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An, apparantly, new NME-Moz interview

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The new Roman Emperor

The FBI have got a file on him, pro-vivisection groups hate him, America bores him, but here Il Mozalini explains how he's finally found love and contentment in Rome… with Chris Eubank as his minder

Through the churn of bodies on the Via del Corso you might glimpse him – lapels raised, eyes to the domes, heat in his heart. Across the dusk-time tourist thrum at the Spanish Steps he’ll dart and dodge, shying from the eyes and headlights, diving for the anonymity of the backstreets. He’s there, jumping the queue at the Monte Carlo pizzeria for his nightly spaghetti al pomodoro, sloping into a sculpture gallery by the Piazza del Popolo to be blessed from on high by Tadolini’s Pope Leo XIII or slouched in a booth at Caffé Greco tutting into his tea at the flurry of fox fur all around and communing with the ghosts of Casanova, Byron, Goethe and Stendhal. The new Don of Roma touring his territorio, mingling freely with the hustlers, jostlers and lovers of his freshly adopted hometown, living La Dolce Vita.

He’s had many names, this most conspicuous of no-ones. In England he was simply, affectionately, Moz; in LA, The Mozfather. But here – in the city where he has discovered sociability, belonging and perhaps (whisper it) even happiness at last – they hail him with a new familiarity. In Rome, he is Il Mozalini.

Morrissey – alternative icon, mope-pop Lazarus, Quiff Of Kings – ponders, perched by an open window of the Hotel de Russie so as to soak in the bustle and clatter of the town that has drawn him out of himself, made him appreciate the closeness of bodies.

“Everything takes place on the streets. Life is lived outside of buildings, people are constantly walking the streets and doing the best with their physical selves. It’s affected me. I can see it, I understand it and for me it’s quite well timed. I spent so many years on the journey inwards and I was very relieved to be led to Rome and find this air of relaxation and freedom.”

Have you found a home here?

A tentative nod, a sniff of the city. "I hope so, but since I never intended to be in Los Angeles and I never intended to be here and I do feel mysteriously led, then I can’t tell. Next week it may be the Dominican Republic, you just never know.”

And a muse?

Another nod, firmer. “I have certainly found a muse, and the way the album occurred here, how all the components jumped into place

I simply followed. When I came to Rome just over a year ago it grabbed me, I was whooshed and I just knew I had to stay and record the album here. I was very pleased that the label allowed it to happen because most labels would say, ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ I came here accidentally, for no reason. It was a calling.”,

A voice in your head said, ‘Go to Rome’ and you went?

“That’s exactly what happened. You hear that voice and it’s clear.”

The famous chin warps, the celebrated cheeks expand, the faith-inspiring forelock quivers. Good lord, could that really… could that actually be Morrissey… smiling?

“You simply sit back,” he grins, “and wait to be called.”


Ten minutes earlier, and on a businesslike table in a modest room at the Hotel de Russie, a Grey Goose vodka and tonic and an expectant NME dictaphone await the lips of Morrissey. There’ve been 14 rocky years under the bridge since the now legendary Mozzergate incident at Finsbury Park (he appeared onstage at a Madness all-dayer singing ‘National Front Disco’ while wrapped in a Union Jack) and NME’s knife-in-ribs reportage of the event (essentially ‘Morrissey: Fool Or Fuhrer?’) drove stakes between the two camps, causing him to refuse to talk to NME for a full decade, but even after 2004’s kiss-and-make-up in the run-up to ‘You Are The Quarry’, Moz still enters the coliseum of the NME interview with his shield semi-raised. Already, warnings have been issued from the Moz camp that he’ll say nothing on the recent press furore around his comments in support of the Animal Rights Militia on www.true-to-you.net (“I understand why fur farmers and so-called laboratory scientists are repaid with violence – it is because they deal in violence themselves and it’s the only language they understand”) and that any line of questioning regarding his sexuality is likely to make him “uncomfortable”.

He needn’t worry – friends, Romans, sultry men, we come to praise Morrissey, not to bury him; to toast the re-ascendance of indie’s homecoming Caesar to his rightful place at the head of the post-urch senate, to poke around in the innards of the thumpingly-brilliant ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’ album and engage in a parry or two on the themes of God, death, love and blowing up research technicians. And indeed, when Moz enters our modest arena – a picture of well-maintained, buttoned-down continental sophistication – he’s genial and relaxed, if ever-so-slightly on his guard. Certainly, his trademark withering put-down is never far from his tongue, such as when

we ask after the football shirt reading ‘Mozalini 10’ that was given to him as a gift by QPR striker Kevin Gallen.

“Amazingly well researched,” he brow-raises. “You obviously have no social life.”

