Friday, November 30, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #41]
HIP HIP HOP BOOK REVIEWS
Melody Maker, early 1994

by Simon Reynolds


A decade ago, and a decade after the event, punk was the hot topic in pop academia. Today, hip hop is Number One in the cultural studies chart, although there are signs that rave will soon overtake it. Tricia Rose's Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Wesleyan University Press) is by far the best treatise on hip hop yet. Being of a left-wing, black nationalist bent, Rose is keen to validate rap culture as a proto-revolutionary force, but happily, she's not blinkered by her beliefs. Instead she has a nicely paradoxical sense of rap's contradictions. In her analysis, hip hop simulataneously celebrates black community yet reflects the internicine warfare that sets brother against brother; it's fiercely capitalistic (rappers' obsession with getting 'paid in full') yet contains a critique of capitalism's dehumanising effects. Musically, rap pays homage to black music tradition (R&B, soul, jazz, P-funk) yet wreaks iconoclastic damage to that tradition (via sampling).Capturing rap's contradictions, Rose deftly defends hip hop against the attacks of both the white Right and the black bourgeois establishment (who see gangsta rap as a disgrace to the race, with its promotion of 'negative stereotypes' of the young black male).

There's some fascinating historical/urban geographical stuff about rap's origins in the South Bronx. Rose sees it as a cultural response to the economic policies that literally ghettoised the area. Rap's resistance is embodied in the three formal characteristics--flow, layering and rupture-- that Rose identifies running through hip hop culture from graffiti and breakdancing to scratching/sampling and rapping. Hip hop simulates the urban warzone, yet simultaneously incarnates a survivalist response to its constant threats. Hip hop is full of ruptures--scratches, ambushes of samples, breaks--but incorporates them into the flow.

My only problem with Rose's approach is that she's so keen to validate hip hop that she glosses the extent to which a big part of its appeal is that it's nasty. A lot of rap is just black heavy metal, powertrippin' fantasies for testosterone-crazed adolescents. Snoop Doggy Dogg is Sid Vicious (always a more important part of the Pistols' and punk's appeal than cult-studs academics like to believe); both appealed because they're evil muthafuckers.

Brian Cross' excellent It's Not About A Salary: Rap, Race and Resistance in Los Angeles (Verso) offers a corrective to Rose's East Coast-centric history of rap. As well as interviewing a host of names obscure and obvious, Cross provides an urban geography of LA rap, and traces its history back through blacksploitation movies, the Watts Prophets (LA's Last Poets), to street-poetry forms like toastin', boastin', signifyin' and the dozens. Some of the flava of this oral culture can be gleaned from Juba To Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang, edited Clarence Major (Penguin). From the 1880's verb 'knock a joe' (a convict's term for mutilating oneself to avoid chain-gang labour), through 1940's slang like 'crumbcrusher' (a baby) and 'swobble' (eat food in a hurry), through to post-rap words like 'body bag' (condom), this is a treasury of linguistic flair. My only criticism: the book should have extended its coverage to Afro-Caribbean patois.

Finally, Microphone Fiends: Youth Music & Youth Culture, ed. Andrew Ross and Tricia Rose (Routledge). Despite its Erik B & Rakim title, this isn't a hip hop book, but an essential anthology of up-to-the-minute essays by all the big names in cult.studs.. The best are Susan McLary's brilliant piece on the history of moral panics about music, from Christian thinkers like John of Salisbury and Calvin (who feared that church music was getting too sensual and 'feminine'), through Adorno (who described jazz as 'eunuch-like') to the hysteria about rock'n'roll's jungle rhythms. And Lawrence Grossberg's treatise on the recurrent rhetoric of 'rock's death', in which he concludes that something has changed. Rock is no longer the centre of youth culture. Apparently kids spend twice as much time listening to music as they did in the '70s but it's way down the list of things that matter to them; music is something they use, rather than invest in. As Grossberg puts it: "rather than dancing to the music you like, you like the music you can dance to".

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene # 40]

JUNGLE EMERGES: A Flashback to 1993
director's cut of a piece written six years later, Spin, 1999

by Simon Reynolds


Years before Roni Size and LTJ Bukem became international hipster favorites, jungle was banished from the media limelight. To identify yourself as a "junglist" in 1993 meant you belonged to an outcast tribe, a scene feared by most London clubbers as a sinister underworld populated by speed-freaks and baby-gangstas. Born out of rave's Ecstasy-fuelled fervor, the music had mutated, under the influence of bad drugs and the desperation of the recession-wracked early Nineties, until it was too hard, too dark, and too black for most people to handle.

