I am not a hunter, but I like meat and feel no guilt in eating it, er them. I am against cruelty, but I believe animals have no rights we don’t give them. It’s all about us, to put it bluntly. Morrissey disagrees and tells a PETA interviewer so:
- Morrissey hooked up with PETA’s Dan Mathews to take a snapshot of the ad and reflect on his feelings about animal rights.
What turned you vegetarian?
Well, it was a long time ago, actually just over 30 years – simply the love of animals.
If you love animals, obviously it doesn’t make sense to hurt them. There was a very famous television documentary on British Television. It was about the usual abattoir/slaughter situation, and it horrified me. Because obviously it was very, very rare to see any abattoir footage. They still rarely show things like that on British Television for some reason. So that was the turning point for me. And I always looked at animals and thought they were very much like children and they looked to us always to help them and save them and protect them. Then I could see all these animals being led and assuming they were being led to safety and being organized by human beings – and then, of course, being butchered – very simple.
The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder album inspired legions of people, and even nowadays, young people are hearing it for the first time and it’s making them think. What made you decide to do something so focused and pointed?
Well, it seemed to me to be a very simple statement, but often, as you know, very simple statements can become incredibly effective. There were a few people who said, “Meat Is Murder – do you really want to call the album that?” It’s a bit studenty and a bit typically radical, but it did not have that affect at all, and for it to sell so well and to have such visibility was fantastic – especially at a terribly frothy and fluffy time in pop music, when nobody was saying anything at all. There was no sort of harsh romanticism to pop language; it was very, very dull and soppy, so Meat Is Murder really stood out.
What are your favorite stories of people who changed as a result?
There are so many, but really the ones that strike a chord with me the most are the people who live in very simple situations and the typical family situation. I mean, young people, it seems – certainly in the ’80s – had to battle with their parents because their parents were sure [that] by becoming vegetarian, you were missing out on a multitude of proteins and so forth. But often people realize if you are vegetarian, you can look incredibly healthy, and if you eat animals, you can look as if you are dying. So it was nice to see that old argument quashed that you must eat animals to be a healthy person.
How do you think that the world has changed since ’85, when Meat Is Murder came out, and how has the way that people respond to vegetarianism and animal rights in general changed?
Well, I look at the world in several ways, and sometimes I examine it and I think it’s really not changed. When I see or hear of absolutely grotesque things happening to animals, things that are protected by the government and the police and so forth, I just find this really unacceptable. But then I look and I see a multitude of ways it has changed, and it’s really moving to me when you see in small ways how the world has changed – in massive supermarket chains, in small supermarket chains where you see the vegetarian corner … it’s better in England but getting stronger in America.
How do you incorporate animal rights into your everyday life?
I think everything helps. You don’t have to be outside burning down buildings – you can do small things all the time. And I really believe that every small gesture can be seen and can be just as effective as any other gesture – as long as you keep it foremost in your mind and it’s therefore in everything that you do that you are protecting animals, who need us to protect them. I think it’s just so possible to be influential – also, when you’re a touring unit, and you tour as much as I do, and you tour as a vegetarian unit, and you make it known. You hear so many stories now of groups who tour as vegetarian units, and it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s great to be saying “no, no, no” to all these old stale industries. And you arrive at hotels like this, and you book 20 rooms, and all these rooms are vegetarian rooms, and you’re making it known all the time that [in] this large touring party, … nobody is interested in your stale, old silly menus. So it is effective. It really is effective.
What are some of the stickers you use on your envelopes?
They’re all PETA stickers, and some of them go back a long way. I did collect a massive amount of PETA stickers in the late ’80s. They’re anti-fur – they cross the whole spectrum, really. I never post a letter without putting something on it. The Rosie the Riveter/”Go Veg” sticker is the newest one I have. Once again, it’s just a small gesture that I think is really effective.
What are some of your favorite foods?