Nonetheless, it’s a full-hearted and settled figure Morrissey cuts in 2006 – not just reborn, but relocated. As his ‘comeback’ (he winces at the word) hit its peak in 2004 with the Number Two triumph of ‘You Are The Quarry’ and his effortless rush and push into the arena strongholds of the Manchester Evening News Arena and London Earl’s Court, the City Of Angels suddenly seemed to him overrun with demons. They bawled him through immigration, flashbulbed him in police cells and even interrogated him for hints of a threat to national security. And the electrified gates of home offered no sanctuary either – his Hollywood Hills mansion was infested with memories of his seven years in the career wilderness between ‘Maladjusted’’s whimpering demise and ‘…Quarry’’s roaring return. America, for Morrissey, no longer felt like the world.

“I only ever planned to be there for one year,” he recalls, “and suddenly seven years had passed. I was surprised that the city interested me for so long. It has the appearance of enthusiasm but it’s also quite dim and a crashingly naive place. But then America as a whole is a very naive country. When [bush] gained his re-election, the effect throughout America was exactly the same as the after-effects of 9/11, when, for two weeks, everywhere was silent and people were stunned. Nobody actually knew what to say to one another, it was so dreadful. People were saying, ‘How could it possibly happen? Are politics this corrupt? Has something happened that the people are unaware of?’ Also, the press in America is very controlled and when you view Bush as being a terrorist, it’s very difficult to attempt to live under that regime.”

At the time, your jibes at the immigration officials on ‘You Are The Quarry’ and your subsequent comments about feeling victimised by the US police sounded like the grumbles of a slightly inconvenienced first-class frequent flyer. But since then you’ve been vehemently anti-Bush and anti-police in interviews – which is exactly the sort of thing that gets you FBI files for real.

Morrissey frowns.“Well, it has happened. The FBI and the Special Branch have investigated me and I’ve been interviewed and taped and so forth.”


A shrug. “I wonder. My view is that neither England or America are democratic societies. You can’t really speak your mind and if you do you’re investigated, even though it’s just a basic process that must be done – whenever there’s a tragedy in England they always conclude it by saying, ‘This matter will be investigated,’ which is simply to make the public think they’re doing something about it. But it’s the result of a non-democratic society.”

What were the FBI asking you?

“They were trying to determine if I was a threat to the government, and similarly in England. But it didn’t take them very long to realise that I’m not.”

Maybe you are.

“I can’t see how. I don’t belong to any political groups, I don’t really say anything unless I’m asked directly and I don’t even demonstrate in public. I always assume that so-called authoritarian figures just assume that pop/rock music is slightly insane and an untouchable platform for, if you like, the working classes to stand up and say something noticeable. I think for the most part it’s laughed off really.”

If any musician could lead the revolution, though, you could.

“I’d like to think so, but…” a huge, belly-emptying sigh, “single-handedly?”


So, whether hounded out by the uniforms, drawn by a craving to be immersed in history and culture or simply obeying the voices in his head, Morrissey’s love affair with California (or, if the fervid internet chatter is to be believed, Morrissey’s love affair in California) was over and a whirlwind romance with Rome (or, etc) wholeheartedly begun. He took rooms in Hotel de Russie (his temporary home for a year now, while he hunts out a more fixed abode), took tea at Caffé Greco and took a new celebrity mate – in LA he hung with Nancy Sinatra, in Camden he’d chill in Alan Bennett’s crib and in Rome he’s been swapping pugilistic witticisms with none other than former boxer Chris Eubank.

“Chris is my recently appointed minder,” he jokes. “By all accounts he’ll be very busy.”

Finally, he took his band and Bowie producer Tony Visconti into a Roman studio and – creative wheels oiled by the freshly-stated devotion of his public – in a matter of months wrote and recorded ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’: his boldest, most adventurous and intensely personal collection to date. Essentially Act II of Morrissey’s solo career hitting its arch and confident stride, musically it’s his most daring record since ‘Your Arsenal’ – herein lurk Arabic funeral laments (‘I Will See You In Far-Off Places’), military marching songs (‘At Last I Am Born’), piston-hard pop uppercuts (‘You Have Killed Me’, ‘In The Future When All’s Well’) and doomy thunderstorm atmospherics resembling ‘Southpaw Grammar’’s ‘The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils’ if he’d written a proper tune for it (‘Life Is A Pigsty’).

Lyrically, meanwhile, on first impressions, NME declared ‘Ringleader…’ to circle around three themes: love, God and death. But as Morrissey accurately points out, “love, God and death motivate everything. They motivate The Six O’Clock News, they motivate Emmerdale”. And indeed, upon closer inspection, the distinctions are blurred – it’s an upbeat record, but a touch bi-polar. Conflicting emotional references are dotted throughout – for instance, the pop-operatic ‘I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero Now’ refers to “My one true love” being “under the ground” while ‘To Me You Are A Work Of Art’ is pure celebration of an adored, and clearly still alive, paramour. And most glaring is the contrast between album closer ‘At Last I Am Born’, undoubtedly Morrissey’s most positive song ever, and ‘Life Is A Pigsty’ which, despite ending with the pained cry of “Even now, in the final hour of my life/I’ve fallen in love again” and facing some intimidating competition, is perhaps his bleakest. It seems that, with the big five-o looming, middle age is exposing Morrissey to life’s wildest emotional extremes.

