Morrissey and the NME have had their ups and downs. No other media outlet was as supportive of the legendary Mancunian during the days The Smiths and the early solo years. One would almost have had the impression that the London based paper was a Moz fanzine at times, considering how many times the man graced the cover. It's also never been a very big secret that the NME enjoys a huge surge in paper sales when they put that iconic face on the newsstands.
In 1992, the NME famously tried to attach the charge of racism on Moz, pointing to topical songs like "The National Front Disco," "Asian Rut" and "Bengali In Platforms," the two former clearly being anti-racist songs and the latter being perhaps misguided and vaguely insensitive but far from the work of a bullish Nazi. Draping himself in a Union Jack onstage at Finsbury Park (while being pelted with coins and other debris by right wing skins I might ad) won him no favors either.
This weeks NME once again has Moz on the cover. A steely eyed Morrissey stares us down while below they have pulled a quote from the included interview, "The gates of England are flooded. The countries been thrown away." The tag-line reads "OH DEAR. NOT AGAIN."
The entire excerpt from the printed interview:
Q you live in italy now. would you ever consider moving back to Britain?
A Britain's terribly negative. And it hammers people down and it pulls you back and it prevents you. Also, with the issue of immigration, it's very difficult because although I don't have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England, the more the British identity disappears. So the price is enormous. If you travel to Germany, it's still absolutely Germany. If you travel to Sweden, it still has a Swedish identity. But travel to england and you have no idea where you are!
Q Why does this bother you?
A It matters because the British identity is very attractive. I grew up into it, and I find it quaint and amusing. But England is a memory now. Other countries have held on to their basic identity, yet it seems to me that England was thrown away.
Q Isn't immigration enriching the British identity rather than diluting it?
A It does in a way, and it's nice in its way. But you have to say goodbye to the Britain you once knew.
Q That's just the world changing.
A But the change in England is so rapid compared to the change in any other country. If you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won't hear an English accent. You'll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent.
Moz' manager Merck Mercuriadas has responded to the cover and subsequent editorial comments attached to the interview. "We were alerted to the fact that the NME were potentially doing a hatchet job on Morrissey on the 16th of November by an anonymous post on morrissey-solo.com. "We immediately contacted the magazine's editor Conor McNicholas who refuted the suggestion that the NME would be anything less than supportive and personally posted on the site categorically denying the "rumours and untruths."
All seemed well until Merck received the following missive from the journalist Tim Jonze, who did the interview:
"Hi Merck, Hope you're well. I should mention that for reasons I'll probably never understand, NME have rewritten the Moz piece. I had a read and virtually none of it is my words or beliefs so I've asked for my name to be taken off it. Just so you know when you read it. Best, Tim"
It doesn't end there. After receiving this email Merck called NME Editor Conor McNicholas who responded three days later (timed to arrive after the interview was printed) with:
I need to drop you a line about the Morrissey piece running in NME this week. It's going to be much stronger than we'd originally discussed. Having lived with Morrissey's comments from the second interview and discussed with the editorial team we're running a piece where the comments aren't ducked and NME's position is made very clear.
While Morrissey is obviously entirely entitled to his point of view we're not beholden to re-print them without comment. And given that his views are not those that we'd normally expect to come from someone in the very liberal world of rock'n'roll, we're not able to either support them or print them without comment.
Obviously no-one is accusing Morrissey of racism - that would be mad given what Morrissey says - but we do say that the language Morrissey uses is very unhelpful at a time of great tensions. I am - as I say in the magazine - fully confident that Morrissey's comments are simply the result of a man in his 50s looking back nostalgically on the England of his youth, but his reasoning for that change is unreasonably skewed towards immigration and as a title we think that's wrong. I think he's simply naive and doesn't understand the atmosphere here. I don't think he wishes anyone any harm but I don't think he understand the climate or the possible interpretation of his comments either.
The feature is, I believe, a fair and balanced piece. It's not sensationalist but it doesn't ignore the story either. I have been particularly careful to include all the key moments where Morrissey mitigates his position or makes a strong commitment against racism. The reaction of both you and Morrissey has been very much on my mind when making decisions surrounding this piece.
As you know, I wish I'd never fond myself in this position making these very difficult decisions. I have, to be honest, found the whole experience very depressing. I don't have a reputation of running pieces such as this because it's not in my nature. I am also a huge Morrissey fan, my gold disc for You Are The Quarry is still one of my proudest possessions and still takes pride of place in my living room. And while I'm sure Morrissey didn't sign off each of the discs and its recipient, I felt it was a measure of where I'd got the NME to with him. What I'm trying to make clear is that I never wanted to be in this place but as editor I've simply not had another option.
I'm not going to try and second-guess your reaction but I can imagine it won't be great - another depressing factor given how much I've genuinely enjoyed working with you over the last few weeks. During this whole difficult process you never been anything other than balanced and reasonable - far more than most other managers I've worked with! - and I've really appreciated that. I wanted you to get a heads-up in advance of publication. Hopefully we'll speak soon.
Merck sums up:
"Please note that Mr. McNicholas' email above was timed to arrive after his magazine was printed therefore preventing us from stopping the printing. When / if you read the interview, please look at the credits which are unique:_Interview - Tim Jonze_Words - NME
When reading it we request that you think for yourself and consider what is question and answer and what is inflammatory editorial on the part of the NME which we assume can only be intended to create controversy to boost their circulation at the expense of Morrissey's integrity and for which no journalist is willing to be credited. It might as well say "anonymous."
There is virtually no other artist with a more meaningful following across the history of the NME and it would appear that Mr. McNicholas thought the "new" NME could gain some credibility at Morrissey's expense. The story reads like a cynical exercise by yet another NME editor trying to put his name in the history books via a poorly thought out and terribly executed attempt at character assassination.
As we all know, the NME does not speak for its readership, the artists do. Artists like Morrissey. The NME also does not speak for Morrissey. Anti-racist songs such as "Irish Blood, English Heart," "America Is Not The World" and "I Will See You In Far-Off Places" tell you the true measure of the man.
Conor McNicholas made a decision for reasons known only to himself to betray our trust and make himself out to be a hero at Morrissey's expense.
As you can see from the legal letter below, we will be unrelenting in our quest to bring him / NME to justice.
By the way, the good news of the day is that Morrissey signed his new record deal with Polydor / Decca this afternoon! We will soon be scheduling new singles and albums for next year, but one thing you can count on not happening is a 7" cover mount on the eNeMEy!"
Sincerely, Merck Mercuriadis 28th November, 2007
I guess it's not so shocking that the rekindled love affair between the NME and Moz would end on a sour note. It never did seem right seeing cover shots of our man sat on a couch surrounded by Franz Ferdinand did it?
In addition to Merck's comments, Team Moz has also sprung into action. The document sent to Conor and the NME can be read by clicking here.
Having read the entire interview (see your local news agent late this week), it's reasonably clear that Moz can be accused of a few things: Being old fashioned, sentimental, nostalgic for the England of his youth. He also painstakingly verbalizes that he does not hold racist views over and over, and in several different ways. I can understand why the NME would want to emphasize this part of the dialogue because it holds particular relevance at the moment. While there are surely those who wish pop stars would stay out of the political realm (I am staunchly not one of those people) Moz has always spoken his mind freely without fear of repercussion. This has been to his detriment commercially at times, and I can't help but wonder if the news of his signing to Polydor/Decca will be slightly buried under the controversy. Somehow I doubt it but the days to come will tell which way the wind blows.