After the sudden end of The Smiths, and the equally abrupt out-of-the-box launch of Morrissey’s solo release (a head-spinning 5 months after the break up), fans who could not possibly be expected to choose to go with either Mom or Dad waited on the fence to see where Johnny Marr would end up. The sheer force of Moz’s charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent (tm Rupaul) dominated the public face of The Smiths, and his often raw and at times showy singing made it sometimes a challenge to enjoy Marr’s formidable, singular guitar talents. After all, says one of his biggest admirers – Noel Gallagher – the guy is so great, even he (Marr) doesn’t know how he does it.
Fans around the world, some of whom like us in the faraway “seaside town” of Toronto , Canada, who were just getting The Smiths on passed around cassette tapes and import vinyl in the fleeting last years before the band’s break up, were left at the end of the driveway in confusion, as the heroes most of us would never get to see play live drove away. Never would the kids who fell for The Smiths in the 80’s ever experience a love like this. We were smitten, and then, we were devoted.
Marr was never the front man*, by nature and by occupation, he was just not a show off. He seemed utterly content to be part of a four piece, and seemed to thrive off the interaction with the band and the singer. He had composed the music of our lives, and created transcendent, airy riffs out of thin air, with a signature jangle that would introduce the listener into the then fascinating, curious, and later iconic, world of The Smiths.
The first round of sympathy in the break up went to Moz. He was after all, a vocal defender of his carefully tended patch of turf, as wounded intellectual and unloveable cemetary gates lurker (and great, wry, wit). We sensed- we intimated across the miles – that Johnny had somehow broken Moz’s heart- despite all the evidence to the contrary that Morrissey immediately remarried and had a baby, so to speak. Or two. Moz had some good game. After all, he’s been getting away with it….all his life.
It took a while for fans to find Marr. While he was no doubt in high demand by all and sundry for his creative services (Select Mag, with tongue in cheek, calls him promiscuous), and was, or became friends, with the entire music industry once he was free to date around, he became a bit of a session guy before wading into the spotlight again. In the end, for it was the end, it may just be that the two we loved to see together outgrew each other and went their own ways (true to form, one retreating off stage while the other becoming the solo icon that his staunch vision and perfect for marquee lights name demanded: MORRISSEY).
The turn of events would mean that Marr would become everyone’s distant but cordial “uncle”, a change that meant we’d have to go and look for him. Thus, a generation followed the tapestry of music that Marr wove into, increasing our musical vocabulary and tastes in a years-long master class. Marr rewarded the patient by appearing all over the landscape for many years to come, leading to our ears becoming finely tuned for Marr’s signatures as he graffiti tagged the world with his joyous sound. We don’t know how the hell he did it but the evidence is everywhere. We would pay closer attention to a new song on the car radio, keen and ready to love it with his stamp of approval. It was Where’s Waldo with a much better “impeccable” wardrobe and all of those gifts to share.
(The mighty) Select Magazine spent considerable time proving this back in 1991 for future historians and devotees and so here we are.
If we ever find the person who charted this, we will buy them drinks all night.
* Marr is now a front man and is not to be missed if you can see him in live, but that’s a story for another day.