The emergence of jungle has everything to do with drugs. Its frantic breakbeat rhythms evolved because ravers buzzing on too many E pills and amphetamine wraps craved beats as hectic and hyper as their own overdriven metabolisms. The music's bad-trippy aura and disorientating FX simultaneously reflected and exacerbated the paranoia induced by long-term stimulant abuse. 1993 was the year of "darkside", a crucial transitional phase between hardcore rave's hands-in-the-air euphoria and jungle's guns-in-the-air menace.

"The production played tricks on your mind, " enthuses Two Fingers, author of the pulp novel Junglist, talking about twilight-zone jungle classics like Boogie Time Tribe's "Dark Stranger" and Origin Unknown's "Valley of the Shadows". "Darkside freaked out a lot of people, especially those still in the Ecstasy haze--because on E there's no distance between you and the music. Darkside was just evil, evil music--and that was good. Cos it got rid of the lightweights, to be honest".

One of the first all-jungle-DJs raves, Jungle Fever, went out of its way to scare off fans of happy rave and fluffy house, theming the venue with tombstones, coffins, and Gothic statuary. But the classic darkside moment in jungle mythology is an infamous inccident at a rave called Telepathy, where DJ Rap unwittingly played 4 Hero's "Mr. Kirk's Nightmare"---a song in which a father is informed about his son's fatal overdose--just seconds after a boy was knifed on the dancefloor.

Stabbings and muggings, friction and tension.... Many blamed the shift from rave's smiley-face glee to jungle's skrewface scowl on another drug: crack. After all, who else but rock-smoking fiends could possibly enjoy such insanely frenetic beats? Joe Wieczorek, owner of the hardcore rave club Labrynth, claims "the early dark jungle, you might as well call it crack music. There's nothing worse for a raver than being somewhere he doesn't feel safe, and if there's fifty rock-heads in the club, it's going to frighten the life out of you." But although there was a spate of anti-crack tunes like DJ Ron's "Crackman On the Line" in 1993, others reject the linking of jungle and crack as a crypto-racist slur based on the fact that the dancefloor was anywhere from 50 to 80 percent black.

If any substance has a claim to be the true junglist's drug, it's marijuana-- especially the hydroponically-grown ultra-strong weed known as skunk. An archetypal tableau in any jungle club is a group of boys stood in a huddle "building and burning." One youth clasps his hands together, fingers interlocked, and upturns the palms to form a flat surface for his friend to build a massive spliff on; in a crowded, jostling club, it's the only way to roll. Another friend leans close to block off the sight-lines of any security guard in the vicinity. "Burning"... well, that's self-explanatory. Marijuana is the reason jungle basslines started to run at reggae tempo, exactly half the speed of the accelerated breakbeats, thereby allowing dancers to skank rather than rave. And marijuana is why the nudge-nudge wink-wink references to E in tracks were gradually replaced by roots reggae samples exalting ganja, sensimilla and herb.

Jungle wouldn't exist without two black musics that also worship sub-bass and the chronic that intensifies the low-end boom: hip hop and reggae. The life arc of DJ Hype, founder of the labels Ganja and True Playaz, is typical. A white working class boy from the desolate East London borough of Hackney, Hype spent the Eighties playing on a reggae sound-system and competing in hip hop cut'n'mix contests. By 1990, he was spinning house on pirate station Fantasy FM and recording brutal Euro-techno anthems as The Scientist. Jungle is the only-in-London amalgam of all these different imported sounds, and crucially it was a collective invention. " I always say, we are the foundation, because there's no one record, no single DJ, no specific club, where jungle started," Hype declares.

