Their Charming Man

Dispatches from the Latino Morrissey love-in

The most striking similarity, though, is Morrissey's signature beckoning and embrace of the uncertainty of life and love, something that at first glance might seem the opposite of macho Mexican music. But check it out: for all the machismo and virulent existentialism that Mexican music espouses, there is another side—a morbid fascination with getting your heart and dreams broken by others, usually in death. In fact, Morrissey's most famous confession of unrequited love, "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out," ("And if a double-decker bus/Crashes into us/To die by your side/Would be a heavenly way to die") emulates almost sentiment for sentiment Cuco Sanchez's torch song "Cama de Piedra" ("The day that they kill me/May it be with five bullets/And be close to you").

"I see Moz as something like Los Tigres del Norte," Ben says, referring to the conjunto norteño legends who've graphed and broadcast Mexican sentiment for the past quarter of a century. "They can take you through the day—make you laugh, smile and cry. And that's what Morrissey does."

Comparing Morrissey with Mexican music is an interesting game, but it's beside the point. Most of Morrissey's Latino fans, while growing up with ranchera, don't automatically relate Morrissey to anything Mexican. More immediate to them is the music of their Mexican-Americanized youth: 1980s New Wave, oldies-but-goodies, and the rockabilly rhythms that have been a part of Mexican culture in one form or another since the heyday of the zoot suit. It's natural, then, for Latinos to find Morrissey appealing: he incorporates all of these styles into his music, in the process singing their life.

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UCI Bren Events Center

100 Bren Event Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92612

Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks

Region: Irvine

"A lot of Latinos in Southern California grew up to oldies and rancheras," Ben says. "But everyone also listened to KROQ, especially the flashback lunches. A lot of those artists on KROQ were English, and the one that really stuck to people was Morrissey. His music had the style of a lot of the music we were already accustomed to."

'I WISH I WAS BORN MEXICAN'

Morrissey once told a Las Vegas audience composed of (what else?) mostly Latinos that "'Mexico' is the only Spanish word I know. But it's the best word."

That concert was part of 1999's "¡Oye Esteban!" tour. An advertisement for his concerts that year excitedly screamed, "¡El cantante! ¡El concierto! (The singer! The concert!)." On that tour, Morrissey performed wearing T-shirts and belt buckles emblazoned with "Mexico" and at times even the Virgen de Guadalupe, the spiritual embodiment of Catholic Mexico.

Morrissey's most famous acknowledgement of his Latino fans, though, came here in Orange County during that same tour. "I wish I was born Mexican," Morrissey told an overwhelmingly Latino audience at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center. "But it's too late for that now." This is the Dylan-at-Newport moment of the Latino Morrissey crowd, the defining moment of the scene, something that everyone attended even if they were somewhere else.

The argument can even be made that Morrissey's acknowledgement of his Latino lovers goes back as early as 1992's Your Arsenal; on "Glamorous Glue," he wondered, "We look to Los Angeles/For the language we use/London is dead/London is dead/Now I'm too much in love." Elizabethan English and its people have perished, he tells us; long live the Spanglish race of Nuestra Lady de los Ángeles.

Regardless of when Morrissey discovered his Latino worshipers, it's indisputable that he now tailors his career for them. He lives in Los Angeles, the second-largest city in Latin America, and attends rock en españolshows in Huntington Park to see Hispanic troubadour Mikel Erenxtun sing excellent Spanish versions of "Everyday Is Like Sunday" and "There Is a Light that Never Goes Out." His current tour eschews the East Coast and Midwest in favor of Latino or nearly Latino enclaves in Arizona, California and Las Vegas. Morrissey's participation in Jaguares' Revolución Tour is another show of solidarity with the people who've made him a king.

"It's no secret that he moved to Southern California where there's a huge Latino base," says Javier Castellanos, who's trying to get Morrissey to come to his Anaheim club, JC Fandango, and displays a smiling picture of the eternally dour Morrissey to prove it. "I told him, 'You know there're a lot of Latinos who love you.' And he just nodded his head."

Anyone attending Friday's show will most likely hear "Mexico," a new song he debuted on this tour. A slow ballad similar to the baroque horror of "Meat Is Murder," "Mexico" reads like a Chicano manifesto:

In Mexico

I went for a walk to inhale the tranquil cool lover's air.

I could taste a trace

Of American chemical waste.

And the small voice said, "What can I do?"

I lay on the grass

And I cried my heart out for want of my love.

Other stanzas are just as radical, with the most memorable passage observing that Mexicans in the United States face a situation in which "It seems if you're rich and you're white/You'll be all right./I just don't see why this should be so."

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