I have very simple tastes, like breads and fruits. I’m very lucky because I actually love fruit. If I can have fruit several times a day I feel absolutely fine. And I love very basic vegetables like potatoes and broccoli and asparagus and sprouts. It’s very, very easy for me to eat when I’m at home because I like very, very basic stuff. So I’m never struggling at all, I’m never confused about food – how could I be after all this time?
What do you say to fans who listen to your music but haven’t gone veg?
It’s usually the influence of the people who are around them, and a lot of people are stuck with carnivores, you know – it’s a tough habit to break. Also, people feel threatened because they think you are asking them to absolutely change their entire lifestyle and change everything about their entire life. But I say to people, they should try and do things gradually, and the first step and the most important step is to stop eating animals.
And then once you do that, you begin to see in other ways and it’s not quite a shock to you, not sort of jumping off a cliff and absolutely changing your identity. So, I just say to people to take it slowly and they do. It will just take time. I have arguments with people who are the most diehard carnivores, but once you have an intelligent debate with somebody, you can see how they begin to break down a little and their edges become softer, and you can see that this is not a difficult topic – the whole idea of vegetarianism is so simple. And it’s really what everyone needs and wants and is best for most people, and I think everybody knows that. Nobody can come up with a good argument for eating animals – nobody can. People as some kind of a joke say, well, “It’s tasty,” but it’s only tasty once you garnish it and you put salt and pepper and you cook it and you have to do 300 things to it to disguise its true taste. If you put garnishes on a chair or fabric it would probably taste quite nice.
Morrissey and others vegans seem to think their argument sells itself, and there is much to be said for an organic, less meat-intensive diet in terms of health benefits. I’m all for eating a varied diet, but this doesn’t change my basic philosophical argument that people should be allowed to eat meat, that there is nothing wrong with eating meat, that they should not be harrassed or denigrated for doing so, that meat isn’t murder because only humans can be murdered. Regarding Morrissey’s last comment, it can be easily argued that vegetables aren’t all that flavorful without a little garnish either.
By the way, I still love the Smiths in moderate doses, and though veering toward the lugubrious, find the cream of Morrissey’s solo work as collected in the Greatest Hits to be surprisingly tuneful and satisfying.
I discussed the Smiths a few years ago with producer John Porter. Jeff Travis, of the now-defunct Rough Trade label, called Porter one day in ’84 and asked him to fix up the sound on the album the Smiths had just recorded.
Although Porter was geared at the time toward funk, and the the Smiths sure weren’t funky, he decided to give it a go anyway. With an infusion of cash from Sire Records, Porter added lots of overdubs and essentially reproduced The Smiths .
Characterized by the alternately driving and delicate guitars of Johnny Marr, and
the exhibitory emotional self-flagellation of singer/lyricist (Stephen) Morrissey,
The Smiths struck a chord with moody youths everywhere. The single “What
Difference Does It Make” is a great, rocking struggle between faith and nihilism.
An odd collection of live BBC tracks with three different producers (including
Porter), and studio recordings with Porter, Hatful of Hollow is even more powerful than the band’s debut. “How Soon Is Now?” is a long, trance-inducing, locomotive-rhythmed rock number with sensational dueling
guitars from Marr and Porter, and a controlled but heartbreaking emotional
outpouring from Morrissey (“You stand on your own, And you leave on your own, And you go home, And you cry, And you want to die”). “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” is a delicate, spare, contained cry of hope – hope that is not too loud as to call attention to itself.
After two more great singles – “Panic” and “Ask” in ’86 – Porter and the band parted ways. Morrissey’s heart-, soul- and spleen-on-his-sleeve emotional honesty has been the source of much comment and merriment over the years, but his sincerity and artistic integrity are worthy of respect.
“Whether or not you agree with it, he means it,” says Porter. “I was having a growing process at the time and I realized you didn’t have to go to the Southside of Chicago, or down to New Orleans to find people who are soulful – it comes out in very many ways.”
Porter also enjoyed a great working relationship with Marr: “‘How Soon Is Now’ is an amazing tapestry of guitar textures, and would like to work with him again someday.”