If you wanted to pinpoint the emergence of jungle, though, one contender is the moment at the end of 1992 when tracks like Bodysnatch's "Just 4 U London" and Code 071's "London Sumting" hit the pirate radio airwaves. "That it's-a-London-thing stance, I always took as this-is-a-black-thing, y'know," says Two Fingers. "London has the biggest black population in Britain". It was black fashion that shaped jungle's style spectrum, which ranged from hip hop-influenced "ruffneck soldier" minimalism (puffy MA1 and MA2 flight-jackets, namebrand sneakers, baggy pants) to dancehall-reggae derived ghetto fabulous flashiness. At the ragga-dominated raves like Sunday Roast and Desert Storm, the 80 percent black British crowd "larged it" VIP style--the men flaunting Versace and Moschino, gold sovereign rings and bottles of champagne; the women flexin' their abdomens and winin' their waists in their skin-tight "batty rider" shorts, micro-skirts, bustiers, and thigh-high boots.

As well as changing the way people moved on the dancefloor, the ragga influence was decisive in another area that sealed jungle's break with house and techno: the crucial role of the MC. "Girls sticking their asses in the air and a MC really working the crowd, getting them to hold their lighters up and blow their horns to get the DJ to rewind the track." is how Lee Billingham, aka DJ Bo!ne, recalls his first encounter with jungle at the South London club Lazerdrome. "I loved the whole 'selector! wheel-and-come-again!' , rewind thing," says Two Fingers, another Lazerdrome regular. The democratic way in which the audience controlled the DJ via the MC, he argues, is part of jungle's renegade blackness--its participatory, call-and-response ethos. "As the jungle MCs like GQ, Det, 5-0 and Moose took on the Jamaican patois thing, they became more than crowd motivators, they were vocalizing what the massive was feeling, connecting you with the music more intensely, and adding a lyrical element to this largely instrumental music. There's an ephemeral, magical quality to the MC chants--especially on the pirate radio stations, they'd just go off on one, creating stuff on the fly."

It's the pirate radio stations that are the real heroes of jungle's story--they kept the vibe alive in the scene's early, pre-breakthrough phase. London has dozens of these illegal radio collectives, gangstas of the airwaves who broadcast from the top of towering apartment blocks and engage in a constant, quasi-military struggle to survive not just governmental suppression but the skullduggery of rival stations who'll gladly steal their pirate brethren's transmitters. Legend has it that one outfit, Rush FM, turned the derelict upper floors of an East London block into a fortress so impregnable that the DJ's had to rappel up the side of the building to reach the studio. They sealed the stairwell entrance with concrete, hollow metal tubes pumped with ammonia gas, and a wire connected to the electrical supply. When local government officials attempted to drill through the barricade, they hit the live wire and an electric spark ignited the gas, exploding the concrete and showering the workmen with shrapnel.

Yet for all its militancy and moodiness, jungle seethed with "a fierce, fierce joy", as convert Bjork put it. The speed of the music was crucial, as if you could somehow ride its future-rush, achieve escape velocity, and smash through to a brighter tomorrow.

"The breakbeats were so fast and chopped up, your body wanted to be pulled in twenty different directions at once," recalls DJ Bo!ne of his baptismal experience at Lazerdome. "Me and my mates just looked at each other, jaws dropped, and were, like, 'This is mental!!!!"."

Says Two Fingers: "Anyone can be a junglist, but for me, it's part of having a black spirit. Jungle is about getting sweaty and having a religious experience on the dancefloor. It can feel like the Holy Spirit is moving through you."

BONUS BEATS: A FLASHBACK TO 93!
A London Sometin' Dis
A Jungle Documentary filmed in 1993
Segment 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jd2Lr7C0nc&feature=related
Segment 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCXt62rfm18&feature=related
Segment 3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSsBcdD0Wsg&feature=related
and
another one, this from 1996
Lost In Music
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRLfCYFntVg&feature=related

Monday, November 12, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #39]

REVOLT INTO STYLE: POLITICS AND POP, mini-thinkpiece
Melody Maker, August 28th 1993

by Simon Reynolds


For a bliss-rocker like myself, the resurrection of agit-pop is a right turn up for the books. And it isn’t actually that easy to explain. Sure, socio-economically, we’re heading further up shit creek every day. But deterioration, immiseration and crisis have been the way of things since… since I was a nipper, actually. And for the last six years, pop culture’s response has been largely escapist (rave, slackerdelia, dreampop). So why--now--the return of agit-pop?

