Last week Moz and the New Music Express began to relive their good ol’ conflict of ’92, which then boiled down to the mag alleging Stephen Patrick had racist tendencies in his lyrics after a show in Finsbury Park in which he wrapped himself in the Union Jack. The two parties didn’t speak for ten years, and now after a four-year truce, NME, under new editorial leadership, again levied a charge of racism after a direct interview in which the editorial staff deemed Moz’s anti-immigration statements to be inappropriate (“Bigmouth Strikes Again … Oh Dear Not Again,” went the headlne). Morrissey issued a legal letter seeking from NME Editor Conor McNichols an apology (for Conor’s characterization of M as someone “who wouldn’t want [a black person] living next door to him”), a promise not to print similarly defamatory verbiage, damages, and standard reimbursement of attorney’s fees.
Well, the off-page dialogue just got deeper. Much. Morrissey pens a lengthy and scathing rebuttal which discusses the state of NME today, its fall from journalistic grace, the “new NME“‘s agenda against him and the reasons for it (ranging from its general editorial angle to Moz’s continued declination of the Godlike Genius Award + Celebratory Concert package), and a discussion of the facts and circumstances of his interview (including making interviewer Tim Jonze and his “accept(ing) every answer I gave him with a schoolgirl giggle” sound like a perfect case study of how not to be when meeting Moz). Some highlights:
On Friday of last week I issued writs against the NME (New Musical Express) and its editor Conor McNicholas as I believe they have deliberately tried to characterise me as a racist in a recent interview I gave them in order to boost their dwindling circulation.
I abhor racism and oppression or cruelty of any kind and will not let this pass without being absolutely clear and emphatic with regard to what my position is.
Racism is beyond common sense and I believe it has no place in our society.
To anyone who has shown or felt any interest in my music in recent times, you know my feelings on the subject and I am writing this to apologize unreservedly for granting an interview to the NME. I had no reason whatsoever to assume that they could be anything other than devious, truculent and unreliable. In the event, they have proven to be all three.
The NME have, in the past, offered me their “Godlike Genius Award” and I had politely refused. With the Tim Jonze inteview, the Award was offered once again, this time with the added request that I headline their forthcoming awards concert at the O2 Arena, and once again I declined it. This is nothing personal against the NME, although the distressing article would suggest the editor took it as such. My own view is that award ceremonies in pop music are dreadful to witness and are simply a way of the industry warning the artist “see how much you need us” – and, yes, the ‘new’ NME is very much integrated into the industry, whereas, deep in the magazine’s empirical history, the New Musical Express was a propelling force that answered to no one.
Into the 90s, the NME’s discernment and polish became faded nobility, and there it died – but better dead than worn away. The wit imitated by the 90s understudies of Morley and Burchill assumed nastiness to be greatness, and were thus rewarded. But nastiness isn’t wit and no writers from the 90s NME survive. Even with sarcasm, irony and innuendo there is an art, of sorts. Now deep in the bosom of time, it is the greatness of the NME’s history on which the ‘new’ NME assumes its relevance.
The editorial treatment given to my present interview with the ‘new’ NME is the latest variation on an old theme, but like a pre-dawn rampage, the effects of the interview have been meticulously considered with obvious intentions. It is true that the magazine is ailing badly in the marketplace, but Conor doesn’t understand how the relentless stream of “cheers mate, got pissed last night, ha ha” interviews that clutter every single issue of the ‘new’ NME are simply not interesting to those of us who have no trouble standing upright. Strangely enough, my own name is the only one featured in the ‘new’ NME that links their present with the NME’s distant past, therefore a Morrissey interview is an ideal opportunity with which to play the editorial naughtiness game.
This, regrettably, is what has taken place with this most recent interview, which, it need hardly be said, bears no relation in print to the fleshly conversation that took place.
I do not mean to be rude to Tim Jonze, but when I first caught sight of him I assumed that someone had brought their child along to the interview. The runny nose told the whole story. Conor had assured that Tim was their best writer. Talking behind his hands and in endless fidget, Tim accepted every answer I gave him with a schoolgirl giggle, and repeatedly asked me if I was shocked at how little he actually knew about music. I told him that, yes, I was shocked. It was difficult for me to believe that the best writer from the “new” NME had never heard of the song Drive-in Saturday; I explained that it was by David Bowie, and Tim replied “oh, I don’t know anything about David Bowie.” I wondered how it could be so – how the quality of music journalism in England could have fallen so low that the prime ‘new’ NME writer knew nothing of David Bowie, an artist to whom most relevant British artists are indebted, and one who singlehandedly changed British culture – musically and otherwise.
Tim’s line of questioning advanced with: “What about politics, then … the state of the world?” which, I was forced to assume, was a well-thought-out question. It was from here that the issue of immigration – but not racism – arose.
Me: “If you walk down Knightsbridge you’ll be hard-pressed to hear anyone speaking English.”
Tim: “I don’t think that’s true. You’re beginning to sound like my parents.”
Me: “Well, when did you last walk down Knightsbridge?”
Tim: “Um… Knightsbridge… is that where Harrods is?”
So, Tim was prepared to attack and argue the point without even being clear about where Knightsbridge actually is! The ‘new’ NME strikes again. Oh dear, I thought, not again. I chose to mention Knightsbridge because it had always struck me as one of the most stiffly British spots in London. I am sorry Tim, but you are not yet ready to interview anyone responsibly.
When my comments are printed in the ‘new’ NME they are butchered, redesigned, reordered, chopped, snipped and split in order to make me seem racist and unreasonable. Tim had told me about his friend who did not like the 1987 song Bengali in Platforms because the friend had thought the song attacked him on a personal level. I explained to Tim that the song was not about his friend. In print, the ‘new’ NME do not explain this, but attempt to multiply the horror of Tim’s friend by attributing “these people” and “those people” quotes to me – terms I would never use, but are useful to the ‘new’ NME in their Morrissey-is-racist campaign because these terms are only used by people who are cold and indifferent and Thatcherite. All of the people I spoke to Tim about in the interview who are heroes to me and who are Middle Eastern or of other ethnic back grounds were of no interest to either Tim or Conor. Clearly, Tim had been briefed and his agenda was to cook up a sensational story that would give life to the ‘new’ NME as a must-read national if not global shock-horror story. Recalling how Tim asked me to sign some CD covers, I do not blame him entirely.
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.
Who’s to say what you should or shouldn’t do? The magazine’s publishers, IPC have appointed Conor as the editor of the ‘new’ NME, and there he remains, ready to drag them into expensive legal battles such as the one they now face with me due to Conor’s personal need to mis-state, misreport, misquote, misinterpret, falsify, and incite the bloodthirsty. Here is proof that the ‘new’ NME will twist and pervert the views of any singer or musician who’d dare step into the interview ring. To such artists, I wish them well, but I would advise you to bring your lawyer along to the interview.
My own place, now and forevermore, shall not be with the ‘new’ NME – and how wrong my face even looks on its cover. Of this, I am eternally grateful.
That piece is sounding a little less “fair and balanced” than ever, Conor. And for one issue at least, you’ll get your wish: Higher circulation! In matters of pens and swords, you’re fencing with the best. Also you’re fencing with the best Wiki trolls. From Conor’s sure-to-have-been-edited-by-now Wikipedia page as of 9:33AM (thanks, Jason R.!):