06 março 2006

Johnny Marr recorda The Queen is Dead


No ano em que passam duas dezenas deles sobre a edição desse monumento pop denominado The Queen is Dead, editado pelos recorrentes (para mim, naturalmente) Smiths, Johnny Marr escreve no Belfast Telegraph sobre esse milagre musical. Johnny Marr era guitarrista e compositor dos Smiths, que tinham em Morrissey o génio mais visível. Obrigado ao meu estimado Pedro Dias da Silva pelo envio da prosa, que aqui se transcreve.

The Smiths: Johnny Marr looks back

The Smiths' most celebrated album, The Queen Is Dead, was recorded 20 years ago. Here, their celebrated guitarist reflects
27 February 2006

When Morrissey and I started The Smiths, we thought pop music was the most important thing in the world. It was almost a spiritual thing for us, and because of that, we knew what it meant to be a fan. Our relationship was very emotional, complex and deep. We were with each other constantly for five years.

The Queen Is Dead was our third album and we knew it had to be special. Our trajectory and gone up from day one, but although we were enjoying massive critical and commercial success, it had reached a plateau. I was thinking that if we wanted to be in the same league as The Who or The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, we had to do it now.

I remember preparing songs before we went down to Surrey for a stretch at a recording studio called Jacobs. I was ready to submerge myself completely - it was periscope down. The logistics of recording the record were quite fragmented. We'd already nailed a couple of songs at RAK in London, and we were also doing some concerts, one of which was in the Shetland Islands.

We knew we had our best songs yet, but our way of writing had been the same as ever. "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out", "Frankly, Mr Shankly" and "I Know It's Over" were done in one evening. "Cemetery Gates" I might have got the music for the night before. I'd work on chord changes, and then Morrissey would come round to my place in Cheshire. We'd sit face to face about two feet away. I'd have an acoustic guitar and I'd be holding a recording Walkman between my knees to get a rough arrangement down. We wouldn't breathe out until I'd pressed the stop button.

Other times, I'd drop off a cassette of some music at Morrissey's house. He lived about two miles away, and I'd ride round there on my Yamaha DT 175 and post them through his letterbox. "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others" was done that way. All the music for that came in one wave while I was watching telly with the sound down.

Jacobs was a residential studio near Farnham. That sounds a bit decadent, but contrary to most albums that were made in the Eighties, ours were done quite cheaply. Firstly, we were on Rough Trade records, and secondly we were quick. Some bands would spend a week on one song, but it was unusual for us not to get two songs down in a day. The Smiths were super efficient, pragmatic and inspired.

Andy [Rourke, bassist] and Mike [Joyce, drummer] had rooms in the main building. Our engineer Stephen Street was in there, too, and Morrissey had the big corner room with the Jacuzzi. I'm joking about the Jacuzzi, but he definitely had the best room, partly because we liked making him feel good. We all loved each other, and Morrissey spent more time alone than the rest of us. There was also a separate building, a kind of producer's cottage. I slept there, mainly because I was making noise during the night working on what was going to be happening the next day.

The album's title track was partly inspired by The MC5 and The Velvet Underground. A Velvets outtakes album called V.U. had just come out, and I loved "I Can't Stand It", mostly because it had this swinging R&B guitar. I'd wanted to do something bombastic like that for a while, and "The Queen Is Dead" was the right place to drop it. There's an eight-minute version of the song out there, but it sounds like we've run the marathon then done two laps of honour. Stephen Street's edit for the album was a good decision.

Using [the actress] Dame Cicely Courtneidge's voice at the top of that track was Morrissey's idea, but it was also very apt for The Smiths collectively. We were all fans of classic British films like The L-Shaped Room, A Taste Of Honey and Hobson's Choice. The aesthetic of those movies was a huge source of inspiration, feeding into our music and artwork. Morrissey's never really been given full credit for that.

We got clearance to use Cicely's voice pretty easily, but we were less lucky with our original idea for the album's front cover. We'd wanted to use a still of Harvey Keitel from Who's That Knocking At My Door, but he knocked us back. We also asked Linda McCartney to come and play piano on "Frankly, Mr Shankly", but she couldn't make it, bless her.

People sometimes ask me who Anne Coates [credited with backing vocals on "Big Mouth Strikes Again"] is, but it's actually a name I made up. The high, synthetic-sounding backing vocal on that song was down to a bit of kit called an AMS Harmoniser. Another talking point is the lyric for "Frankly, Mr Shankly." At the time Morrissey didn't say anything about it being a dig at [Rough Trade boss] Geoff Travis and his bad poetry, but even if he had done, I wouldn't have cared. As I recall, a couple of people at the label said, "Tut! Tut! Somebody's not very pleased with you boys." There was no real indication of what was to come, though.