Perhaps people have simply been pushed too far, to the end of their tether. I don’t believe the current wave of agit-rockers has evaded the inherent problems of politics and pop any more successfully than, say, Gang of Four or The Redskins did. But even if they are just “preaching to the converted”, even if their audience are merely consumers of radical meanings, the very fact that consumer demand for “edutainment” has resurged is significant. Feelings of disconnection and impotence are so pervasive that people want to feel less isolated and find it cathartic (in an almost therapeutic way) to see anger and frustration acted out on stage or on record. There’s also a sense in which the apolitical rock that’s ruled the rock for so long has driven itself into a dead; rock culture needs to renew itself, and re-engaging with “reality” is one way to do that.

But, as I say, the contradictions of political rock, of protest in an entertainment context, remain unresolved. What do slogans actually achieve, apart from degrading language, and providing the warm, glowing feeling that comes from having one’s own convictions confirmed? For me, there’s a crucial difference between “political” (all music is political--even Slowdive--in that it involves choices and values) and the overtly “politicized”.

In terms of thought-provocation, I find more “politics” in the turmoil of contradictions of a PJ Harvey or the incoherence of Nirvana than in the plain-speaking, tell-it-like-it-is of Blaggers ITA, Rage Against the Machine, et al. And the utterly non-PC gangsta rap of Cypress Hill or Onyx--rage that offers no solutions or redemptive vision--tells you more about the state of Black America than the didacto-rap of KRS-1 or Hiphoprisy.

Consolidated trailblazed the revival of agit-pop: they grappled with its contradictions with a hyper-aware ferocity that puts the current wave to shame. But, to my mind, they foundered on those contradictions. Their first LP, The Myth of Rock, was totally invigorating, simply because its militancy was so virulently opposed to the dozy, hazy apathy of rock in 1991. The sequel, Friendly Fascism, was a precarious affair, with some blasting tracks but others that were just lectures over a beat. The last album was unlistenable and self-parodic.

The trouble with politicized rock is that the proselytizing impulse almost invariably goes hand-in-hand with a contempt for the aesthetic: music is only a means to an end. Look at Manic Street Preachers, who also trailblazed the resurrection of combat rock. Their desperation to get those supposedly crucial lyrics (actually a turgid, anti-poetic mish-mash of slogans from which I glean nothing--no illumination, no emotional response) into mass consciousness has led them to ape Bon Jovi’s quaint, lite-metal anthems.

As a movement, Riot Grrl has massive resonance and ramifications, but musically it’s had the effect of subordinating the music to the message: hence the staid, tomboy quality of Bikini Kill’s sound. The UK chapter, Huggy Nation, is more ambitious, and at least likes the idea of pushing the sonic envelope, but its doctrinaire rejection of virtuosity cripples that impulse.

So the perennial paradox endures: the most aesthetically adventurous music being made today is just--purely aesthetic, art for art’s, headfuck for headfuck’s sake. Ambient techno, the UK post-MBV fringe (shoegazing’s smarter sister), the US lo-fi bands--all are music that sounds great but “says” nothing. The US post-Pavement bands are a new kind of prog rock or jazz-rock (fission rather than fusion). Truman’s Water may be lo-fi, but their unusual time signatures, schizo-eclectic song structures and gibberish lyrics are pure prog. Most of the interesting music being made today is heading towards the state of the instrumental, all texture and no text.

Ambient dub-techno has already reached that point of pure muso-dom. It’s music as drug (or as adjunct to drug-taking), and its ascendancy shows that many people’s response to a strife-torn intolerable world is to seek asylum. Ambient is psychedelia, warped by Nineties retreatism, a desire to exile oneself from History. Whereas the agit-pop bands want to reconnect rock and history.

There are bands who combine radical form and radical content (although usually they’re more about personal politics), bands like Pram and Moonshake, who have revived the spirit of ’79 (PiL, the Raincoats, Gang of Four). But this avant-rock sector is probably too abstruse to win a mass audience; it doesn’t offer the satisfyingly simplistic, crude catharsis of your Rages. So, for the moment, aesthetic revolution and political radicalism remain uneasy bedfellows.

