What I Did on Halloween

Before I get into the whole issue of my Halloween costume, let me talk about the costume I wear the rest of the time, the whole other 364 days of the year. I am a cisgender woman, I have a feminine body, but my hair and clothes are definitely on the butch end of the spectrum. Skirts, makeup--no way! Seeing my short hair and button-down shirts, servers sometimes address me as 'sir', and when they do, I answer with a smile. Male, female, whatever you're seeing here makes me happy. I'll answer to sir, ma'am (or my favorite, what a bet-hedging bellman in Singapore called us: 'sir-ma'am'). I am a human being, I hold masculine and feminine energies in me, along with the reconciliation of both. It's all good.

So, Halloween. A night where you dress up as something completely different--a zombie, a witch, a superhero. Halloween was falling on the night of the Newcastle show, the last night of the whole Asia/Australia leg of the Morrissey tour. Different, different, how could I look really different? I thought back over what I'd worn to all the dozens of Morrissey shows I'd been to over the past few years. Oh dear, oh no--I realized I had worn the same costume to every single one: jeans and some kind of Morrissey t-shirt. 

Right. Time to break this pattern of gender-neutral uniformity. I went to a costume shop in Melbourne and standing in the fitting room, looking in the mirror at my lovely curves and creamy white skin bursting out of a skimpy, low-cut, frilly little number, I thought, Yes! This is it! I'm sir, I'm sir-ma'am, but there's also this in me--full-on femme, all-out girl, and what a laugh it will be to show it to Morrissey and the band when we get to Newcastle! Yay! I booked Alyssa to do my makeup for the night. No holds barred, going the whole hog, it was going to be great!

And then I got scared. 

Do I even have to explain why? This is the world we live in. A world where it's dangerous to walk down the street dressed as a girl. Newcastle's a bit of a rough town, Australian fans told me, when I asked them what to expect. Be careful. We wouldn't want anything bad to happen to you. 

Nothing bad had ever happened to me dressed as sir or sir-ma'am, so I abandoned the frilly little number. It's still sitting in my suitcase unworn. Maybe some other time, right? Some place where it's safer? Play a Halloween show in New York or San Francisco next year, Morrissey, and I promise I'll go all-out, no holds barred. Pinkie swear.

But back in Newcastle, there was still the question of what to wear. With the frilly possibility of being a femme taunting me from my suitcase, I couldn't go back to just t-shirt-and-jeans.

And so I put something together.  

Was it a costume? Sort of, kind of. It was more of a statement. 

A statement that went something like this: 

I am a human and there is a part of me that is very much a girl. 

I get to wear makeup. 

I get to look pretty. 

The girl that I am is sometimes good, and the girl that I am is sometimes bad. And all of that is fine, because the girl that I am will always be safe, always be protected

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I felt fantastic wearing my statement. 

And the Morrissey show that night, it was unbelievably fun. He sang Good Looking Man About Town! Because of My Poor Education! The stage was tiny and there was no barrier. Nora and I were standing three feet away from him. Sounds exciting, right? But it wasn't thrilling, it was instead this incredibly lovely calm. Like we has entered the eye of the storm with him, the place where all creativity springs from. 

That creative energy possessed me for a moment. It's the only way I can explain how I instantly came up with the greatest heckle of my life. It was between songs. Morrissey, as he often playfully does, began introducing the next song by saying the title of one he had no intention of singing.

"My life," he intoned, "is an endless succession of people saying--" 

Every Morrissey fan knows that this song title ends with the word "goodbye". 

But before he could express this depressing sentiment, I heard my voice shout into the gap, "I love you!"

Wow, I thought, it's so true. At every single show, on the street, in airports, every single place he goes, all he sees is an endless succession of fans wanting to tell him the same thing over and over again: that they love him. But the Four in him doesn't want to focus on that.

It was the most Four-busting heckle in history. Did it get through?

I really think it did. He tried to come up with a negative comeback, fumbled, failed, dropped it and moved on to the next song. Because there was no point arguing. He knew he was beat. The truth is the truth. His life is an endless succession of people saying I love you. Thems the facts. End of story. 

The setlist was so great, the fans were so sweet, it was the best show of the tour, an amazing finale, and for me, situated as I was, presented a unique opportunity. 

I have written before about my go-nowhere attempts at invading the stage at Morrissey shows. Stage invasions for me are more symbolic acts. I'd like to get up there and give you a hug, Morrissey, but my pathetic writer's arms don't have the strength to haul my body up there, so here, let this book or letter I wrote invade the stage for me, it's much lighter! 

But tonight, oh, the stage was quite low. There was even a convenient railing that could be used as a foothold. Deep into the show Morrissey sang Let Me Kiss You and I began feeling the stage-invasion jitters. Now? No, this wasn't an appropriate stage invasion song. But it was followed by What She Said. Yes!  Now! This was the moment! Go for it!

I wasn't the first one up. That was good because the first invader captured security's attention while I climbed up. It was super easy. I was right beside a monitor, one of the big speakers that rested on the stage at Morrissey's feet, and it had a big handle on the side of it. I grasped it to haul myself up, praying that it would hold, that my weight wouldn't just slide it towards me.

But no, it held, and I was up on the stage. Standing three feet from Morrissey. This was it. Time to give him a hug. 

But before I could get to him, security had dispensed with the first stage invader and were on me!  

Aw! Seriously? No hug? 

They were shepherding me away, and as I passed Morrissey, I held out my hand and he took it. His face was pointed in the other direction, towards the microphone he held. You know, doing his job, singing What She Said. But I had his hand, and held onto it as I walked away. He came with me. One step, then another. Then I let go.

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Goodbye, Morrissey's hand. It was very nice to hold you. 

 All of this took literally seven seconds. It felt eternal.

I was guided gently down off the side of the stage, where I hopped down into my new spot to enjoy the remainder of the show, feeling very pleased with myself. 

I am a girl. Sometimes I'm good, sometimes I do stage invasions. But I'm always protected. Always safe. 

 

My book I Will See You in Far Off Places: A Memoir of Following Morrissey's 2015 South American Tour is now available on Amazon worldwide 

Morrissey in Singapore

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Morrissey began his show at Marina Barrage with an a capella snippet. 

"Sing-a-pore," he sang to the tune of Sing Your Life, "any fool can think of words that rhyme." 

It was a light-hearted way to begin a light-hearted show in one of the prettiest venues I've ever seen Morrissey at. 

Marina Barrage is an outdoor venue that's part of the super new and stylish park-and-entertainment area that fronts Singapore's harbor. The views around and above the open-air venue were amazing--a ferris wheel bigger than the London Eye, a hotel made of three massive towers with a ship balanced across the top of them--and the venue itself had a lovely harmonious design, a long path leading into it that was a curve just like two arms reaching around in a hug.

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The show began with Suedehead, and the audience sang along happily. In the days leading up to the show, wandering around Singapore, Nora and I had wondered if it really was a Morrissey kind of town. Every radio we encountered in every store, restaurant and taxi was tuned into the easy listening station. Singapore clearly loved Phil Collins, yes, Chicago, for sure, but Morrissey...? 

We needn't have worried. All doubt was dispelled during the preshow videos when a significant number of voices were raised singing along to God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. And by the time the man himself appeared, the Morrissey love was clearly in evidence.  

"How could you have doubted me?" he asked the audience after one of the first songs. 

This was in reference to the fact that the show had been postponed and was happening two days later than scheduled. This news had been delivered hot on the heels of the cancellation of the Bangkok show due to the death of the Thai king. It was all very gloomy, and as a Morrissey fan, one always hopes for the best, but when things go off-plan, the specter of a cancelled tour can't help but rear its head. It did in my mind anyway. 

But there was really nothing to fret about. Here was Morrissey, happy, relaxed, and obviously in top shape. His voice was sounding great, he was connecting with fans, reaching out for handshakes during Alma Matters. I even got a handshake. Well, sort of, one of those passing touches that happen when a pile of people all reach up to him at once. 

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The crowd was warm and receptive, very determined at times to let Morrissey know how they felt about him. While introducing the song World Peace is None of Your Business, he talked about the news channels, BBC, Fox News, how they didn't care about us. While he was trying to get this out, he was continually interrupted by cries from the audience of "I care about you!" or "I love you!"  He really was having a hard time getting to the end of his sentence because of the constant stream of love coming in on the Morrissey channel.

I think the sentiment expressed by a lone female voice later on in the show said it all. 

"Morrissey! I love you so much it hurts!" 

There were so many warm and fun things about the show. When introducing Let Me Kiss You, he said something about this night being our only night, it would never be repeated, and so with a sense of urgency, and even desperation, I say, let me kiss you. The lovely red shirt he was wearing got tossed into the crowd and ripped up at the end of that one. 

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At the end of Ganglord, referring to the accompanying video of police brutality that had just ended, Morrissey said, "I'm not in that video. They asked me, but I said no."

