Their Charming Man

Dispatches from the Latino Morrissey love-in

Illustration by Kathryn HyattYUMA

The crowd chants, "Me-xi-co! Me-xi-co!" in an attempt to get the singer to acknowledge that the majority of the audience is Latino. He does. "I'm going to sing a couple of more songs," he tells them, "then all of you can go back to Mexicali."

And the Yuma Convention Center explodes.

Only one white man in the world—and he's not the pope—can tell a group of Mexicans in the United States to return to Mexico and not only avert death, but be loved for saying so.

His name: Steven Patrick Morrissey, former lead singer of the Smiths, current saint among countless young Latinos.

The same convention-center audience demographic greets him wherever he performs: Los Angeles, Colorado Springs or this desolate desert town. So he always makes sure to yell out "Mexico" or perform some grand ethnic genuflection to his adoring fans, letting them know that he knows. They always respond in ecstasy; grateful.

By the time you read this, there will have been numerous television reports, radio interviews and newspaper stories revealing that many Morrissey fans are Latinos. They will tell you that history—musical, cultural, transnational—will take place this Friday at the Arrowhead Pond when Morrissey shares the stage with Mexican rock en español titans Jaguares in the biggest crossover attempt since Drake burned the Spanish Armada.

And they will tell you that you should be surprised. You shouldn't. There's something logical in this Latino Morrissey-worship. Morrissey knows it, his fans know it, and even academics know it. What exactly "it" is isn't exactly clear except that it's there, as plain as the Morrissey tattoo on the left shoulder of the muchacha crying on the floor of the Yuma Convention Center.

 

NEW WAVE'S SERMON ON THE MOUNT

I received the call at about 2 in the morning: a weak, almost slurring cry for help. "Hey, Gustavo. It's Ben. Man, I need my Morrissey CDs back. [Long pause] I really miss them. [Longer pause, voice now quivering the slightest bit] I need them."

Ben follows up the next day with an e-mail: "Please get me those CDs as soon as you can. I am being deprived."

Ben is Benjamín Escobedo, a 25-year-old Santa Ana Democratic Party stalwart. Across the back window of his car is the salute to Morrissey and his domination of the city in which the singer now makes his home, "Moz Angeles." He let me borrow his Morrissey/Smiths collection (every CD, even the bootlegs, imports and special editions) for only two days before sending those messages.

Ben's devotion to Morrissey is a lesser example of what Latino Morrissey fans feel for their god. They wear pins, patches or tattoos with their charming man's face. They dress like him (rockabilly chic to British mod), carry around his favorite flowers (gladiolas), and cite his songs as answers to every problem they might have. One particular favorite is ending e-mail messages with the line "It takes strength to be gentle and kind" from "I Know It's Over," New Wave's Sermon on the Mount.

Some fans, like Cal State Fullerton graduate student Patricia Godínez-Benjumea, go as far as visiting his house in the Hollywood Hills and dropping off stories they write about him. "His music is the soundtrack of my life," Godínez-Benjumea says. "He reaches my innermost thoughts and fears and aspirations and longing. For a long time, I felt isolated and alone. Only Morrissey comforted me."

Godínez-Benjumea wrote an article discussing how Morrissey saved her life for a school publication. "My friend Maggie told me where he lived and said I should go give it to him," she said. "Before, I never had the guts to do it. Even when we went to his house, Maggie put my story in his mailbox. I didn't even tell my husband that I did that."

Ben has yet to visit Morrissey's home, but he knows the address. His love affair with the Manchester native began when his brother and friends introduced him to Viva Hate. "When I first heard the album, it blew my mind," Ben says. "Every time I hear him now, he impresses me more and more."

Morrissey plays such a big role in Ben's life that he has a death pact with his friend: whoever dies first will make sure that "Well I Wonder" ("Please keep me in mind/Please keep me in mind") is played at the funeral.

"Moz speaks to me," Ben says. "For almost any problem in life, I can think of a Morrissey song. For example, 'Hand in Glove' has that line"—and, here, Ben sings—"'And if the people stare/Then the people stare/Oh, I really don't know, and I really don't care.' That taught me to not care about what others may think of who I love.

