And then the zits and the insecurity faded (although neither really went away) but the Smiths were still my band. I never became a devotee of Morrissey’s or Marr’s solo output, but the material they made between 1983 and 1987 remained, an anchor in bad times, even raising a goofy smile when it caught me unawares.
And then this happened:
Now, I know that in the download age, musicians and composers have to make a living. It’s not as if the Smiths are the first band to have farmed out their back catalogue to the advertisers; the Beatles have flogged running shoes, the Rolling Stones have hawked computers, and I suspect their financial needs are less than those of Morrissey and Marr. And I don’t really mind that it’s a crappy cover version; the song has suffered far worse. It’s not even that it’s John Lewis, a shop that I’ve happily used in the past, although I do wish they’d stop sending me promotional e-mails every few minutes just because I bought a washing machine from them a few years ago.
No. It’s Christmas that’s the problem. The modern, retail-driven Christmas is a festival that might as well have been designed simply to contradict everything the Smiths ever (claimed to?) stand for. It’s about optimism, sentimentality, consumption, warmth, family, hand-knitted comedy jumpers and chocolate liqueurs. It’s about a world in which the anguished yearning expressed in ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ can be satisfied with a new pair of football boots or a games console. One can only assume that the person who decided to use the song in this context simply failed to understand it and – far more galling – its composers elected not to disabuse him. I wonder if there might have been a shortlist of other possible songs, if M&M had suffered an attack of scruples; perhaps ‘I Want More’ by Can, or ‘Having It All’ from the Absolute Beginners soundtrack.
It’s as if Morrissey had wandered into my teenaged bedroom, with its postcards of him and Oscar Wilde and Louise Brooks, and offered to do something about my acne, and then proceeded to deposit a huge, steaming, vegeburgery shit all over my face. And then Johnny Marr appeared at his shoulder, volunteering to clear up the mess with a big, fluffy John Lewis towel, which only made things worse. And then I realised they were both wearing Santa hats. And hand-knitted comedy jumpers.