Billy Bragg Explains Why The Smiths Are ‘Tainted’ Now

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Billy Bragg has been one of the greatest British musicians of all time. A pioneer of the punk generation, Billy is an artist who has talked about many socio-political issues and helped people with his music. He blended the punk and folk genres and has written some of the important tracks of his time.

His self-awareness has earned him the respect of fans from all over the world. His most famous line from the song ‘Sexuality’ goes like this, “Just because you’re gay, I won’t turn you away / If you stick around, I’m sure that we can find some common ground” to “Just because you’re they, I won’t turn you away / If you stick around, I’m sure that we can find the right pronoun”.

This kind of discussion on his songs has been his major plot point. The explanation given by him on the topic stated, “I’m not erasing the gay community when I change the lyrics to ‘Sexuality’, I’m simply updating them to reflect the changing times we live in. My hope is to encourage others of my generation to do the same with their long-cherished notions of an inclusive society”. 

Billy is more than a singer/songwriter. He has been a sage when it comes to delivering comments. In 2008, during an interview with Record Collector, Bragg talked about an interesting topic. He commented how The Smiths were fantastic but now, are tainted.

During the interview Bragg was told how he, Elvis Costello, and Paul Weller were a ‘great triumvirate’ back in the early 1980s. In his response, he explained that The Smiths were so good that they stopped him from comparing himself to Elvis Costello.

Billy said, “I think you also have to mention Morrissey & Marr, they were my true contemporaries. I really felt that myself and The Smiths coming through at the same time – their first album knocked Life’s A Riot… off the top of the indie chart – really put the focus back on singer-songwriters. The Smiths were fantastic, and in a way they stopped me measuring myself against Costello and gave me something more manageable to aim for! I could work out what Morrissey and Marr were doing, but I could never get close to what Elvis was doing.”

Bragg also opened up on how close he was with Marr and Morrissey. He remembered, “I ended up working with Johnny Marr quite a bit, but my relationship with Morrissey was more arm’s length. I did some shows in the UK with The Smiths which was all very pleasant, and I was on their first American tour. I got on famously with them all, but Morrissey was very much his own man, our conversations tended to be a little more oblique. I remember he described me as ‘vaudevillian’. When I went home and looked it up I was quite pleased.”

While he is a fan of The Smiths, Billy has also gone ahead to slam the former Smith for his support for the far-right party For Britain. He wrote on his Facebook page, “He expresses support for anti-Muslim provocateurs, posts white supremacist videos and, when challenged, clutches his pearls and cries ‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me’. His recent claim that ‘as a so-called entertainer, I have no rights’ is a ridiculous position made all the more troubling by the fact that it is a common trope among right-wing reactionaries.”

“Worryingly, Morrissey’s reaction to being challenged over his support of For Britain, his willingness to double down rather than apologise for any offence caused, suggests a commitment to a bigotry that tarnishes his persona as the champion of the outsider. Where once he offered solace to the victims of a cruel and unjust world, he now seems to have joined the bullies waiting outside the school gates.”

Well, this was not the only time he shared something like this. While speaking with The Guardian he was asked about Morrisey’s views. He said, “It stinks, They were the greatest band of my generation, with the greatest guitar player and the greatest lyricist. I think Johnny [Marr] was a constraint on him… back then he had to fit into the idea of the Smiths.”

He then added, “But now [Morrissey is] betraying those fans, betraying his legacy and empowering the very people Smiths fans were brought into being to oppose, He’s become the Oswald Mosley of pop.” Bragg concluded with,

“Whenever a Smiths track comes up I flip on, I just can’t… I love Johnny Marr, he’s the nicest man I ever met in pop music. So I really feel for him that the great work that he’s done should be tainted in this way.”

Regardless of this, Billy is still a fan of The Smiths like the rest of us. But what he has shared about their legacy being tainted is also something we all can understand. As the wild rambling of Morrissey is still somewhere out there.



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