Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Top Ten Smiths Songs that Represent Gay Themes

The Smiths, lead by lead singer Morrissey and lead guitarist Johnny Marr in the 1980s, changed music forever through their unique, sullen, and melodic sound that popularized the independent British rock scene to a scale never before imagined. And although the Smiths are heavily listened to today, I believe that many of the listeners ignore the fact that many if not most of The Smiths' songs feature homosexual themes and undertones that are the main spirit of the music. Hell, it is almost never mentioned, not on Wikipedia, not in common conversation. It is just another example of playing down one man's beautiful art - an art that is inextricably and amazingly, gay. Many gay teens will cite The Smiths as their favorite band for the most part because, strangely, for once, there is a group that understands our pain, and sings our lives. As Morrissey sang in his song, "Panic," ". . . burn down the disco . . . because the music they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life," most of the love songs in this world that are heard publicly would never feature gay lyrics. And so in my opinion, Morrissey, who has through the years constantly denied or remained aloof about his sexual orientation, transmitted through his elegiac, melancholy lyrics, the suffering and tragedy that most homosexuals deal with when it comes to love. And in a time when I suffer through a love for a straight boy, I give you the top ten songs that most represent Morrissey's homosexuality, in the most beautiful and powerful way.

10. "The Queen is Dead" (The Queen is Dead - 1986)

Main Line: "And I was shocked into shame to discover / How I'm the 18th pale descendant /Of some old queen or other..."

It would be nice and all to assume that this Smiths' masterpiece is simply a satire of British lifestyles, and that Morrissey is complaining that "life is very long when you're lonely" simply because he's melancholy. In fact, Morrissey's most depressing lyrics carry a gay tone that is very understandable. When Morrissey references to a 'queen' (a slang term for homosexual), he is really diving deep into a theme that is very common in his lyrics - the inability to find normalcy, at least in that time, for living as a gay man. His words, "has the world changed or have I changed," resemble an age old question, has the world simply gotten worse, or is it my fault that I am a homosexual? All of us ask this question, and Morrissey is only further channeling his anguish into a song that is falsely upbeat.

9. "Still Ill" (The Smiths - 1984)

Main Line: "Does the body rule the mind, or the does the mind rule the body? - I don't know."

One of the more depressing songs that the Smiths have made, Still Ill in my opinion carries a sturdy melancholy that depicts the life of a gay man who has not fully come to terms with his sexual orientation (another commonality with Morrissey and his lyrics).

8. "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" (The Queen is Dead - 1986)

Main Line: "And if they don't believe us now, will they ever believe us?"

Morrissey never comes fully outright with his sexual questions (except perhaps in "Handsome Devil" :]), and in this song he sings of the problems that homosexuals face when others cannot accept the fact that they are gay. Gay people, most simply, just want love; Morrissey sings "The boy with the thorn in his side / Behind the hatred there lies / A murderous desire for love." I also crave this love with a passion that sometimes drives me insane. And as homosexuals, perhaps sometimes a worse tragedy is that many will not accept or validate our existence; simply ignore it, or they won't believe it is our identity, but simply a choice. This is a definite issue that I have with my mother, who at the moment still believes I can be 'saved.' I do not know if Morrissey was putting this question on an open level with another human since he was very private, but I do believe he fought it within himself.

7. "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" (Meat is Murder - 1985)

Main Line: "But that joke isn't funny anymore / It's too close to home / And it's too near the bone . . . More than you'll ever know  . . ."

Ironically, when Proposition 8 came around in 2009, I was a stark supporter of it. Why? Back then in my Freshman year of high school I was still a blinded individual; I hated homosexuals, and I did not believe they deserved any rights because it was a 'sin' in my eyes. Over time, and much introspection and confusion, I realized why I hated myself; It was because I was gay. As Morrissey sings, there were times as gay people where we were the bullies; we made jokes. Now, it seems as though the world is very conflicting, very critical, and hatred is all around us. It is so very painful to feel so isolated in this manner. I believe when Morrissey says, "I've seen this happen in other people's lives, now it's happening in mine," he is talking about the feelings of suicide . . . something all of us must overcome when we realize that we do have the right to live.

6. "How Soon Is Now?" (Meat is Murder - 1985)

Main Line: "You shut your mouth, how can you say I go about things the wrong way? I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does . . ."

The Smiths' most popular song is also one of their most pro-gay. Pro-gay in the usage that I mean Morrissey is actually screaming out his right for love. As homosexuals, many of us will hear people say that we should stay in the closet, stop being flamboyant, that we should be accepted, but not tolerated to an extent that is equal to our heterosexual brothers and sisters. In this song, Morrissey employs one of the most amazing metaphors I've ever heard for homosexuality: "I am the son and heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar." Morrissey quickly reminds of us the past illegality of homosexuality, whether it be Oscar Wilde's imprisonment, sodomy laws, or even in the current world today, with countries like Uganda proposing witch-hunts for gay people and their friends that includes death sentences. Morrissey does admit in the song that his 'hope is gone,' but I believe "How Soon is Now" is a powerful display of gay pride - and that's a lot, coming from him.

