“This Charming Man”: An Iconic Band Turns 30

the smiths

If I could credit just one thing for getting me through the emotional turmoil, uncertainty, and sometimes alienation that I felt in my high school years, it would most definitely be the music of Morrissey and the Smiths. Chances are if you were slightly “odd” in your teenage years and didn’t really fit the mainstream mold, you probably listened to the Smiths. Morrissey’s largely maudlin, dramatic approach to singing and songwriting resonated with me upon first listen as a high school sophomore, and I quickly became enamored with him and his music, sometimes spending hours alone in my room listening to Smiths albums with my headphones on.

The Smiths were a sort of gateway band for me, leading me to discover other British bands from the 80s such as Joy Division, the Cure, and New Order, and eventually the “emo” bands that became more popular during my last two years of high school. It made perfect sense that Saves the Day, (one of those “emo” bands after one of whose songs this website is named and arguably my favorite band of all time) recently covered a Smiths song on their acoustic tour. Morrissey’s music has struck a chord and made a powerful impact on listeners and other musicians who have felt misunderstood, disenfranchised, highly emotional and introspective, or just plain “different.”

Now 30 years after the release of their self-titled debut album, The Smiths and Morrissey continue to influence generations of musicians and fans. Most recently their song “Asleep,” was featured in the movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which will continue to create a rebirth of their iconic music for the next generation of listeners. I recently played “Asleep” in a yoga class I taught and remember having a conversation with one of my high school students about the movie, the book, and the Smiths. It’s hard to believe that it was 13 years ago that I read “The Perks” as a high school senior and wrote a paper on Morrissey and the Smiths for one of my classes. Much like the story’s protagonist, Charlie, I met some great friends through listening to bands like the Smiths, and they helped me find my voice, break out of my shell, and deal with some personal crises. Whenever I look back to junior and senior year and remember the places I hung (out often by myself), the coffee shop and bookstore where I worked, or the afternoons I would sometimes skip class, I often hear the Smiths in the background. I can still visualize the Smiths lyrics I scrawled in my notebooks for class and the poetry and sketches that were often inspired by those lyrics. I’m pretty sure I still have the cassette version of the Smiths’ self titled album that I used to play when I drove my dad’s old Volvo that predated CD players somewhere in my parents’ basement. It’s surreal to think that that cassette tape is 30 years old, almost as old as me.

30 years have passed and artists are still covering the Smiths in concert and on tribute albums. Bands today still credit the Smiths as one of their most powerful musical influences. Something about the enigmatic, eccentric, slightly depressing but oddly “charming man” that is Stephen Morrissey has captivated fans and musicians alike and has certainly influenced many a piece of art, from books to movies to songs and albums.

Unlike some bands from the late 90s/early 2000s that were popular when I was in high school, and also unlike several 80s bands that were more popular during that time, the Smiths have definitely stood the test of time. Their music was truly unlike anything else that was being created during that era, and it has left such a mark on generations long after the one who was in high school in the mid-late 80s. I’d bet that just about anyone who was an avid Smiths fan in high school still digs back into their catalog for nostalgia’s sake from time to time and that just hearing the first few notes of any one of their songs will transport that listener back to a time and place that they can visualize in full color and high definition.

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