"From the very beginning, I knew that Latinos liked Morrissey," Ben remarks. "In fact, I cannot name one white person who likes Morrissey."

 

'A HEAVENLY WAY TO DIE'

What is it about Morrissey that attracts Latinos? It may be that it echoes the music of Mexico, the ranchera. His trembling falsetto brings to mind the rich, sad voice of Pedro Infante, while his effeminate stage presence makes him a U.K. version of Juan Gabriel. As in ranchera, Morrissey's lyrics rely on ambiguity, powerful imagery and metaphors. Thematically, the idealization of a simpler life and a rejection of all things bourgeois come from a populist impulse common to ranchera.

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23 comments
JV Joaquin Vazquez Jr.
JV Joaquin Vazquez Jr.

I've been a fan of the Smiths and Moz since the 80s. I also like Juan Gabriels music. Does that make me a 'Fruit Loop'? Absolutely not. I just recognize talent and give credit where it's due. I also dig the old rock and metal. Ever heard of that classic 'US Festival'? I was there for metal day in 83. A mind is like a parachute...you have to open it to be effective.

Tracy Gutierrez
Tracy Gutierrez

Hey hey hey there's nothing wrong with being a "Fruit Loop."

Oldschool Rocker
Oldschool Rocker

Ooops! My sincere apology. I thought you were a male... Yeah he sure can arouse the females I guess. Is that what his style of music is supposed to do?. That's what I thought back when I first heard of him... And, no. I am not naked in my pic. I just woke up. hahaha

Oldschool Rocker
Oldschool Rocker

BOTOM LINE: If you're a dude and like Morrisey, then You're a Fruit Loop... Its' bad enough that us Mexicans are struggling in society and being a Fruit Loop doesn't make it any easier for us.

Oldschool Rocker
Oldschool Rocker

BOTTOM LINE: If you're a dude and like Morrisey, then you're a Fruit Loop.... So many of us Mexicans are struggling in society and being a Fruit Loop doesn't make it any easier for us.

Coco Farias
Coco Farias

bone-o-phone? really? lol ok. and quotes around "arouse" ? really? sexual innuendos don't really scare me... o wait- are you naked in your picture?

Oldschool Rocker
Oldschool Rocker

Yeah I bet he does "Arouse" your passion all right. But not mine. He likes to sing into the Bone-o-Phone.

Oldschool Rocker
Oldschool Rocker

And if us Mexicans want acknowledgement, then maybe we should pick better role models to look up to other than Morrisey and get better taste in music.

Tracy Gutierrez
Tracy Gutierrez

I'm baffled by the same thing, I have a brother and sister that love Morrissey, seen him countless times, and love everything he's done and I just can't grasp the concept.

Jim Bodden
Jim Bodden

I read this article long ago, was not aware Gustavo wrote it. Interesting phenomenon.

Gil Martinez
Gil Martinez

Smiths / Morrissey cover band @ Santa Fe Swap meet on Fri night.

Gil Martinez
Gil Martinez

Smith's/Morrissey cover band @ Santa Fe Swap meet on Fri. Night

Steve Lukasiewicz
Steve Lukasiewicz

I rember seeing the Morrisey phenom with specifically SGV KROQ listening Mexicans before I saw it grow to other parts of LA and beyond.

Coco Farias
Coco Farias

Oldschool rocker is obviously to old to appreciate nuestro señor de los corridos británicos .. Morrisey arouses our passions.. That's what makes him delicious & that's what Spanish music does ... I don't get you! It's a win win.

Chris Carey
Chris Carey

" It's as if people must discover Morrissey on their own terms."

Oldschool Rocker
Oldschool Rocker

Why do so many Mexicans like him so much? I'm Mexican and I think he sucks! And anyone who thinks he's a saint among countless Latinos has got to be smokin' on something. The guy is a Fruit Loop. And Mexicans who thinks he's a saint is just making the rest of us look stupid. And why would the crowd chant, "Me-xi-co" just to get him to acknowledge where they're from? Yeah. So. And?... I don't get it.

Ruben Alvarez
Ruben Alvarez

I remember this article... good one for sure!!!

 

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