When things go very wrong in my life, I usually turn to music to ease troubles and worries. It’s been a while since I started going to bed very late at night because I cannot get rid of worries for the present and the future. I stay awake, hoping the night will pass more quickly. Days are super-busy (now we’ve got a 2-month-old cat with us, too), so I’m practically going back to last November, when I was about to have a nervous and physical breakdown because of sleep deprivation.
Music has always had a soothing power on me. In the 90s there was a period when Tearjearker by Red Hot Chili Peppers was my cure-all song, and the same can be said for Underwater Love by Smoke City and for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins. My music tastes haven’t changed much since then, but last year I started going back in time and listening to groups from the 80s – Joy Division and the Smiths, in particular. I’ve already explained the peculiar charm that the Smiths and their frontman Morrissey have on me, but things have gone a little bit further from my obsession with Girl Least Likely To. Last week I was working on translations for Vogue.it, I was exhausted and turned on the iPod in random mode. Call it good luck, call it fate or whatever, but the first song I listened to was Last Night, Maudlin Street.
The song, taken from Viva Hate, the first solo album by Morrissey, released in March 1988, had a very peculiar effect on me: I started crying, and I’m not referring to a couple of tears, but I practically cried my heart out. I’m going through a difficult period (but I think most of my countrymen can tell the same) and I’m sure that song served as a sort of relief valve. I’ve never experienced anything like this before and, much to my surprise, the load of unexpected emotions comes back any time I listen to it. Don’t think I’ve accepted this reaction without trying to understand *exactly* what was the point. I tried and thought things through and I still haven’t got an answer. It’s probably its melancholic tone, its memory of the past (of a past which will never come back and we feel sorry for that), its reflection on self-perception (“the world’s ugliest boy”). Or maybe it’s just Morrissey’s voice, or his unique ability to write words which always work their magic on you: they grasp your inner self and talk to the deepest part of you. Even if you’ve never actually experienced what his songs are about, you still feel involved and you feel that special sensation like it’s the singer who is talking to you and about you. Moreover, this song strikes an even deeper inner note: it makes me feel the desire to shave my head (I’m not far from there, in any case), to wear my Docs, take an umbrella and walk in the rain, and become invisible. Well, I’m digressing, but just think that all this has arisen from one song only!
The rest of the album is magnificent: it contains some of my favourite songs – Suedehead, first of all, along with Everyday Is Like Sunday, Break Up the Family, The Ordinary Boys and Dial-a-Cliché), each of which holds a special meaning to me. Viva Hate is one of the rare albums I listen from start to end, but I keep on going back to Last Night: it’s like going back to a painful memory which makes you feel good, too.
I love when music is so complex and multi-faceted that you can actually take it and make it your own. In this respect, I think songs by Morrissey (and the Smiths) are just perfect: for example, in Suedehead there’s a verse (“You had to sneak into my room just to read my diary”), which reminds me of something I experienced when I was in my 20s; in Reel Around the Fountain there’s a part (“I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice/You can pin and mount me like a butterfly/But “take me to the haven of your bed” was something that you never said) which makes me feel warm inside. Well, there’s a part in Last Night (“When I sleep with that picture of you framed beside my bed/Oh, it’s childish and it’s silly/But I think it’s you in my room by the bed”) which makes me so sad because it makes me think of my grandparents, who I miss so much. The song refers to a completely different situation, but this is the core of Morrissey’s genius: giving the listener food for thought, suggestions which can be interpreted as you wish and be connected to your own personal experiences.
Retreating to a reassuring past is a way of life for me: I hate many aspects of the world I live in, of my country and of contemporary society, so it’s easy to say that once things were better. The truth is that the world has always been an unwelcoming place for human kind and some aspects of modern life reinforce this belief; it’s not true that the world was better in the past, because it was not, but it’s true I was a different person and probably my melancholia has that old me as its starting point. I was younger and I had dreams and hopes, which is what I don’t really have right now. Listening to Morrissey, enjoying the unique nostalgic and melancholic mood of his songs, is like whispering to myself that everything is going to be alright, that dreams and hopes are fundamental elements in everybody’s life: losing them is like losing part of yourself, which is what I’m doing right now.