It was very upsetting when Rough Trade injuncted the album. Given its title, we were expecting flak from the tabloids, but the Rough Trade thing caught us off-guard. We'd made this great record that we'd thrown our hearts into, and we didn't know when the public would get to hear it. It was time for me to up periscope again, but I couldn't really do that until the record came out. I felt that we were stuck in purgatory, and it added to the mounting sense of heaviness that was surrounding us at that point. You can hear it on songs like "Never Had No One Ever."

Andy's problems with heroin were another worry, but we were all very supportive on a personal level. It wasn't doing him any good to carry on being the way he was. There was no problem with his playing on the album; it was more the live shows and the worry that something was going to go cataclysmically wrong for him personally, which in fact it did. When he did get busted and we had to sack him for a while...well it was probably a blessing, really. Much, much worse could have happened.

With the album still injuncted, I decided to go and kidnap the master tapes. It felt very noble, felt like I was doing my band mates and the fans a big favour. My guitar tech, Phil Powell, and myself drove all night in two feet of snow and got to Jacobs just before daylight. With the dawn came the realisation of how stupid our mission was. The people at the studio - it wasn't their fault that they hadn't been paid by the label. They told us they didn't have the authority to release the masters, and we drove off again a bit sheepishly.

Things were finally resolved, and in May 1986, we released "Bigmouth Strikes Again" as a single. We were ecstatic. By this point we didn't care what people thought of it - it was just a huge sense of relief to have something coming out. I'd played a couple of gigs with Billy Bragg on the Red Wedge tour, and in my memory, the release of The Queen Is Dead is tied in with that event. The politics of the tour was one thing, but I felt I'd been treated like shit by the other bands. My wife, Angie, drove The Smiths up to Newcastle and we gatecrashed the next Red Wedge concert. We had no equipment with us, so we hijacked The Style Council's gear and got on stage unannounced. We played the best 20 minutes of our lives. I was so proud. It was partly a sense of vindication and partly just "Great! We're back."

About two months after that, we were booked to do Wogan on BBC1 and Morrissey didn't turn up. Having driven a couple of hundred miles to get there, the rest of us weren't too happy about being left out of the loop, as it were. I didn't care so much when it was some naff show in Italy, us following some guy with a parrot, but this time we felt disrespected and embarrassed. It wasn't like it had been my idea to do Wogan in the first place.

We still had another great album to come, but in the long run not being able to find the right manager was a big factor in the band's demise. Extraneous stuff took over, and I'd defy anyone to try and be all the things that I was expected to be. Just to try and write and perform that music was enough. But in the early days I'd been the one who'd booked the van or tried to blag studio time, and those jobs fell back to me when we were without a manager. It was an insane extension of my original role, and me trying to do all that on the back of a No 2 album was ridiculous.

When I crashed my BMW and managed to walk away pretty much unscathed, it was a turning point. I'd been living the life, and when people see photos of the car wreck, they can't believe I got away with it. It was like a fog had lifted. I stopped drinking a bottle of Tequila before grabbing my car keys. It was time to wise-up and get a haircut.

For a long time, The Queen Is Dead wasn't my favourite record, but I think it stands up very well. We meant every note of it, and it was never a chore. It's audibly a product of its time, but it didn't kow-tow to the fashions or trends of the day. Stephen Street [engineer] deserves a lot of credit. He was the same age as us and we recognised him as a kindred spirit. He had his own quite serious agenda, and there was mutual respect.

The legacy of The Smiths still has a huge impact on my life, and that's fine. When Morrissey and I got together in 1982, it felt like it was going to be significant, but I didn't expect to be talking about The Queen Is Dead two decades later. I last spoke to Morrissey 18 months ago, just about business stuff. Whether we'll ever be on friendly terms again is hard to say, but it's nice to be nice, isn't it?

Mas isto pode ser do meu ouvido, que é 1 pouco mouco.

7 comentários:

  1. Hoje acordei a ouvir este disco...é tão perfeito...

  2. Ironicamente tenho andado a ouvir esse disco, mas só me apercebi que já tinha 20 anos quando li recentemente uma reportagem magnifica na Uncut, onde 3 membros (no Morrsissey) dos Smiths são interpelados individualmente.

  3. Também tenho essa Uncut, naturalmente, e é mesmo assim: o Morrissey nunca alinha nesses saudosismos...

    Se bem que já o vi mais longe dos Smiths do que actualmente...


  4. mais um prendinha, caso ainda não o tenhas visto.

  5. É verdade Pedro. Mas porque dizes que o achas mais proximo da sua ex-banda?

    Pelo que tenho lido ele está cada vez mais proximo da sua banda actual. Até os deixou participar nas composições do Ringleader (lol)

    E pelo que li na NME de fim de Fevereiro ele continua tão fundamentalista como antes. »:-(

  6. Esqueci-me de "loginar" antes de postar... :D

  7. Digo-o porque nunca o vi tão pouco "envergonhado" em relação à música que fez com os Smiths como desde que editou "You Are the Quarry". Ao vivo toca canções dos Smiths sem dar a sensação de estar a ironizar sobre tudo aquilo...