Monday, May 21, 2018

Funniest Thing I Ever Heard

The Smiths, right off the bat, had clever, camp, and literary sewn up, yet they also had access to my world of teen angst; they were the opposite of bombastic, but best played at max volume. They had amazing guitar riffs and wilting self-deprecation. They were full of outrage, but not the way punk had taught me, and they were funny in a way that no American music was. I can’t think of an American artist then, or now, who could have written, "I want to live and I want to love / I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of." That line from "Frankly Mr. Shankly" sums it up: hilarious, grandiose, and bathetic—wanting it all, wanting to dance to it, wanting the disease that comes with it.

When I was in my early 20s the Smiths were the most important thing in my life, and so I had one particular conversation many times. Somebody would say of the band, "I hate them, they're so miserable." "No they're not," I would chime in, "They're funny." Cue the eye-rolling, exclamations, explanations, etceteras. But I was right - the Smiths were funny. Not so much for the occasional punchline-- "Caligula would have blushed," or "You should hear me play pian-ohh"-- but for Morrissey's theatricality and timing: You could always take him as seriously as you needed, like a pill, he never demanded it. Girlfriend in a coma? Are you kidding? "I know, it's ser-i-ous." Hysterical! "Would you like to marry me?/ And if you like you can buy the ring." How is that not laugh out loud funny? "A jumped-up pantry boy," "The monkish monsignor, with a head full of plaster said, 'My man, get your vile soul dry-cleaned!'" The list is endless! More:

Reel Around the Fountain: this hyper-sexual song has some of my favorite lyrics: "Fifteen minutes with you/ Well, I wouldn't say no/ Oh, people said that you were virtually dead/ And they were so wrong./ Oh, people said that you were easily led/ And they were half-right. I dreamt about you last night/ And I fell out of bed twice." This Charming Man: "I would go out tonight/ But I haven't got a stitch to wear." William it Was Really Nothing: "I don't dream about anyone - except myself !" How Soon is Now?: "I am the son and heir/ Of the nothing in particular." Handsome Devil: "There's more to life than books, you know/ But not much more." Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now: "I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour/ But heaven knows I'm miserable now./ I was looking for a job, and then I found a job/ And heaven knows I'm miserable now./ In my life/ Why do I smile/ At people who I'd much rather kick in the eye?" Nowhere Fast: "I'd like to drop my trousers to the world/I am a man of means (of slender means)/ Each household appliance/ Is like a new science in my town./ And when I'm lying in my bed/ I think about life/ And I think about death/ And neither one particularly appeals to me."