5. "Pretty Girls Make Graves" (The Smiths - 1984)

Main Line: ""I could have been wild and I could have been free, but Nature played this trick on me . . . I've lost my faith in womanhood."

I used to believe that my inability to feel the supposed 'natural' feelings of a teenage boy towards women was because as a child I was victim to the sexual abuse that my father would impose upon my mother. I believed that I was simply 'afraid' to touch women; I did not come to terms that I would much rather kiss a boy than a girl. In this song, Morrissey depicts perhaps his true sexuality: his conflicting bisexuality, or rather, his former (or current) inability to cope with what he feels. Yes, many songs of the Smiths feature heterosexual themes, such as "Sheila Take a Bow" or "Girlfriend in A Coma" (though I do believe this song too is a metaphor for something more understandably gay . . .), so it would be unfair to say that ALL of the Smiths songs have gay themes only. Here, in "Pretty Girls . . .", the theme is strongly felt. Morrissey is apparently on a beach with a woman who tells him to "give into lust," whereas Morrissey can only say, "I'm not the man you think I am," and continues to state that he has "lost [his] faith in womanhood." And as another man on the beach takes her hand, a "smile lights up her stupid face." If there is any song I can relate to on a broad scale on how a confused boy can feel before he realizes his true destiny of homosexuality, it is this song. Ironically, later on towards the end of the song, you can hear him sing "hand in glove . . .," a clever reference to another song on the album that more blatantly features his connection to gay love.

4. "What Difference Does it Make?"  (The Smiths - 1984)

Main Line: "All men have secrets and here is mine, so let it be known."

Arguably the best Smiths song of them all, this song reflects the rejection that many homosexuals will face when their friends and their family do not have the moral or emotional capacity to love them the same way once they are finally out of the proverbial closet. A tragedy of the bigot heterosexual community, Morrissey sings strongly that despite all of the pain, the "prejudice," he is "still fond" of those he has told - those that have pushed him away. When my love for another boy was discovered this past year, and he found out, I was quickly treated like a disease. And while I never expected him to love me in return, he pushed me away. And as Morrissey asks, "What difference does it make?" What difference does it make that I am gay?

3. "This Charming Man" (The Smiths - 1984)

Main Line: ""Will nature make a man of me yet ? / When in this charming car / This charming man"

Morrissey's classic about become infatuated with a married man in a car in the midst of a mundane afternoon is one of the more beautiful songs that I have heard in my life. Both characters in the song are puzzled over the possibility of each other's handsomeness and homosexuality - as if such characteristics did not truly exist (and trust me, all of us feel that way some day or other - that is why Dan Savage created It Gets Better :] ). The song's intense sense of joy coming from this connection is riveting, for such fellowship and love is what we crave the most.

2. "Hand in Glove" (The Smiths - 1984)

Main Line: "Hand in glove, the sun shines out of our behinds. No, it's not like any other love - this one is different because its us."

A masterpiece of any type of music - gay or straight - this one is most definitely, and wondrously, gay. Whether it be the references to anal sex, rejection from society, the isolation, the 'queerness' of it all - what makes this song more radiantly homosexual than all the rest is the fact that it is not self-loathing or sorrowful as the other songs. In fact, it gives a big fuck you to the haters of the world, and proclaims, if I dare say it, that their love is better than all the rest. I can only agree, not on the statement that gay love is indeed better than straight love, but simply because this love is fond, true, and it goes against all odds to survive. I only wonder who Morrissey is referencing to in this song as the love that keeps him strong . . . I could only wish I had mine to hold on to in my "rags."

1. "Handsome Devil" (Hatful of Hollow - 1984)

Main Line: "And when we're in your scholarly room, who will swallow whom?"

Let me get something clear. If a popular band was to release a 'straight' version of this song in this day in age, trust me, it would not be played on the radio. If anything, this song is a true symbol of society's ignorance towards the existence of homosexuality. "Handsome Devil" features Morrissey's love for an apparently irresistible schoolboy. Where fellatio, sex, and secrecy are so cleverly put into euphemism by Morrissey's poetic (and sexy) lyrics, this song no doubt reminds the viewer, if they are poetry fans, to Ginsberg's τεθνάκην δ’ ολίγω ’πιδεύης φαίνομ’ αλαία, a poem of homosexual love that is unparalleled. This song will leave many gay fans wondering, "how can this guy sing this stuff and still say he isn't gay?" Ah, but he's been saying it all along. You only have to listen to find out.

- - -

Sadly, the Smiths have come and gone, probably never to reunite. However, what is left behind in their albums is a collection of music that is like no other. Euphemism is slowly falling away in our society for homosexuality, but it will still take more time. But without Morrissey, such advancements, (and the thousands of gay teens that can relate to his life), would never have been possible.


  1. Hey I really enjoyed your writing. This article is great and your other ones. I hope you’re doing well out there. Lay off your mother she loves you. The smiths are the best!

  2. Fantastic collection of songs and insights. Thanks for writing and sharing!

  3. Amazing, this was one of the best articles I've ever read! Very interesting and I can see that you have put alot of kind thoughts into this, well done.

  4. I think this is wrong, nasty brutally wrong... because Morrissey sounds like an incel, demisexual, graysexual...

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