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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Smiths

The Smiths

I was living a few hundred miles south of Mat at this point in my life when we—Mat, all my friends, and I—came to the same conclusion about The Smiths. They just seemed to reach higher than the previous highs we had experienced in new wave music. It is so hard to say that they were better than The Clash or Elvis Costello but they managed to become our favorite group in a sea of great music. The Clash definitely came first but we were all hit harder by The Smiths.

It was 1985, give or take a year. I was living in Athens, Greece or more accurately, Glyfada, a beautiful beach town just south of Athens. I was serving in the United States Air Force along with all of the best friends and the greatest group of guys and gals I’ve even had the privilege of meeting. Few of us had telephones in our otherwise gorgeous apartments so we all used to meet up at my friend Bob’s apartment in the early evening to decide what we were going to do.

Bob had a great stereo and an even better patio off of his living room where we would have some happy hour cocktails and listen to new music that anyone decided to bring with them. I guess that 1984-5 makes me a late-comer to The Smiths but I was hooked the first time I listened to Hatful of Hollow. A lot of the other music at the time was also great but I think that most of us would agree that this group cut us all the deepest.

In no particular order of preference there was Johnny Marr’s great music and beautiful sound on the guitar. Of course, Morrissey was absolutely the hippest hipster of the 80’s: great haircut, super-cool clothes, and ultra-existentialist view of his own celebrity status. The best thing about The Smiths was my own observation at the time that either one of two things were true about them: either Morrissey was trying to be funny, in which case he was, or he was being serious, in which case he was fucking hilarious. How would you interpret a song lyric such as, “Why do I smile at people who I’d much rather kick in the eye?”

American culture was pretty alien to me at this stage of my life although I did read Rolling Stone magazine religiously as well as Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly. On the other hand, we were all totally jacked into British pop music to the extent that we used to be at the hipster record store in Glyfada the day an important album was released in Greece. From the fresh purchase at the record shop it was only a matter of hours before the album was being disseminated amongst all of our friends at Bob’s apartment before over cocktails before we headed down to the tourist bars to meet up with other friends or flirt with foreign tourists.

In most of the round-table discussions we had with other Europeans in Greece in that era there was a lot of disagreement except when it came to The Smiths. French, Austrians, Germans, and even the Greek kids agreed that they were the best band going. I hated Ronald Reagan back then but I couldn’t tolerate some Austrian douche bag criticizing him for one time being an actor when their president (Kurt Waldheim) was a former SS officer. About The Smiths there was rarely an argument, no matter where you called home.

I remember going to the hipster record shop in Glyfada the day The Queen is Dead came to Greece. I’m not sure about this but we probably went straight to Bob’s place to listen to this great album, one of the best of that era in out opinion. That was probably the last time that I really anticipated a release of a rock album although I still follow popular music to this day.

There was something about The Smiths that spoke to all of us at that time when we were truly without a care in the world and right where we wanted to be. I had a magnificent apartment overlooking the Saronic Gulf islands and the best friends I’ve ever had in my life, most of whom are still my closest friends. It will probably take a dozen more essays to fully articulate exactly why this particular British pop group articulated the way we felt at the time and why no group since has had the same effect—at least for me.

Perhaps I grew up. I went on to study piano and discovered Bach and Mozart. I was even more devastated by their music but that was completely different. Being into The Smiths was, at that time, having my fingers on the pulse of everyone around me. My love of Mozart, Bach, and Chopin is a completely different appreciation of music, less personal but more profound.

I’m much more of a writer than I am a musician and literature affects me much more philosophically than music. Visual art hardly touches me at all, but back in the ere or The Smiths music was a grounding intellectual force that I haven’t know since.

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