When I was 14 I was struggling with identity. It is possible that I still continue to struggle with that. I was desperately trying to find direction concerning who I was and what I wanted to be. Maybe it was closer to trying to understand how being me would conflict with what was expected of me…and still not knowing who "me" was.
My first day in high school, I immediately knew it wasn’t going to work out well. I had his loopy style picked up from who knows where. It was a horrible mix of Miami Vice meets Thrashin’ with a touch of Krush Groove…I was immediately targeted as a “faggot”. Alas.
About a week into this adventure, a mysterious girl from a mysterious pocket of about six other kids approached me and said something like, “You almost get it, but you aren't there yet! Let me help you out! We need to get you to a thrift store this weekend.” The next day, she passed a cassette tape to me and said, “Also, listen to this when you get home. It’ll change your life!” It was a typical tape from that era - a black Maxell with the gold, black, and white sticker on it. Scrawled on the line, reserved for the tapes owner to identify the content, was written: “The Smiths”.
I must admit, there was no satori. I did not melt but rather pulled back like the RCA dog with my neck tilted and ears perked wondering, "What th...?!" But it was so different from anything I had ever heard that I listened to it in my walkman over and over again. I felt that music start to inform what I was to become. Perhaps it had too much an influence on me considering 33 years later I am still sulking my way through life. Needless to say, I became an extension of that very small group of punks and misfits and had fallen madly in love with The Smiths.
With that perplexing obsession, that was carefully mapped out by Morrissey, came an equally strong enthusiasm to explore things that interested the "Moz": James Dean, Oscar Wilde, Candy Darling, Keats and Yeats, The New York Dolls, The Ramones, Joe Dallesandro, Alain Delon, and on and on. A ridiculous and wonderful trail of pop culture and history that added to forming what I loved in literature, cinema, politics, theory, and art.
One obscure notable in Morrissey's list was Johnny Ray. The teen idol who would break down in tears on stage and roll around in agony over love lost - eliciting screams from teenage girls who had no idea that Mr. Ray's sexual preferences did not include their gender. (Ray was almost completely deaf and wore hearing aids. This is why Morrissey wore them from time to time - tasteless homage?) But, the man could make you believe in heartbreak like no other. By mid-school year, I was listening to my mix cassette of Johnny Ray on my Walkman as much as I was listening to The Smiths and Ramones.
Ray's songs created that strange phenomenon in my soul of great confusion and comfort. I completely appreciated the intense passion in the arrangements and the projected pain in the lyrics. I could feel the tug at my heart but was absolutely certain that it would be impossible for me to ever feel that type of heartache in my own life. At that time, it was because I had no interest at all in pursuing a relationship on any level. I had a couple of holding-hands-in-the-hall scenarios, but they ended quickly. Most likely, the other sensed my total lack of interest. That lack of interest was a blessing really and it followed me for the next four years (that now seemed like an eternity) until I met the girl who would become my wife.
She was as big a Smiths fan as I was. Singing those songs together was always a joyous occasion. I'd also pop Johnny Ray into the car stereo once and awhile and sing along with great exaggeration. As far as I was concerned, the content of those songs would never have any impact on my life beyond the joy of belting them out in the car, cleaning the house, or working on some other project. At 18 I had no clue that the one person that ended up giving me direction and informed exactly who I was and where my place was in the world would end up being the one person who would completely destroy my heart.
I must have played this song a hundred times or more in my lifetime,. For the first time, his act is no longer entertainment and I freely participate by hanging my head down to cry.