Perhaps agit-poppers devote so much time to rhetoric that they have none left for raising the aesthetic stakes? And yet agit-pop doesn’t need to sound trad to be populist (remember Public Enemy?). For now, though, we’re still waiting for that dream fusion of challenging form and confrontational content.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #38]

CYPRESS HILL, Black Sunday
Melody Maker, July 31st 1993


by Simon Reynolds

The first words you hear are "I wanna get high", and the rest of
Black Sunday is riddled with references to blunts and bongs.
Outspoken advocates for the legalization of hemp, Cypress Hill's
'blunted' sound defines hardcore hip hop today. The first time I
heard the term, I assumed 'blunted' had something to with dope taking
the edge off aggression, mellowing macho tensions into stoned, woozy
cameraderie. Actually, it comes from the Phillies Blunt, a cigar
which B-boys hollow out to make enormous joints. But my original
misapprehension actually fits Cypress Hill's fuzzy, muggy sound
perfectly: their laidback songs simmer with a violence just barely
held in check.

It's so right that this LP's release coincides with a record US
heatwave. Cypress Hill capture that humid, heat-hazy unreal feel
where walking the streets is like being inside a bad dream. Cypress'
music blurs the borderlines between psychedelic and psychotic. The
songs sound deceptively jaunty (the samples are all upful slices of
Sixties soul, Meters-style proto-funk, jump-blues, doo-wop), but the
lowest-of-the-low-end bass exudes a baleful, viscous menace. Rappers
B-Real and Sen Dog's nonchalant nursery rhyme delivery only increases
the marrow-chilling quality of the lyrics, a non-stop namedrop of
weapon slang (gats, glocks, AK's, sawn-offs, et al). The cartoon
violence ("coming out blasting like Yosemite Sam") and the jeering
"nya nya nya" playground chorus of "Hand On the Glock" add to the
impression that gangsta-ville is populated with overgrown schoolboys.

Talk about arrested development: Cypress Hill's world is so
retarded it's almost prepubescent. If there's no misogyny here, it's
only cos it's a boy's own world. The only tender line on the album
is "I love you, Mary Jane"--and it's not about a girl. Cypress aren't
as deeply into male-bonding as those other current hardcore rulers,
Onyx (slam-dancing slapheads whose chant is 'let the boys be boys!').
But their world is chastely fixated on two things: stupefaction
("Legalise It", "Hits From The Bong") and paranoia ("Insane In the
Brain", the creepy "Cock The Hammer", where samples shimmer like
spectres in the far corner of your vision).

Cypress Hill's soundscaper DJ Muggs is inspired, but he's a
fundamentalist. Shunning the arty advances of the post-De La Soul
bohemians, he takes rap back to the old school days when "get a
little stupid and pump that bass" was the rallying cry. Despite
their Cuban/Italian-American/Mexican composition, Cypress refer to
themselves as "niggas", in solidarity with the black lumpen-
proletariat. "Real-ness" is gangsta rap's watchword these days.
Ironically, the quest to be harder and realer than the rest has
spiralled out of control, resulting in a grotesque cartoon of ghetto
reality. Cypress' shrill loops of horn or soul-screams (the "kettle's
boiling!" effect invented by the Bomb Squad) make me think of a
'Beano' angry bloke with steam coming out his ears, blowing his lid.

Black Sunday is samey, thematically (it's all about getting
wasted or wasting the other guy) and musically (there are no
departures like the debut's sultry "Latin Lingo"). It's a
consolidation of DJ Muggs' influential sound, not an evolution. The
feeling of continuity is increased by quotes from earlier songs,
while "Hand On The Glock" is a (brilliant) remake of the debut's
"Hand On the Pump". But it's a magnificent, malevolent monotony.
Black Sunday is a chiller-thriller that'll have your blood running
cold even as the thermometer tops 99.

Friday, November 02, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #37]

LETTER FROM NYC: BUM RAP, column
Melody Maker, January 30th 1993

By Simon Reynolds


Alternative rockers from the Chili Peppers to Sonic
Youth rallied eagerly to MTV's "Rock The Vote" crusade:
underneath the urgency with which they exhorted kids to
register, you could clearly read the message "VOTE CLINTON".
But rappers were conspicuous by their abstention. Ice T
couldn't be bothered to express a preference between the
candidates, while post-election, an underwhelmed Ice Cube
declared that now he was looking forward to getting "Clinton
out of the White House."

You could hardly blame the hip hop community for feeling
uninvolved. Clinton went out of his way to placate white
fears, with his strategic masterstroke of dissing Sister
Souljah, his cold shouldering of black leaders like Jesse
Jackson, and his often-aired plan to put 100,000 more cops on
the streets. Of course, you could hardly blame Clinton for
doing what he had to do to lure the Reagan Democrats (the
white, worried middle class) back into the fold. This was
politics as usual, and a lot of Black Americans gritted their
teeth and accepted it.

