What is it about this man’s voice that breaks my heart? Asks Stephen Metcalf in Slate.

Metcalf explains who Stephen Morrissey is:

Had Johnny Marr never knocked on Steven Morrissey’s door, Steven Morrissey would have made something of himself—a DIY brochurist for the local avant-garde?—but he probably would not have been a singer and definitely not a rock star. Marr was four years Morrissey’s junior and everything Morrissey wasn’t: musical, industrious, perseverant, shrewd. Above all, not being an egomaniac, he knew what a band needed other than himself. “I always had a comprehensive understanding of what it takes emotionally to be a really great singer,” he has said. “I always felt it was more than intellect, gimmicks, and stage presence.” Marr saw something in Morrissey that no one else had—a peculiar charisma that might yet transfer to the stage. So he visited Morrissey in his bedroom.


The word recurs frequently in his biography. Marr rescued Morrissey from his “lonely bedroom existence,” writes Paula Woods in an introduction to a collection of interviews. On the very entertaining Morrissey: From Where He Came to Where He Went, a pop journalist says, “The recyclings of his early infatuations and obsessions is the extension of the lonely kid in the bedroom. It gave him a kind of comfort as he went out into the world—somehow his bedroom was still with him.” Of his legendary debut on Top of the Pops, another journalist adds, “It’s almost as if you’re watching someone through a keyhole, doing this in front of their bedroom mirror.”

He was, as a musician, not important to the band, but this was not his role:

Predictably, Morrissey adopted the habits of the rock ‘n’ roll celebrity. He was tardy, capricious, and hostile to the press. The backlash against him, however, as a diva-vampire who fed on Marr’s superior talents, confuses two issues. In musical jargon, it’s true, Morrissey never woodshedded—he never submitted his talents to a term of excruciating refinement, as Dylan did on returning from Greenwich Village to Hibbing, as the Beatles famously did in Hamburg. But this does nothing to minimize Morrissey’s musical contribution to the Smiths, not only as a lyricist but as a singer. His technical prowess may have been minimal at first—limited to about “six notes” in the middle range, as one producer put it—but his powers of emotional insinuation were vast. These came not out of the closet, not out of the woodshed, but out of the bedroom.


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