The first book I loved (that wasn’t written by JK Rowling) was Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero. I was an edgy sixteen year-old; had it been the fifties I would’ve carried Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea around in my bag, in the sixties Kerouac’s On The Road, but I was born too late to be one of those pretentious teenagers and to an era where my reading was based on the music I liked – in the case of Less Than Zero, Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City.
My life was nowhere near as exciting as the lives of Clay, Julian and Blair, based as it was on the cusp of Hampshire and Surrey rather than Los Angeles. They were rich doing cocaine in mansions and I was poor drinking cider in alleyways. I definitely glamourised their version of emptiness, which was ridiculous being from where I was from, but that’s one of the brilliant things about being a teenager – the simultaneous deathly self-consciousness and complete lack of self-awareness. I watched the film adaptation, which plays like a John Hughes movie written by Lars Von Trier, and proceeded to read everything I could get my hands on by Ellis over the next few months, culminating in the use of a plane’s sick bag while reading American Psycho over California. If tomorrow he announced a new novel, I would be the first to pre-order it. I know he is not for everyone, but he was the first writer to grab my attention to the point that nothing existed outside of those borders.
However. Giving his podcast a go a few years ago, I heard his piece about a silly column written about Sky Ferreira, where the writer had gone on and on about her breasts with really childish language. It wound some people up, and they reacted to it, leading the LA Weekly to apologise for the piece. You can read Ellis’s whole reaction to the column here.
For me, phrases like ‘snowflakes’ and ‘SJWs’ are a distraction. They’re like mosquitoes swirling around your face; it’s that level of annoyance. It’s not a real insult, because surely ‘snowflake’ refers to snowflakes being completely unique. Doesn’t everyone think they’re unique? And if they don’t, isn’t that the most life-drainingly sad thing ever? But that’s not the point here. The point is when your idols aren’t what you thought they were.
It leads back to a conversation I am constantly having, which is how do you – should you, even – separate art from the artist? And what are the limits to that?
The other artist I idolised in my teens was Morrissey. I remember the first time I heard The Smiths – I was 14 on a train out of Brighton with my dad, going to stay with my girlfriend for the night. My dad had lent me his iPod and I was flicking through to find something to listen to – The Anti-Nowhere League, Depeche Mode, The White Stripes – before hitting The Smiths. ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’; the title grabbed me and I was thrust into the knowledge of how Joan of Arc felt. That whole trip, any moment I was alone, I plugged into The Smiths.
I know this is not an original experience. I know that I had this experience about twenty years later than most. But listening to Morrissey was like having a pen-pal, or one of those close friends you could spend evening after evening on the phone with. When I turned 18 I got a ‘Hand in Glove’ tattoo and never looked back. Refused to look back, even after several suspect comments in an interview with Simon Armitage.
And then on the back of his first solo album in three years, Low in High School, he started spouting worrying comments all over. First there were his comments about the UKIP election, which confused most people and worried others. You don’t really want to align yourself with that at a BBC 6Music concert. Then a response to the Kevin Spacey allegations in Der Spiegel left everyone at best speechless, at worst disgusted. Der Spiegel claims Morrissey said that ‘people know exactly what’s going on and they play along,’ implying the victims knew what they were getting into.
I really enjoyed his latest album. Some of the lyrics were a bit heavy-handed, but there were more highs than lows in my opinion. But the day after I read the interview in Der Spiegel, I didn’t feel too great about people seeing my tattoo. He has staunchly denied making the comments, and went on to say at a concert in Chicago that ‘unless you see the words form in my mouth and then you see the words or hear the words come out of my mouth – please, if you don’t see that, I didn’t say it.’
But he hasn’t denied being pro-Brexit, or a fan of Nigel Farage. How do you square that with beautiful insightful vegetarian Morrissey of the 1980s, who said it was okay to be whatever you were?
And like the man himself responding to the question ‘does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body?’, my conclusion is, I don’t know. Is it just the age we live in, of instant feedback and an inability to backtrack once something is said? I don’t know. You’re probably not meant to have idols in your late twenties, or if you do they should be long dead so they can’t disappoint you. From now on my heroes are St. Jude and John Steinbeck.