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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Morrissey Zings the NME Over Cover Story, Accusations of Racism

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2007 at 6:34 PM

A to Z patron saint Morrissey is currently embroiled in a defamation lawsuit against the NME over the weekly's recent cover story about him. In short, the story basically insinuates that the English crooner holds racist views, due to comments he made about immigration and the current state of England. (For a good background on what happened, check out this link.)

This harkens back to the early 1990s, when the NME also questioned whether he was a racist, thanks to his sporting of a Union Jack flag onstage -- the connotation being that Moz was standing up for/desiring an unadulterated England -- and imagery/lyrics on 1991's Your Arsenal (specifically "The National Front Disco"). Thanks to that blog link above, here's a link to that story.

The current saga is as complex and convoluted as a soap opera by this point. In a nutshell, it's turned into a he-said/he-said battle between the NME (and, as a corollary, its editor Conor McNicholas and writer of the story, Tim Jonze) and Morrissey's camp (mainly represented by Merck Mercuriadis, his manager).

click to enlarge mozvert.jpg

The site has been covering this extensively, with emails, letters, blog entries and other documents associated with the case; that's the best place to get further details.

From a journalistic standpoint, it's an interesting story; the main contention is how Morrissey's words were used in print -- more specifically, how they were potentially twisted and taken out of context. Questions asked apparently were changed or rephrased so they seemed more inflammatory when placed in a Q&A; other elements of what Moz said were ostensibly removed, as they didn't fit the picture the story was trying to paint.

This is something every writer struggles with: how to construct a narrative that's true to the interviewee's intent, without misrepresenting or misunderstanding said intent. A journalist is essentially acting as a sort of historian or documentarian, and can essentially create his or her own version of the truth -- or reality -- depending on what words and aspects of conversation he or she chooses to include in an article. Talk about pressure -- and power that's easily abused or misused, if not wielded carefully and with discretion.

Even more bizarre, the writer of the story, Tim Jonze, asked to have his byline taken off the piece (which means that the story credits read: "Interview -- Tim Jonze; Words -- NME") and then wrote his own blog post clearing up why: "The piece was very critical and NME decided to tone it down, something I didn't agree with. They showed me several rewritten versions, some of which were very soft on Morrissey, one that was quite critical. None had any of my points or arguments in them and none of them were written in my voice."

The comments in Jonze's blog post raise interesting points about how Morrissey's quotes were interpreted; namely, confusing Morrissey's discussion about immigration and the changing nature of England -- how it's becoming much more multi-cultural -- with a discussion about race. The two concepts aren't interchangeable; but judging from conversation among readers, some felt they were interpreted as such by either Jonze or the NME.

And so today, all of this culminated with Morrissey responding to the charges, with a blog post in the Guardian. The piece is 1800 words long and quite thorough; but here's my favorite part.

If Conor [McNicholas] can provoke bureaucratic outrage with this Morrissey interview, then he can whip up support for his righteous position as the morally-bound and armoured editor of his protected readership - even though, by remodelling my interview into a multiple horror, Conor has accidentally exposed himself as deceitful, malicious, intolerant and Morrissey-ist - all the ists and isms that he claims to oppose. Uniquely deprived of wisdom, Conor would be repulsed by my vast collection of world cinema films, by my adoration of James Baldwin, my love of Middle Eastern tunings, Kazem al-Saher, Lior Ashkenazi, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and he would be repulsed to recall a quote as printed in his magazine in or around August of this year wherein I said that my ambition was to play concerts in Iran.

My heart sank as Tim Jonze let slip the tell-all editorial directive behind this interview: "it's Conor's view that Morrissey thinks black people are OK ... but he wouldn't want one living next door to him." It was then that I realized the full extent of the setup, and I felt like Bob Hoskins in the final frame of The Long Good Friday as he sits in the back of the wrong getaway car realizing the extent of the conspiratorial slime that now trapped him.

During the interview Tim asked if I would support the Love Music Hate Racism campaign that the NME had just written about and my immediate response was a yes. I had shown my support previously by going to one of their first benefit gigs a few years ago and had met some of their organizers as well - as having signed their statement. Following the interview I asked my manager to get in touch with the NME and to pledge my further support to the campaign as I wanted there to be no ambiguity on where I stood on the subject. This was done in a clear and direct email to Conor McNicholas on the 5th of November which went ignored and last week we found out that it had never even been presented to anyone at the campaign as that would obviously not have suited what we now know to be the NME's agenda. I am pleased to say that we have now had direct dialogue with Love Music Hate Racism and all of our UK tour advertising in 2008 will carry their logo. We will also be providing space in the venues for them to voice and spread their important message, which I endorse.

I believe that's one giant zing. Wow.

In happier news, Morrissey is working on a new solo album that's due out sometime next year. Here are a few classics to tide you over -- including a Smiths song about hero worship/fallen idols/icky record company dealings.

MP3: Morrissey, "The National Front Disco"

MP3: The Smiths, "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before"

MP3: The Smiths, "Paint a Vulgar Picture"

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