Last of the International Playboys

New releases in New Zealand, 26 February 1989

Morrissey – Last of the International Playboys

One way that I used to get records was through the World Record Club.  It was quite a painful experience getting their catalogue because it was filled with hundreds of possibilities I couldn’t afford.  I would tick dozens of items and then whittle and whittle that list down to the one of two things I could actually afford to get.  In the age before YouTube and streaming there was no way to check if you would actually like the album that you had ordered.  Usually everything worked out ok, but sometimes you ended up with a record that was a dud.  That was pretty disappointing because money was scarce and there is a lot of waiting involved when you order by post.  The records, when they came, were in thick cardboard packing and it was insanely exciting opening them up and seeing the pristine LP covers for the first time.

One record I got from the World Record Club was a Smiths compilation (they released a lot of these) called The World Won’t Listen.  I got it because Smash Hits magazine kept talking about The Smiths but there was no Smiths in my record store, and none played on the radio.  When I got it I have to say it didn’t immediately grab me.  I loved Panic, Ask and Asleep, but nothing else.  It’s hard for me to believe this now because there are songs on that compilation that are among my all time favourite Smith’s songs: There is a Light That Never Goes Out and The Boy With the Thorn In His Side.  I guess all I can say is that it wasn’t quite to my taste in 1988/9.  That would change after 1990.

I went to uni in 1991.  The girlfriend of a friend of mine was very into The Smiths and The Cure. From about 1992 onwards I started buying Smiths albums on CD, and in 1995 hung out with a couple of people who loved them.  By this time Morrissey was well into his solo career.  In fact, the peak of his solo career was already passing and he was about to begin his long journey into night (by which I mean: becoming the hateful, right-wing arse hole he is today).

One of the people I hung around with in 1995 said that she thought my theme should be The Boy With the Thorn In His Side.  Sometimes, when I’m signing off emails, I write a mock title under my name: thorn in my own side.  It’s always struck me as accurate.  At the time I thought it was the last bit of that song that resonated most with me:

And when you want to live
How do you start?
Where do you go?
Who do you need to know?

That was 1995 and I was 22.  I was 22 and sensing that there was a big, wonderful world, and a big horrible world out there too, and that the difference was paper thin and how was one to know how to get to the right one?

Even though that was right about being 22, the rest of the lyrics are actually righter about me as a person.  Painfully accurate in fact.

The boy with the thorn in his side
Behind the hatred there lies
A plundering desire for love
How can they see the love in our eyes
And still they don’t believe us?

For a certain kind of person Morrissey wrote what you felt: validated it by expressing it.  He certainly did that for me.  There are lyrics that he wrote in The Smiths that are a wittier, more poignant version of things I said or thought, or wished I had said or thought.  He carried some of that into his early solo career.

Kāpiti College – Seventh Form, 1990

His decline has been long and unpleasant, and he now makes statements quite regularly that are nationalist and xenophobic.  He has always been very English.  Very wedded to the slightly naff, awfully suburban and mediocre post-imperial Britain he grew up in.  The past does not last though.  Even with my blend of nostalgia and contempt for the 70s and 80s of my child and teenage hood I do not want the present version of whatever it means to be young and from this country defended against the latest outsider.

I do happen to think that multiculturalism is very problematic, but not for the reasons that nationalists usually wang on about.  I think it’s problematic for the migrants.  Hard for the adults, and then very hard for their children.  Their children who grow up in two worlds, with two sets of values – one at home, and one outside home – and have to learn to negotiate the space between them; have to learn to be a third thing: neither the home, or the outside world but a person in transition.

Morrissey used to know about that.  I’m not sure where it went.


Paradise City is, let’s be fair, a great song.  The start is a bit lame, but everything after that is what G’N’R were good at: fast, furious, rock.  The lyrics this time are in the vein of Welcome to the Jungle – the dirty, competitive, everyone’s-out-to-get-you city and the people in it.

I don’t really like most of Billy Bragg’s music.  I ought to.  I have read his autobiography.  I like him as a person, and his politics, but his music I find mostly boring or it makes me cringe.  The Great Leap Forward makes me cringe.  The first song I heard by him was Levi Stubbs’ Tears which I absolutely love to this day.  There are other songs by him I like, and sometimes his lyrics really work.  A mixed bag then.  Even in this song – The Great Leap Forward – there are some good lines:

…the only noise I hear
Is the sound of someone stacking chairs
And mopping up spilt beer….

Mixing pop and politics he asks me what the use is

I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses
While looking down the corridor
Out to where the van is waiting

Which is just a perfect moment of insight from a man who must have fielded plenty of depressing late night questions at the end of crummy gigs where every day is like Sunday.

  • Guns N’ Roses – Paradise City (8/10)
  • Billy Bragg – Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards (4/10)
  • Ruby Turner feat. Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (5/10)
  • Simple Minds – Ballad of the Streets (2/10)
  • Morrissey – Last of the International Playboys (9/10)
  • Blondie – Denis (-/-)*

* Not new


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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō