and Donna Summer’s On The Radio. So that is quintessentially 1979/80. Punk and disco together. Those were the first records I was given, my Uncle Tim gave them to me. All I did was listen to them and stare at that picture of Debbie Harry on the front of Parallel Lines… and all of my latent lesbian sexuality was put onto Debbie Harry. My ten year old self had decided that the sexiest parts of Debbie Harry’s body were her armpits… My very innocent ten-year-old self perving on Debbie Harry’s armpits.
Even as a faggot I can see that picture is fairly enchanting. When did Morrissey first come into your life?
AL: Well, not for a while. Talking about a timeline of music – you start with Marilyn McCoo and Donnie and Marie [guffaws]… and then you go along a little bit and there’s Blondie and Donna Summer. Then, when I was fifteen – two main things happened. One, I did an exchange trip to France, where I turned up with all my punk and rock cassettes to my ‘host brother’ and he was [horrified] and took them off the tape player and put on some music I had never heard before, and that was Depeche Mode. So having grown up where it was all rock and guitars and Springsteen and Bon Jovi and Debbie Harry, to here that was like a whole new world opening up. The other thing that happened that year was I went to my first gig. This must have been 1986. I went to see a band in a local theatre that doubled up as a cocktail lounge – slash – children’s theatre, and they were doing Cinderella, and the set was hidden behind a bit of black curtain – I know this because the set later got trashed by the band and audience – the band was the Ramones. So they were the first band I went to see.
Pretty cool first gig.
AL: It was insane. All of the furniture was reduced to matchsticks. Cinderella’s set was smashed up. If my parents had known they wouldn’t have let me go: people were taking drugs! People were getting off with each other! It was pure rock & roll: the essence of rock & roll, and I thought, I fucking want a lot more of this! [laughs] Then you listen to a lot more bands – those seminal years, 15-17.
Did you come out young?
AL: No, no. Not until I was in college. I even had a boyfriend who was into Bruce Springsteen [pulls face].
The face! I wish I could record the face you made then!
AL: [laughter] You know that Peggy Lee song, 'Is That All There Is?' So yes, that didn’t last long. In 1987, I’d heard about this band called The Smiths. I used to go to local newsagent and flick through copies of the NME when they’d make it over to our side of the pond. I’d see picture of Morrissey and think, he looks cool – and I knew a new album had just come out, Strangeways Here We Come. I bought it and thought: this is amazing. This band is amazing. They are what I’ve been waiting for; they are all I have ever been waiting for. And then I found out they’d split up. Like, within the space of a few weeks. It was a very Morrissey-esque moment – to have that extreme love and then be rejected a few weeks later, and find out they existed no more. So then I had to get the whole back catalogue. Then the next year Viva Hate came out, and my dad got me a car for my 17th birthday, so when everybody else was blaring out Whitesnake, I used to go round in my Mustang Convertible blaring ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’. It felt like quite a rebellious act. I guess you want to feel rebellious at 17.
For someone that hadn’t come out as that point, were you using music as a way to define your otherness, or make somewhere for you to take refuge in? How are those things connected for you?
AL: I feel that the Smiths and Morrissey were a soundtrack of me waiting to be me. And all of that was building up to the moment where I could be free of it all and be exactly me. It’s an ongoing process – but I don’t think I fully achieved it until I came here. I felt like everything was on hold, and that Morrissey and the Smiths were the sustenance that got me through it all, and when I was able to finally become me, some people might say it was quite late, I was maybe 20 when I came out…
It’s never too late to become you though is it? As long as you do it at some point?
AL: No. I think it’s probably true for a lot of Morrissey fans – there’s something about the music that speaks to the outsider. I think if it wasn’t for the Smiths and Morrissey I’d have gone mad; I’d probably also be married to an electrician with three kids living in suburban New Jersey weighing 28 stone and going out of my fucking mind! So I have a lot to be grateful to them for.
Is this the bit where you say, ‘Morrissey saved my life!’?
AL: [plaintive voice] Morrissey saved my life!
Yeah, I think we’ve all been there.
AL: I guess that why I still have such a fondness for it. I never want to lose that feeling of being a teenager. I cherish that. Even now, I’m 41, I wake up on a Saturday morning and I’m alone in my flat and I’ll put the records on really loud and jump around! That’s the reason I started my club, to listen to Smiths records really loud, while drunk. In public! Duckie started as a club of outcasts. The gay scene at that time…
Could you explain what it was like? For people who’ve never suffered in that way - just how grim the gay scene was?
AL: [laughs] We’re talking early-mid ‘90s. Before Britpop. The gay scene was very monotonous and pretty much consisted of happy handbag house clubs with boys taking off their T-shirts. If they were wearing t-shirts they were tight and they were white. And some aspects of the gay scene have not moved on very far.
There had been the Bell, an alternative pub in King’s Cross.
AL: Yes – but the Bell had closed. There were pockets of people trying to do things differently: there was Bulk [for bigger men]. Now the bear scene is huge, but that was before bears were bears really, and we could just be fat poofs and dykes together [laughs]! It was really grim. If you were into David Bowie, Kate Bush, the Smiths There was nowhere for you to go, and all you wanna do as a young person – gay, straight, whatever – is you just wanna get off with people who like the same music as you do [riotous laughter]!
I remember years – years – of going home with people, and there’d be five minutes before any actual sex, they’d maybe be making a cup of tea, and I’d always be stupid enough to look through their music. It’d be three Lisa Stansfield albums and M People. The first time I met someone who played Patti Smith during sex – which, looking back is a little bizarre – I wanted to marry him.
AL: It was my dream just to find someone to listen to Meat Is Murder with and have a snog! And who know what might happen next?! The state of the gay clubbing scene was awful until Simon Hobart - may he rest in peace - came and rescued us all with Popstarz, but that was very much focussed on the Britpop explosion, and we wanted to things a little bit differently.
I always felt Popstarz was comparatively laddy and beery and ‘straight’. It wasn’t freaky, although it was better than most of what else was happening.
AL: It was a godsend at the time. Simon [Casson, Duckie producer] and I met our DJs on the dance floor at Popstarz. And Duckie was born. This idea of a club of outcasts, of people who didn’t fit in anywhere else. It's always been a gay club, but we don’t check people’s credentials at the door, we’re not really bothered. You just have to be really into the music and I always say: don’t wear nice shoes – because they’ll be ruined!
They’ll be ruined! Someone spilling beer all over you.
Or stepping on you because it’s always packed!
AL: So it was always this fantasy of mine to have this club of outcasts where I could hear ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ really really loudly and all the people around would be appreciating it in exactly the way I do, and that happened, and still to this day, 16 years on, every Saturday night, when they put a Smiths or Morrissey record on- nowadays I take the microphone and I sing along. The DJs put the mic up and I sing along [laughs]! And I’m like, You know what? It’s my club! If I wanna do Mozzeoke I can [deep throaty chuckle]!
It is hard to underestimate how powerful it was going to Duckie for the first time, or seeing Divine David, and feeling: Oh, thank Christ – at last!
AL: Yeah, yeah.
I think that’s still the case.
AL: Listen, there’s nowhere else I wanna be on a Saturday night. I love clubbing, I’m a night-bird. But there are very few clubs these days that really wake up my kinkies. I went to a good one not so long ago – I’m really into ‘60s music so I’m always on the look out for interesting ‘60s nights. I went to this thing at Madame JoJos on a Friday night called Good Foot. It’s good – I’m not really into ‘70s funk, but my girlfriend is – so I got the ‘60s backbeat stuff and there was a bit of James Brown in there to keep her happy… I guess what I’m saying is after 16 years there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. The high is undiminished.
For the uninitiated, could you give a sense of what Duckie is like?
AL: Yeah. It’s kinda spit and sawdust kinda pub – it’s important to say it’s in a pub, an old Victorian pub, with a stage and red velvet curtains so when you walk in you almost feel like it’s a little dinky theatre.
And there’s a long history of performance there…
AL: There’s been performance happening on that ground since the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in 1661. We feel like we’re carrying on that tradition. Post war, it’s been a gay pub. It was a mix of gay pub and drag pub and neighbourhood pub, one of those curious places that I think only exist in London, you know? There are different performances every Saturday – we have an activity island, I host and there’s different activities we do with the audience and you really get that feeling that anything could happen – onstage or off stage.
There’s that sense that effort is required - you have to listen, pay attention – it’s not the kind of clubbing experience that’s done to you. You have to contribute.
AL: We certainly demand your attention. One of the most important things we decided early on was that we wouldn’t insult the intelligence of our punters.
Which is really deeply novel for any gay commercial operation…
AL: [laughs]. Yes! I think that’s part of what keeps people coming back. Plus there’s no attitude. I don’t take any shit. If guys take their shirts off I actually go up to them and say excuse me can you put your shirt back on. They look at me like I’m insane and I say, I’m sorry, I’m not being funny but it isn’t that kind of club. The people that take their shirts off are those that have quote-unquote beautiful bodies, and I’m really not interested in beautiful bodies. I’m interested in fucked-up-ness, and [shirtlessness] only intimidates people. So we have a strong ethos: no body fascism. It’s put forth in a subtle way.
It totally reverses the dynamic of a lot of gay places, where whoever keeps their shirt on is the freak.
AL: It’s kind of a counterintuitive club too. It’s a very beery club – and like all clubs there’s a strict no drugs policy and a couple of weeks ago, there was someone in the venue trying to sell drugs. He couldn't have picked a worse club to try and sell pills in.
Plus it’s a really tiny open space to try and do something covert in.
AL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, all of a sudden five gay men come rushing over to me [hysterical voice]: 'Look at him he’s over there!' That would never ever happen in any other place. I went up to him and went, 'Really? I mean, really? You’re in the wrong place – besides it being illegal.'
‘You’ve let yourself down…’
AL: [laughter] Totally!! I said, I think it’s time for you to leave, and he said, I think you’re right! [riotous laughter]. No bouncer required.
Unhappy Birthday has had a long gestation – the scratch show I saw at Battersea Arts Centre over a year ago also marked a pretty decisive break from your Duckie persona. You were conscious that you wanted to do something very different?
AL: I was very conscious I wanted to do something very, very different. With my last show I was very static on stage, it was a very talky show, very verbal. With this, I wanted it to be more like a rock gig, insanity mixed with a breaking down of all our notions of what is acceptable public behaviour. It was hard for me because in order to do that you have to go places that are really quite scary [laughs]. A lot of my friends, after coming to the early scratch shows when it was in R&D were really quite scared, like what is she doing?
Is she having a breakdown?
AL: Yeah! But it’s so liberating. But I made a decision to work with a particular director – Scottee. His strength is his physicality, his shows are very physical. This is the first show he’s directing outside of his own artistic collective. It’s effectively his directorial debut outside his own work. It’s exciting for him, it’s also very exciting for me to get this incredibly fresh, young talent – I mean, he’s only 26.
I can sense that that relationship has become a very important and sustaining one.
AL: Ohhhh – yes. Hugely inspiring. I first met Scottee, he came to perform at Duckie, he was 17 years old and he was wearing a bin bag. I thought: you have to be my best friend. And he’s really fat. He was just amazing, amazing to watch on stage, even from that tender age - he probably shouldn’t have even been there being 17 but he was very precocious. He’s been performing at Duckie and doing loads of stuff with us in the interim. So I initially said, Let’s meet up – I’m thinking of doing this show…. And maybe we can do something together. It came at the perfect time.
He’d been performing, and running his own artistic collective but wanted to branch out into directing – the stars and the moon and the sun were all aligned, and as a result over the past year I’ve got to know him so well and I really, really feel like we were separated at birth in so many ways: we share the same politics, and we share the same dress size – and that is hugely beneficial. We share our clothes and we share our lunches. What more could you want from someone? He’s hugely creative, and he forces me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise do, which is his strength as a director. His strength is the physicality of his performance, mine is my talk – I can make shit up, I can go on and on and on, it’s from being on the radio. But the physical is something that I think has always held me back – and he’s helped me with that.
I’m also working with a choreographer, so it’s very performative. It’s been a joy, we have so much fun. It’s almost so that it doesn’t feel like work, and that’s something I haven’t experienced for a long time, you know? My last show, even though I loved it, it was harder because I was trying to fit more into a theatrical model – and that’s not my heritage. I’m not an actress, I don’t wanna be in a play – I wanna make a show that I’m just being. That’s the essence of this show... It’s more like coming to a birthday party or a gig than sitting in the audience and being polite [at a play].
Tell me about the show.
AL: You saw it – gosh – almost a year ago. The very first R&D showing. It’s called Unhappy Birthday: when people come in, they’re coming in to my birthday party. The audience are my mates, you come in you get a hat and a party popper. As well as everyone I’ve invited, I’ve also invited Morrissey, and we are waiting for Morrissey to turn up – the show happens as we are waiting for Morrissey to turn up. I’m not expecting in reality that he will. This is the conceit of the show.
It’s Waiting For Godot for Morrissey fans!
AL: Completely! [laughs] And when he doesn’t turn up is when… certain things happen.
You have a Beckettian existential trauma?
AL: Yes! So there’s loads of Smiths and Morrissey music – it’s a bit of a party, a bit of a gig, a bit pass-the-parcel, a bit Waiting For Godot.
When I saw it there were some quite traumatic bits. Is that still in it?
AL: There’s quite a lot of trauma in it.
How could there not be?
AL: But it’s ok. One of the main things I’m trying to look at is the tipping point into madness – from fandom into uber-fandom into insanity, which I think is something all diehard Morrissey fans know about. But I don’t want people who aren’t M fans or not into the music to think the show isn’t for them because whether you loved ABBA or Bowie or the Smiths or Depeche Mode or even One Direction, dare I say – exploring that, there’s a lot in there about teenage identity, the formation of the self – an exploration of who we are and coming to terms with that – the good and the bad and the ugly of it all.
Morrissey of course was an uber-fan himself.
AL: Yes – all of those letters he wrote to the NME about the New York Dolls, it’s crazy. I think he can see it.
And that’s why he pulls away – there’s something in that need he recognises in himself and finds… unsettling.
AL: But I think when he was young Morrissey himself was the ultimate bookish bespectacled outsider and as a result - 'Bookish Bespectacled Outsiders of the World Unite'! - [they] have rallied round him. So he’s getting only what he deserves, only what he’s asked for.
When I was his press officer, he said to me – in regard to what kind of article he would do, at that time it was covers only: ‘I don’t want to be one of many, David. Do you know what I mean?’ More than that - it’s like he made himself an outsider out of contempt for everything else and he doesn’t even want to accept the company of other outsiders.
AL: Maybe. But he’s created an amazing club of outsiders – but Morrissey will always stand apart. I understand that and I don’t begrudge him that. He is someone who loves spectacle and defies description – in the moment you try to pin something on him he twists away – which is part of his enduring appeal.
You said once that Morrissey is our moral barometer.
AL: I think he says things people don’t necessarily want to hear or wouldn’t say out loud themselves.
And that doesn’t mean he’s right but that he says the unsayable?
AL: No. But he’s pushing the margins of what is sayable in public. You can disagree with it, and I disagree with a lot of what he says, but he’s saying it. And in a world where pop stars are so anodyne and so groomed and put through the Simon Cowell school of bland-opathy, someone like Morrissey stands out like a sore thumb. Thank fuck for that. Where are the David Bowies of the world, shaving their eyebrows and putting zigzags across their faces? I wanna know where that is. It’s not happening in pop music – there are some great bands, but no one is actually saying things that are even vaguely interesting. That’s why I say he’s our moral barometer – we have to judge our own morals against what he says. You agree or disagree. Let’s see what happens with the court case with the NME – I think we’re in for a treat. Being a Morrissey fan isn’t necessarily easy.
Faith is nothing if it can’t withstand questioning. I’ve never understood liking an artist unquestioningly – that kind of fandom that can’t see the bad.