What was truly unnerving and despicable was the deafening
silence maintained by all the candidates concerning the LA
riots. In the Middle Ages, popular revolt functioned as a
form of petition. Rioters knew that the uprising would be
quelled, but they also knew the King would pay attention and
make an effort to alleviate their woes. But the LA riots
failed to elicit such a response from the political classes,
bar some woffle about creating 'enterprise zones' to
encourage business to move into the destitute inner cities.

So what do you do if you're black, from the ghetto, and
the most virulent and visible explosion of your pain and fury
has been swept under the carpet? The rap equivalent of
rioting is songs like Ice T's "Cop Killer" and Paris' "Bush
Killa": unconstructive, if perfectly justifiable, expressions
of rage, symbolic and ultimately sterile. These songs remind
me of Morrissey's petulant fantasy "Margaret On The
Guillotine", written at Thatcherism's zenith, when it seemed
the "good folk" were outnumbered by the loadsamoney majority.
The problem with the "killa" songs is that rage is vented
in the instantly gratifying fantasy of revenge, rather than
channelled into politics (which takes a lot longer to get
results).

In the pilot issue of Vibe, a new rap culture
mag, Greg Tate agonises over whether hardcore rap is just a
"momentary containment of [black anger] or worse, an
entertaining displacement?" For Tate, rap's problem is that
it's "agenda-less. It reacts better than it proposes."
Despite hip hop's astonishing cultural victory (its
permeation of US society from advertising to fashion), it's
yet to prove itself as "a harbinger of the black revolution".

In truth, hip hop is going through a bit of a
slack, directionless phase, and its problems are aesthetic as
much as political. Public Enemy's music has gotten mighty
tired: maybe Chuck D's recent pilgrimage to Africa will
rejuvenate, although the black Clash might end up recording a
Sandinista style turkey. The only sonic innovators around
are Cypress Hill, with their Hispanic-flavored, 'blunted'
vibe (a blunt is a special kind of joint), and Arrested
Development, who were last year's De La Soul, i.e.
bourgeois-turned-bohemian art-rap. And the only really
magnetic characters are Treach from Naughty by Nature and Ice
Cube, whose charisma and intelligence sustains their solid
but unimaginative music. The rest of rap is awful samey,
from butt-fixated crossovers like Mixalot's "Baby's Got Back"
and WrecksN'Effect's "Rump Shaker", to the underground's
unremarkable variations on the same old gangsta/B-boy themes.

Apart from the braggart bitch-dissing, hardcore rap's
main message is it's own refusal to cross over. This
fretting over "authenticity", which is partly an anxiety to
keep whites (as consumers and performers) out, has had a
inhibiting effect on the music. The retreat to old school
purism means every record revolves around the same formula: a
mid-pace funky beat, "phat" bassline, and looped samples
(usually jazzy horn-squawks or Hammond ripples). The
"authenticity" school of thought is articulated by the rap
magazine The Source (its name connotes roots, heritage). If
only the highbrow detachment of Vibe* could be combined with
the fanzine-like street-level patriotism of The Source, then
hip hop would have a magazine that could set challenges for
the music rather than follow in its wake. Rap sorely needs
such an injection of impetus.



* no really that's what Vibe was like in those days! Greg Tate was a regular contributor and not that out of step with/further out than the rest of the contents.
[Bring the Noise deleted scene #36]

LETTER FROM NYC: SING YOUR NON-LIFE, column
Melody Maker, September 19th 1992

By Simon Reynolds


Morrissey's recent flirtation with jingoism really shouldn't have been that surprising. Insularity has always been his thing, from his nostalgic resentment of foreign/futuristic influences on English culture, to his denial of the truth that "no man is an island". For me, even more revealing than the "black and white will never mix" bit in the Q interview, was Morrissey's admission that he'd taken Ecstasy, twice, and each time by himself. The first time was, apparently, the most amazing moment in his life: he looked in the mirror and saw "someone who was extremely attractive".

