Yet in all this no-one seems to have sought the most obvious opinion of all: the Bengali (in platforms). After all it was the 1988 track of this name that first raised this question.
Back in the 80s listening to John Peel under the bedclothes into the wee hours as a teenage Bengali felt like tapping into a forbidden underworld where anti-establishment ramshackle indie was substituted for the slick chart-sounds of daytime airwaves. Best of all were the Smiths (1983 – 1988).
So I felt personally wounded when I heard the newly solo Morrissey’s instruction: “Bengali in Platforms, shelve your western plans, life is tough enough when you belong here.” Although Morrissey as Smiths mainman had ventriloquised so much of my adolescent angst, we parted company on the spot.
In the ensuing years I steadfastly justified my position as pro-Smiths (who’d played Red Wedge, anti-apartheid and miners’ benefits) but not a solo-Morrissey adherent. Yet I witnessed him live in 1993 at Drury Lane after landing up free tickets and I sporadically caught albums taped for me by friends. In 2004 my first nocturnal sortie after giving birth a month earlier was to see Morrissey at the Manchester Evening News Arena courtesy of a visiting pal. In short from 1988 to 2007 Morrissey was a guilty pleasure.
Before I stopped buying the NME in the 90s I read about Morrissey wrapping himself up in the union jack and then being bottled off when supporting Madness at Finsbury Park. Like all good anti-racist campaigners I found his constant refusal to condemn racism when invited to, for not wanting to be boxed into a corner, infuriating. I wished that he would nail all the rumours once and for all. I sneakily bought his 2006 album (in the HMV sale) though and found it a corker.
When the current controversy erupted I assumed that the singer’s usual position had been maintained – until I got the NME for the first time in aeons and read it.
Morrissey voices the sentiment that England’s character is being increasingly less discernable as specifically English. He also remarks that you can’t have limitless inward migration. Gordon Brown has waxed lyrical on redefining Britishness and there’s nothing stated that any UK government of the postwar consensus hasn’t followed in practice. He decries Brown and Cameron before criticising the De Menezes death and subsequent enquiries – positions that many lefties would willingly drink to.
Morrissey’s subsequent statement is unambiguous: “Racism is beyond common sense and I believe that it has no place in our society.” This and his explanation of ‘Bengali In Platforms’ as addressing a specific case and not all Bengalis is good enough for me to bury the hatchet.
These are the words that I’ve been waiting for since 1988 – also the year of Morrissey’s anti-Thatcher ditty Margaret on the Guillotine which provoked a police raid on his then home. For the past decade he has lived in the USA and Italy but he has not mellowed with age. Public anti-Bush remarks earned him questioning by the FBI.
Twenty years from the highpoint of my Smiths obsession, I’m hurtling towards middle age. Tellingly this whole furore illustrates how 80s pop fans are now old enough to be in command: selecting what goes into the papers and which questions are asked and picked for Dimbleby. On a more personal note this incident has made it acceptable for this Bengali to like Morrissey again – although the record, I’ve never worn platforms.