AL: There’s an absolute parallel there. There’s quite a lot of religion in my show. Is Morrissey Jesus – who knows? [chortles] The parallels are definitely there in the ritual, in the iconography, in the martyrdom… the faith and devotion, prostrating oneself, worshipping the icons, singing the hymns. The collective experience of being at a Morrissey concert – the transcendence; the holy relics we seek when he throws his shirt into the audience and we tear it apart, we want to bring a part of him home. The Beatles notoriously said they were bigger than Jesus, I think Morrissey probably is. And coming from a Catholic background he’s aware of [all of this], he’s probably very subtly cultivated that.
It’s interesting he has that huge following in Latin America.
AL: That’s all part of it. If you look at some 15th Century painting of Jesus on the cross, the way that Morrissey presents himself on stage, his physicality, is very similar. If you look at pictures of Jesus in icons – his hand on his heart and his right hand held up – it’s an album cover! It really is an album cover. You just have to look at Bona Drag. It’s all there and I think it runs very deep. I think that’s why in Latin America they feel so connected to him – the iconography is already there.
As a gay person were you ever frustrated with his not coming out? Jon Savage - rightly, I think – was up in arms about it at one point.
AL: I don’t care if Morrissey’s gay. I mean, I’d like him to be. It’d be better.
Well, of course he is, isn’t he? Can we say that now?
AL: He isn’t officially out.
Should we drag him out?
AL: What is ‘out’? I’m not interested in dragging him out. He wrote really early on about being part of the fourth gender. I see Morrissey, [pause, coughs] as trans[gender]! [riotous laughter] In the way that I indentify as that - people might say, eat me. I mean, I was born a woman, I’m still a woman – bits-wise. But in my mind, being trans isn’t; just about what you have in your underpants, it’s what you have in your mind. Trans as in transgressive, transcendent, trans-meaning crossing boundaries and going places that scare the fuck out of other people.
Back in the 80s when Morrissey was writing about the fourth gender – I finally think things have caught up; back then people thought it was realty outrageous, but then again Boy George couldn’t even come out of the closet! Times have changed. He hasn’t really written or said very much about sexual politics recently, but I know for instance he’s read a lot of Susan Brownmiller, who’s one of my favourite authors, who wrote an amazing book, Femininity – there are passages in that book that have been directly translated into Smiths lyrics. I like to think that I can unravel it all like every fan wants to. But hey-ho…
You’ve been talking to a lot of people who’ve been close to him. He’s burned a lot of people. For me the experience of working with him – even though it was ridiculously fun at times ultimately made it impossible for me to listen to the records for years after. How do you put all those bits of him together?
AL: Well, I never met him. Apart from a record signing in 1994 for Vauxhall And I. I was third in the queue. I said, "Can I ask you a question?" He said, "No!" He signed my record sleeve and he wrote ‘Amy – have a happy life, Morrissey’. So – I’ve never [really] met him, I don’t know him...
…well, who among us can say we do?
AL: Yeah. Well you do.
Well, not really.
AL: But I had to cover my ass with this show – one thing you learn talking to people and going through old clippings is that Morrissey really hates it when you do things about him without letting him know… So, I have written a letter to him, explaining everything, and saying technically he is invited to every show…
So, just to confirm, this in an actual letter you sent to him – you didn’t burn it inside a chalk pentangle?
AL: No, no – my people gave it to his people, who gave it to his other people, who gave it to his cat, who brought it in a little flask around its neck to a secret location where he opened it. So apparently he has read it. But at the same time I kinda had to simultaneously invite him and disinvite him, because if he turned up he’d really fuck up the show! I wanted to make it clear, I’m not doing the show in order to meet him, that’s not my objective.
Ok [deep breath] you know, I’m your friend, Amy and it’s really ok to ‘fess up that that’s why you’re doing it!
AL: No! NO! I’m not! [laughter] That’s what everybody asks me: what will you do if he turns up? And I say: I’ll treat him like a Morrissey looky-likey. You know, ‘finally, the agency has sent you round. You know that’s 85 quid an hour’ – that’s how I’m gonna have to treat it.
How do you square bad Morrissey and good Morrissey?
AL: Isn’t that what we all are? He’s human and he wants to be loved, just like everybody else does! [laughter]. We’re all flawed! Who the fuck is perfect? Unfortunately we have this twisted view that people in the public eye have to be quote-unquote role models. How fucking boring. Role models are boring. This picture perfect idea of behaviour – only saying the right things at the right time. It’s not interesting. It’s not interesting to me anyway. Above and beyond everything, Morrissey has proved himself to be very, very human… In spite of himself.
When The Queen Is Dead came out, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the West, Jimmy Somerville said something about it being a stupid thing to say, like ‘this queen isn’t dead’ or something. And although that’s not what the title refers to, I can see both sides. The same with Jon Savage’s argument – perhaps more so there. There was a period when his refusal to come out was particularly unfortunate because of the times. But now I think if we presume from his ambivalence about his sexuality that there is a discomfort about sex and sexuality, or being public about sex and sexuality, it reminds us that people still feel that way, and that we’re not living in post-liberation utopia where everything’s fabulous.
AL: I also think there’s so much pressure in the gay world now to behave in a certain way – you’ve got to get married, you’ve got to have civil partnerships. You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. It’s a very heavy cross to bear sometimes. I don’t blame him if he is gay and doesn’t want to come out. You might have to be someone like Ricky Martin! And who wants to be that? Who wants to be held up as some kind of gay role model. Morrissey is a real soothsayer. He is a man above and beyond his time, and that’s uncomfortable these days for people who want nice pat perfectly packaged pop stars.
You have to be allowed to have a space in which to be foolish, in which to say something you haven’t quite thought through because maybe you’re still thinking it through… It’s so rare to be allowed that.
AL: Tell me about it! That’s why I’m really shitting myself about this show! [guffaws] But I think you're right. Viva Morrissey. He’s a one-off.
Are you still a fan?
AL: I am still a fan. And I will be a fan until the day I die because Morrissey is not just for Christmas. And the afterlife – There is a place in hell for me and my friends, you know? Could be the only chance I get to see Morrissey is on the other side… to meet him in person. But it’s for life – not just for Christmas… or Wolverhampton!
So, finally: three favourite Smiths songs.
AL: My number one favourite is ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ Not one of the favourites of the band – I think they’ve actively said they don’t really like it very much. I love ‘Handsome Devil’, and I love ‘How Soon Is Now?’ That’s my top three. But it’s a bit like 'Murder Your Darlings' – that’s how I’m feeling at the moment… [laughs]
Top three Morrissey solo songs?
AL: My top three Morrissey solo songs change constantly because there’s such a breadth of material.
Do you mean in terms of quality?
AL: No, breadth as in quantity. There’s more to get through and continually rediscover. So recently I’ve been listening to ‘I Like You’, which passed me by when it came out but now it’s become an earworm, and I really love it and I love the sentiment. It a very Morrissey song. Pretty much you could pick anything of Vauxhall And I and it speaks to me.
‘Now My Heart is Full’
AL: ‘Billy Budd’… I met my girlfriend when that album came out, so it’s very tied up with meeting her and falling in love. I love anything off that album. Gosh – it’s so hard. Anything off Viva Hate. ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’ – everything though. Then again, I love all the rockabilly stuff, I love ‘Glamorous Glue.’
Best Smiths album?
AL: Hatful of Hollow.
Hmmm – best Smiths album that’s not a compilation?
AL: Not The Queen Is Dead – I can tell you that for sure. It might be The Smiths, you know. I love Strangeways. It’s the last hurrah! I’d probably say Queen is my least favourite album, I find bits of it quite twee… and I know it’s been voted [mock yawn] among the best albums of all time. I love Meat Is Murder.
Worst Morrissey solo track?
AL: I hate all that Christian Dior era stuff, from a couple of years ago. Swords, all that stuff. Sorry, it’s just not good.
Most underrated Morrissey solo?
AL: Our Frank. All that era – the Mark Nevin stuff. That’s all terribly underrated. Morrissey fans don’t like it 'cos it sounds different – it’s very pared down, there’s lots of piano, Morrissey’s singing is bit like he’s singing down one of those cones they use to make at school. It’s a very intimate album, I think it’ll come round again. I love those songs.
Unhappy Birthday runs at Assembly Three until August 26