When people say they don’t like Morrissey or The Smiths because they find it so depressing, I just think they’re not trying hard enough, frankly. It’s not a non-stop Klaus Wunderlich dance party, I know, but it doesn’t actually make you feel miserable, does it?”
I can understand you not liking Morrissey for his views, his melodramatic outbursts, or his voice. I can understand (only just) you not liking the music: not everyone gets turned on by sublime lead guitar work, a rhythm section that’s tight, subtle, but agile and fierce when it needs to be, or a combination of the above with acidic, witty lyrics.
It’s just that I find nothing depressing in it. I don’t listen to The Smiths if I need bringing down from the day’s heady excitement. I don’t listen to Morrissey if things are going suspiciously well, and I need to balance out the karma. I listen to these songs because lyrically and musically they are works of great beauty and intelligence.
No song represents the divergence between the two camps better than Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. Taking its title from a Sandie Shaw song (Heaven Knows I’m Missing Him Now) and its theme from Morrissey’s ill-judged work decision to take a clerical job at the inland revenue in 1977 it’s a deft reworking of his feelings at the time:
When I had no job I could pinpoint my depression, but when I did get a job I was still depressed
Retrospectively, this might seem a bit of a ”Chubby? Hmm…” moment, but in the song’s lyric, the repetition of “a job” becomes a counterpoint to the more intricate sections of the lyric:
I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows, I’m miserable now
I was looking for a job and then I found a job
And heaven knows, I’m miserable now
Later, “two lovers, entwined” darken his mood, Caligula turns up, and something quite improper is implied. But just because Moz isn’t having the best time, doesn’t mean you too have to suffer. He may have been feeling empty at the time -
I am totally disillusioned with life, time passes and things get progressively worse
- but that doesn’t transfer to the song. Just listen to Johnny Marr’s introduction and the bright passage leading into the second verse: both lead into upbeat phrases (“I was happy” / “Two lovers entwined”), and try as he might, Moz can’t quite undo their good work, not with Marr’s breezy jazz lounge chords undermining his every word.
Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now became the first Smiths single to reach the top ten on its release in June 1984. Its success came with amid controversy, however. Although the Smiths song Suffer Little Children had already appeared on the band’s self-titled debut album without too much fuss, its presence on the b-side of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now was noticed by a relative of John Kilbride, one of the victims of the Moors Murders. His complaint found sympathetic ears at the Manchester Evening News. Their story transferred into a boycott of both the single and the album by the Boots and Woolworth chains. Matters were not helped by a case of mistaken identity over the single’s cover, which some people assumed featured Myra Hindley when in fact its star was the rather more innocent lottery winner Viv Nicholson.