Now, along with freaky-dancing, E promotes empathy, tactile affection and intimacy. The idea of Mozzer using the "interesting drug" to bond more closely with himself is so tragi-comical, so perfectly attuned to his image and his pathology, it's not true. In fact, I've begun to wonder if it really isn't true, but rather a tale spun by Moz as part of a strategic policy of disinformation. Because Morrissey knows that his aesthetic, his career, his financial future, depend on the idea that he is unloveable and unloved. He has to keep on insisting that he's charmless and untouched by human hand, in order to sustain his appeal to his mostly heterosexual, love-lorn following.

These feelings were amplified when I read the US Morri-zine Sing Your Life. In North America, the Mozzer cult is bigger than ever (amazingly, these kids were hooked by the lame solo stuff rather than The Smiths), and Sing is just one of a dozen, including one computer 'zine. By far the most interesting thing about Morrissey now is the devout ardour of his fans. S.Y.L. makes it clear that their main concern is strategies for getting onstage in order to kiss and hug their idol. So there are letters from readers thanking S.Y.L. for showing that Morrissey "is not untouchable", that "with unrelenting determination, our dream will one day be realised". There are innumerable testimonials of what The Moment was like. "The most emotional scenes I have ever seen... I just wanted to stay there forever", "I saw God coming down", "a lord up there, his music savagely attacked me", "Morrissey is my life; Morrissey is my death", "the utmost feeling of ecstasy", "Morrissey makes reality seem unreal".

I could never dismiss these people as sad individuals, but their stories make me sad. I can remember living that adolescent intensity, where the love you owe yourself or other flesh-and-blood humans seems like it can only be expressed through an idol or an Ideology. For these fans, touching Morrissey is an electrifying sacrament in which all their repression and passion is orgasmically released. Reading S.Y.L., it's also clear that it's crucial for the fans to believe that Morrissey is as shy, awkward, and starved of touch as they are. What's unique about Moz is the way he's codified the themes of loneliness and fan projection in his work, and exposed the circularity and ultimate sterility of the syndrome. He must know that his teen belief that he was engaged in "an absolute tangible love affair" with his idols, leads nowhere (unless they're all supposed to become idols, with fans/phantom lovers of their own - the argument of the song "Sing Your Life"?). A Pied Piper of teen angst, he's knowingly led his fans into the cul-de-sac of loving only the pristine images of distant (or dead) icons, rather than risking the messy compromises of real-life close encounters. What makes Morrissey such an increasingly grotesque phenomeon is the age gap between idol and fans; his audience hasn't grown with him because his art hasn't grown up. Instead his flock is endlessly re-stocked with each year's harvest of sensitive souls.

You can't live 'here', and the brighter writers on Sing Your Life know it. Hagop Janoyan observes how all Moz's US fans are in their late teens, how the Smiths-era fans have moved on, and worries that he too will out-grow his ardour and become a member of "the Ordinary World". Mark Sirard writes in "The Morrissey Equation" that "it is our desire to bridge this distance that keeps us in a state of eternal attraction". Fandom is an ultra-intense state of suspension and deferral that allows the fan to live in the ideal, unrequited but thus never dis-illusioned. But to give up illusions needn't mean a come-down to banality, it can mean affirming limits and finding an object worthy of your passion. Perhaps Hagop should start a spinter zine called Start Your Life.


BONUS QUOTES FROM THE MORRISSEY INTERVIEW IN Q

On racism and multiculturalism.

"I don't want to sound horrible or pessimistic but I don't really think, for instance, black people and white people will ever really get on or like each other. I don't really think they ever will. The French will never like the English. The English will never like the French. That tunnel will collapse."

On the death of Englishness

"It's a part of my overall psyche. It's not unique to [Your Arsenal]. I supposed a few years ago I would have spoken more morosely about this great, dying tradition. Well, now it has died. This is the debris, now.... I don't want to be European. I want England to remain an island. I think part of the greatness of the past has been the fact that England has been an island. I don't want the tunnel. I don't want sterling to disappear. I don't want British newscasters to talk in American accents. I don't want continental television.

On Ecstasy

"I've taken it a couple of times. The first time I took it was the most astonishing moment of my life. Because - and I don't want to sound truly pathetic - I looked in the mirror and saw somebody very, very attractive. Now, of course, this was the delusion of the drug, and it wears off. But it was astonishing for that hour, or for however long it was, to look into the mirror and really, really like what came back at me. Now even though I had that wonderful experience, and it was a solitary experience - there was nobody else present - I'm not actually interested in drugs of any kind."