“Because you can admit openly that life is a pigsty,” he argues, “you can admit that life is a tragedy and we’re all burdened and we all have to face so much horror and decay and loss simply by reason of the fact that we’re human. But you can also admit that within the quagmire you can find time to – not rejoice, God forbid – but to feel some contentment.”

The clues are in the artwork: whereas ‘You Are The Quarry’’s vitriolic fightback found Mozzer wielding a tommy gun, the first shots for ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’ feature a serene Moz playing a violin, suggesting a state of mind verging on the harmonious.

A semi-grin, all he can allow himself. “Yes, absolutely correct. I think that sums up the intention of the album. It’s very worrying.” It’s as if, either in your personal life, your career or your move to Rome, you’ve finally found happiness, but you’re convinced it’ll end when you snuff it Wednesday week.

Do you feel death at your shoulder?

“Yes, I did, I do. Because people don’t last and it’s the thinnest of lines that you step over and make that final journey. When you’re younger you feel that it’s a great leap to take, but it isn’t, it’s the batting of an eyelid and you’re no longer. And all this brain matter that you’ve been working on for the past 50 years, perfecting, and all these elongated words that you now know and use, it comes to nothing and you’re rubble.”

Explain the album’s title.

“I mean, in a basic, almost childish sense, I’m the leader, I’m the leader, I’m the leader of the gang, I am. Name that tune.”

The album’s about Gary Glitter?

Morrissey spurts a fine spray of Grey Goose and tonic, choked with laughter. “No! I might be desperate but I haven’t reached the point where I’m singing about Gary Glitter! Not that that won’t come in the future. It’s just another way of saying I’m the leader of the gang. This is how things become convoluted and misinterpreted.” He shakes his head at all the petty idiocies that peck at him; the tormenting of the tormentor. “It’s a vicious world.”


Even as we speak, the wolves in lab coats are circling. Mere days ago Morrissey’s outspoken support of the ‘terrorist’ tactics of the Animal Rights Militia – targeting animal experimentation laboratory workers with kidnappings, car-bombings and violent intimidation – caused uproar in the UK press and brought the familiar weight of condemnation down upon him once more.

“I think if you were present in the laboratories,” Morrissey responds without a flicker of repentance, “and you saw those cats and dogs having their eyes sewn together and you saw the cats having lead plates driven into their heads, I think it is reasonable [to say that]. I’m not responsible for any extremist action, I don’t take away the lives of living beings for no reason whatsoever. The so-called ‘research’ laboratories that do this, their actions are extremist because they take away the life of a living being. All I’m saying is this is unacceptable.”

But the practices of the Animal Rights Militia would also be unacceptable to anyone who’s disgusted by violence towards living creatures.

Morrissey frowns. “They have no choice. They don’t want to [harm anybody] but they are driven to this because British law is useless in this respect and because the actions within laboratories throughout England are so atrocious. I don’t accept that people are simply ‘doing their job’. We all have our morality and there are instances where someone has to check one’s own intelligence and morality. If you are inflicting serious harm upon living beings, when is that acceptable?”

You’re saying it’s acceptable when they’re inflicting serious harm on lab workers?

An exasperated gasp. “It’s the only way they can gain any degree of attention. I can assure you, even with car bombs or any other method, those are nothing at all compared to how animals are abused and tortured and simply thrown into a bin, still living, in the name of cancer research or otherwise. It’s a scam, it’s an industry and it’s just immoral.”

NME reads Morrissey an official response from Colin Blackmore, head of the Medical Research Council, pointing out that animal research has helped develop “vaccines against flu, insulin for diabetics, [and] pain relief during operations, kidney dialysis and open heart surgery” and arguing, “if Morrissey is truly opposed to barbarism he should condemn any deliberate violent, threatening and intimidating acts, including these against researchers.” Mozzer shrugs.

“Of course they must say anything in order to sanction their position,” he says. “Most research is useless, and certainly cancer research is an industry on which many people thrive, on the fact there is no cure for cancer. And why use animals for human research? Animals are not human beings. Why not use human beings? The life of that animal is just as important to that animal as your life is to you, so why do we feel we should dominate animals just because we can? Enough animals have been experimented on over the last 40 years, enough is enough. It’s only continued because the researchers gain money for every single experiment that they undertake, so they’re very happy to wheel in a hundred dogs and cats, slit their stomachs open and throw them in the bin. That’s not acceptable to me.”

Unbudging, unflinching, uncompromising. The more you decry Morrissey, the braver he gets.

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