Recently, Morrissey has been splitting his fanbase by making difficult-to-defend statements. He has, for example, doubled and tripled down on his support of For Britain, a far-right and virulently anti-immigration UK political party. Morrissey’s future tourmates Interpol have declined to comment on the man’s statements, but his peer Billy Bragg has said a few things: “I have no sympathy for [Morrissey], no respect for him, but I have a lot of sympathy and respect for his audience.” And now Nick Cave, another songwriting legend and Morrissey contemporary, has also weighed in.
Lately, Cave has been answering fans’ questions on his Red Hand Files website. In the most recent entry, someone wrote in after seeing Cave cover T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer,” a song that Morrissey has also covered. The fan wanted to know how to deal with something like Morrissey’s statements, and he also wanted to know Cave’s opinion of Morrissey overall. Cave has responded with a long and thoughtful argument that we can, and perhaps should, separate the art from the artist. To that general end, Cave writes:
I think perhaps it would be helpful to you if you saw the proprietorship of a song in a different way. Personally, when I write a song and release it to the public, I feel it stops being my song. It has been offered up to my audience and they, if they care to, take possession of that song and become its custodian. The integrity of the song now rests not with the artist, but with the listener.
As for Morrissey specifically, Cave goes on:
Whatever inanities [Morrissey] may postulate, we cannot overlook the fact that he has written a vast and extraordinary catalogue, which has enhanced the lives of his many fans beyond recognition. This is no small thing. He has created original and distinctive works of unparalleled beauty, that will long outlast his offending political alliances…
As a songwriter and someone who believes songs possess extraordinary healing power, I am saddened by the thought that songs by arguably the greatest lyricist of his generation — songs like “This Charming Man,” “Reel Around The Fountain,” and “Last Night I Dreamed Somebody Loved Me” — are consigned to the moral dustbin by those who feel they have been tainted by his current political posturing. I respect and understand why people respond in this way, but can’t help but feel it is of significant personal loss to them.
Perhaps it is better to simply let Morrissey have his views, challenge them when and wherever possible, but allow his music to live on, bearing in mind we are all conflicted individuals — messy, flawed and prone to lunacies. We should thank God that there are some among us that create works of beauty beyond anything most of us can barely imagine, even as some of those same people fall prey to regressive and dangerous belief systems.
Cave expresses alarm at the idea that Morrissey might not be allowed to express his odious views. This strikes me as a strawman argument; I haven’t seen anyone argue that Morrissey shouldn’t be allowed to say what he wants. But it’s still striking to read such a reasoned and articulate consideration of a difficult question from an artistic giant like Cave. You can read his full answer here.