Gladioli All Over - The Smiths & My Novel


This week I'll be doing one-a day posts about songs included in my latest novel "Time After Time", how the music fits into the narrative and where the band or the song fitted into my life.



Today's is The Smiths "This Charming Man". It's a big deal for me to host The Smiths on my blog because they were a band I really didn't like for the reasons below. But the book demanded a tune for a guy being picked up on his smooth operating by a lady and well, this fit the best.



"You one of those 'new men' we always used to hear about?"

"You could say that.""Same as the old men and the 'new lads' if you ask me. 'Metrosexuals'? The clue is in the'sexual'..."

Okay, so why don't I like The Smiths?
1) I had the misfortune to see them early in their career when they were already being touted as the next big Indie band. They were supporting The Fall who were on the same Rough Trade label at the time. What the upstart Smiths didn't figure is that this was Mark E Smith, main man of The Fall, putting them in their place, playing off their name to make it seem that they were his house band. Anyway, I have poor eyesight and moshpits are not great for geeks with glasses. So in my long past gigging days, I used to get as close to the stage as possible in order to facilitate some minimal level of vision without my specs. To ensure my space at the front, it meant I had to stand through some pretty terrible support bands in my time (and to be fair a sprinkling of real gems). Hence I'm stood there waiting for The Smiths to take the stage, my arms crossed in as hostile an 'entertain me then' manner as I can summon. As per the video above, because it was his Oscar Wilde meets Dame Edna Everage schtick, Morrisey comes on stage with a bunch of gladioli and in the first song brings the flowers down on the heads of the audience. That's us up against the stage and the pollen sets off a raging, most unseasonal hay fever in me that fills my eyes with water so that I view the Fall's set through a veil. 
2) Manchester is the home of UK music. Liverpool has produced little music of note since the Beatles and London has surprisingly few of its own indigenous bands, though plenty flock from the provinces to take up residence in the capital. Sheffield has occasional flare ups of interesting bands, but nothing quite so sustained as manchester as to make it the rock and roll capital of the UK. If you don't believe me about Manchester, here are some of its musical alumni: Joy Division/New Order, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Buzzcocks/Magazine, The Fall, 808 State, Autechre, The Bee Gees (!), The Chemical Brothers,  The Hollies, Herman's Hermits, Freddie And The Dreamers, John Mayall, The Verve and Oasis. Now Manchester transmits an image of itself through its music. And that image involves a certain chippyness and cussedness to all things London. It's hard, gruff and irreverent. And then along came The Smiths and almost single handedly undid all the sterling work of the bands from the late 1970s and very early 80s with their rather fey adoption of the trope of Oscar Wilde. Of course I acknowledge that in time The Smiths turned out to be more popular than maybe any of these bands, (other than Oasis, but don't get me started on those Merseysound wannabees!) or at least comparable. But some of us weren't comfortable with what that meant for Manchester...
3) When I was at university, all the cool alternative blokes (of which I liked to consider myself as one, okay maybe without the cool), were desperately casting around for a new band to follow after Ian Curtis of Joy Division killed himself and the remnants of the band turned into dance-pop New Order which was overtly beyond the pale even though we all secretly loved them and indeed the only time I ever saw them play live was at a University Ball in my final year. Anyhoo, Joy Division fans wore long trenchcoats and needed a band that enabled to continue doing so. For some reason, despite the iconography of gladioli and dear Oscar. lead singer Morrisey's misery warbling green lit the trenchcoat brigade permission to carry on moodying in their long outerwear. So I spent many a university party with the girlfriends of the cool set as the only male present, commiserating about how their boyfriends were off away at a smiths concert, or refused to dance with them because the party music was not 'right'. Actually there were some fringe benefits from this, but you take my main point I hope. Being into the Smiths meant the normal subject matter of teenage boy meets teenage girl was strictly off the agenda. The boys preferred moping alone in the attic rooms or halls of residence. The girls just looked bemused and began to consider the virtues of relationships with would be yuppies or geeks. That's not what rock and roll is about. It's not even what pop music is about!
So that's why it's a big deal even after all these years for me to host a Smiths' video on my blog. But fair's fair, the song is in my novel, even if it is associated with the anti-hero!