I can’t understand people who read almost at random. They read anything on the best seller list or that they come across by chance in a bookshop or library. I on the other hand am selective in what I read. I know my time on earth is limited so I avoid anything likely to be clichéd or lightweight. This inevitably leads me to read in very focused areas; I ignore religion since I am convinced that it is all nonsense but I also avoid Richard Dawkins’ writing on religion, simply because he has already convinced me that he is right and there is not point in becoming even more convinced. Pop culture now seems silly to me, though I was once interested in it. A 56 year-old still au fait with the latest bands and fashions strikes me as an oddity.
Today I decided to try and read some of the articles I have bookmarked in my browser over the past couple of years. I went to the oldest one on my list, an article in the New Statesman by Colin McInnes about the impossibility of us ever explaining consciousness. Halfway through the article I glanced across at the sidebar and spotted a book review of the pop singer Morrissey’s new novel. I left Colin McInnes and clicked on the review, which turned out to be a scathing criticism. The reviewer thought Morrissey needed an honest friend who could have told him to simply dump the novel and start again.
I have always liked Morrissey’s lyrics without liking either him or his voice. I don’t know what it is about his voice that I dislike and this puzzle took me to an interview with Ian Scott, the guitarist of the group Anthrax, who it turns out hates Morrissey’s voice even more than I do. He too couldn’t explain what it is about Morrissey’s voice that makes him turn off the radio whenever Morrissey comes on.
After that review I found a couple of old interviews, first with Johnny Marr and then with Morrissey. Both men seemed reasonable enough though both perhaps a little eaten up with themselves, Morrissey especially. I wondered if Morrissey’s personality and views had matured in the intervening 30 years so I watched him being interviewed recently by Larry King. Morrissey is now, in my opinion, much better-looking than he was when he was young, probably because he has filled out and looks more manly. Even so, everything else seems to have stayed pretty much the same since the 1980’s. You could almost have predicted back then how he would turn out by plotting his trajectory into the future.
In the Larry King interview Morrissey opined that Hilary Clinton was the stand-out candidate for the American presidency. I found this strange since she has shown herself to be a serial liar and her term as Secretary of State was a complete disaster. Morrissey thought that all the Republican candidates were indistinguishable from each other, including Donald Trump! He disliked the fact that they all wore suits and ties and he would have liked one of them to break the mould. Yet surely it’s enough that Donald Trump thinks and talks differently to all the other candidates for it to be necessary for him to also dress differently. A few weeks ago Ed West had something to say about people who feel that dress rules don’t apply to them:
…formality…restrains people by illustrating in a sartorial manner that there are rules and they must play by them. The leader throwing off his tie is effectively asserting his dominance by saying such rules do not apply to him; in contrast the uptight, stuffy old backwoodsman who wears tops and tails is showing his submission to the rules.
I agree that people who think rules are not for them are often arrogant rather than quirkily interesting. I’m surprised that Morrissey is so shallow as to associate uniqueness in dress with uniqueness in character.
Morrissey thought Barack Obama had acted ‘against his own people’ when he (allegedly) sided with the police during the Ferguson riots. Morrissey gave the impression of only ever having read Salon Magazine without ever bothering to read anything that differs from the mainstream liberal narrative. It probably hasn’t occurred to him that some black people might be to blame for the awfulness of their lives, or that something other than white racism and oppression might explain disparities in racial achievement in America. Neither did Morrissey think it strange that an American President should side with his own racial group against the forces of the law, simply because the former has the same skin colour.
Leftists like Morrissey don’t seem able to leave the topic of race alone. I have a friend who thinks that it is the other way around and writers like John Derbyshire are obsessed with the subject. My own impression is that race realists like John Derbyshire would like nothing better than to write about something other than race but they are forced to respond to accusations that blacks fail only because of white racism and oppression. From where I stand writers like John Derbyshire are doing a public service by refuting the slanderous accusations of Barack and Michelle Obama, Eric Holder, Al Sharpton. Jesse Jackson and yes, Steven Morrissey.
Morrissey didn’t explain how Obama siding with the rioters against the police in Ferguson would have helped the mainly black residents of Ferguson, who now find they are paying mortgages on houses that have lost two-thirds of their value since black rioters burned and looted Ferguson. Now no one is his right mind would want to start a business there, nor would anyone want to live there if they could afford to live anywhere else. If the media and local government had supported the police then things might have been different.
To a large extent Obama is to blame for what happened in Ferguson by riling racial hatred among blacks with his provocative pronouncements, starting with the Trayvon Martin shooting, that blacks were being unfairly profiled and disadvantaged in American society.
So just out of interest I looked up exactly how often black and white people are killed by the police and it turns out that more whites are killed by police than blacks. This is to be expected since there are more whites than blacks in the population as a whole, yet it is surprising once you consider that blacks commit over 50% of all violent crime in America. You would therefore expect young black men to be around 50% of all those killed by police but the actual figure is 37%. And did you hear anything about this an unarmed white man killed by a black policeman? Or this man? Or this man? Me neither. I just happened to come across them while looking into the above figures. It seems that white people don’t demonstrate, loot, rob, burn or assault others if a white person is shot by the police.
Anyway, I couldn’t help feeling that Morrissey, allegedly a clever bloke, hadn’t looked into any of this. Surely being a pop singer gives you plenty of time to grapple with these topics. Yet Morrissey’s views struck me as being conventional and populist and no more nuanced or thoughtful than those of any other left-wing blogger. His songs might have caused a stir back in the 1980’s because his lyrics spoke to disaffected teenagers but it appears that his political views ossified around the year 1985. This doesn’t mean that he is wrong, though I think he is. I just thought he might have more interesting views than he does.
Anyway, all this lead me to an online discussion of whether other bands’ covers of his songs are better than his own, which in turn lead me to listen to Dum Dum Girls, t.A.T.u. and The Deftones, none of which was bad.
In the end I never did get back to the Colin McInnes piece and it is still at the bottom of my bookmarks, now with several new ones added. Reading randomly made a nice change and was an escape from the usual furrow I plough. I’m beginning to think that it might be a mistake to be so selective in my reading and perhaps I should take my eye off the clock for a while and read whatever I find around me. Emily Dickinson might have been right when she wrote:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;
As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.