Even more than most die-hard Smiths fans, Erika and Jimmy Alvarenga’s lives together have been shaped by Morrissey’s music.
“He actually proposed to me at a Morrissey concert at the Music Box,” said Erika, 35, looking wistfully at her husband, 46, outside Morrissey’s Saturday night show at the Hollywood Bowl, the last on his U.S. tour. The two had driven in from Ontario and even rented a hotel room down the street so they wouldn’t have their night with Moz sullied by traffic.
The U.K. crooner has few peers in adoration from SoCal music fans. (Nov. 10 is officially Morrissey Day in L.A.) The former Smiths singer is beloved — especially among Latin audiences here — for his romantic miserablism and still-regal voice.
Over the last few years, however, he’s faced scrutiny for eye-popping comments about the Chinese, disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the accent of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and over his support of For Britain, a new political party with ties to white nationalism. He recently re-posted a video claiming the British government was using grime music to try and erase “white culture” in the country.
Fellow artists like Billy Bragg are beginning to wonder if Morrissey’s typical cantankerousness has slipped into more ugly, bigoted terrain that requires a re-assessment of his place in the canon. Others, like L.A. rapper Jpegmafia, have even stronger criticisms.
For many Morrissey fans at his show Saturday, they’ve found a detente between his music and his slide into right-wing rhetoric.
“He’s a human being, and his music speaks to a lot of people,” said Erika Alvarenga. “He’s entitled to his opinions. I’m not affected by it at all. The music is separate from his views.”
“But if he ever started singing about immigrants, I wouldn’t come to his concerts anymore,” Jimmy Alvarenga added.
Most Morrissey fans seemed aware that his politics and comments had turned darker since the U.S. and U.K. elections of 2016. But that didn’t seem to overly bother them as they waited outside the 17,500-capacity Hollywood Bowl. Morrissey isn’t quite the commercial draw he was decades ago — the day before the concert, many upper-level sections were barely half-sold — but by showtime, the crowd had filled out closer to capacity.
Melissa Gomez, 46, from Rosemead, didn’t hesitate to say that she’d stick by Morrissey.
“No way,” she said, when asked if his anti-immigrant stances might ever cost him her fandom. Gomez is Mexican American, and although treatment of migrants is a searing issue in American life, she wore her Morrissey shirt proudly. “He’s not the threat here,” she said. “He’s a good person.”
Onstage at the Bowl, Morrissey struck a grateful tone, back in his adopted hometown in a left-leaning state. “I’m home, I’m home, I’m home,” he said, as he dove into his single “Suedehead,” which brought the crowd to its feet. He even titled his new album of classic-songbook covers “California Son,” a nod to the generations of fans here that have supported him through thick and thin.
But at times, he couldn’t help himself, at one point donning a T-shirt bearing a profanity directed at the Guardian, a left-leaning British newspaper that has criticized his rhetoric in recent years.
Some fans admitted they’d gone through mental gymnastics to square the sensitive singer they know and love with the unsurprising possibility that a very wealthy 60-year-old white man from Britain might have some unsavory views about immigrants in 2019. “I was really surprised,” Jimmy Alvarenga said, recalling when he first heard of Morrissey’s slide rightward.
But others seemed resigned that canceling Morrissey at this point may just be too much of a loss.
“He says the dumbest stuff,” said Evan Navarro, 23, of L.A., who has listened to Morrissey and the Smiths for a decade. “But I love his music. There’s just too much history there.”