I was thrilled to again get to hear one of my super favorite songs All You Need is Me. This is one of those songs from the album Years of Refusal that are just top top of my list when it comes to super witty lyrics combined with a hard driving beat. Absolutely heaven to hear live.

We got Ouija Board, Istanbul, Jack the Ripper. It was a super setlist, each song sounded fantastic through the venue's notably excellent sound system. It was a very warm night, security guards were standing by with buckets of water to rescue us if the 90 degree heat got too much. As the clouds of mist billowed out from the smoke machine during Jack the Ripper, some of it made it as far as the front row. It landed on my skin with an unexpectedly delicious cold touch.

Sometimes at Morrissey shows, I am overcome with the sweeping realization that I am HERE. It's really happening. The undeniable reality, it fills my heart. And on this night, it was all so extra special and sweet. This show in Singapore was the last on the Asian leg of the tour. I had really warmed to the city during our stay, couldn't get enough of the cheap and awesome curries at the hawker center near our hotel, couldn't get enough of the amazing vibe in the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

And all of it. All the shows we'd seen in Asia, the amazing crowd in Jakarta, the passionate and witty fan wearing a veil beside me who'd heckled Morrissey so fantastically throughout the show ("Spank me, Morrissey!") The amazing shows in Hong Kong and Japan (oh Japan! I think my soul has started a quietly torrid love affair with Japan).

The fullness of it all suffused my heart. Such a sense of balance and completion. There was nothing missing, everything was good, all was well. We were all here, all in harmony, Morrissey was singing The Bullfighter Dies. I tucked my arm under Nora's and rested my head on her shoulder. Perfection.

And then! Perfection increased! Next came the World is Full of Crashing Bores. I have written before about how this song is emblematic of the Enneagram type Four's pattern of longing for connection that results in inevitable disappointment. Fours like me and Morrissey are built to pine for heart connection of the most exquisite kind. Nothing else will do. We can't help it, it's the script laid out by our personality. 

 When working with this, a most delicate balance must be held. The longing can't be shut down--if it's shut down, the heart goes with it and everything is lost. No, the longing must be held, along with the disappointment of it not being met. And without ceding everything to that, without falling down the well of disappointment and drowning in tears, one must be present with what is. Open--always, still--to the possibility of finding.

With my heart already full, my head on Nora's shoulder, I was given a gift. Morrissey walked over to our side of the stage, and stood at the edge, right in front of us, to sing Crashing Bores.

I love Morrissey. I love his Fourness more than I can possibly convey. The longing in his heart has made him reach out to connect with a world of people through his songs. Countless thousands of people have fallen in love with his songs and his heart because it does. not. count. if. the. connection. isn't. real.

Standing with Nora two feet away from him, listening to him sing that song, there was all the connection. Nothing missing. All the longing too. The seeking and the finding. The sought and the found. The balance between the two. Everything that had already been given, and still the heart reaching out to find even more. All wrapped up in that one song. That long, fleeting moment.

The show drew to a close with a heartfelt Meat is Murder, which he introduced by saying that we should help those in need. He pointed to the animals on the screen being sent to their deaths and said, "They need you."

Whenever I watch the band play Meat is Murder, I always picture them being fueled by rage at the crimes being committed against defenceless animals they wish to protect. Tonight, if possible, they brought even more power and fervor to the song. It was a mesmerizing and sobering end to the show, quickly balanced out by the uptempo encore What She Said.

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As the final notes of the outro fell into place, there was such a sweet sense of completion--a perfect show, exquisitely satisfying, a complete and lovely end to the Asian leg of the tour.  

And still, of course, I can't help it, my heart reaches out, and I'm already looking forward to what will happen next.

Australia, here we come...

 

My book I Will See You in Far Off Places: A Memoir of Following Morrissey's 2015 South American Tour is now available on Amazon worldwide 

Morrissey in Tokyo

On our first morning in Japan, as soon as I opened my eyes, I told Nora I wanted to go to the Starbucks overlooking Shibuya Crossing to get breakfast. Nora and I have watched quite a bit of anime in our day, and one of the last things we did to prepare for this trip to Japan was to watch an anime movie that heavily featured this famous Times-Square-style Tokyo landmark in its opening minutes. It was time to see it in real life.

A still from The Boy and the Beast

A still from The Boy and the Beast

 Situated in our seats, looking out the window at all of Tokyo passing by, it was clear that Tokyo was already imprinted on my mind. Not this actual Tokyo. How could it? I'd never been to Japan before, never been anywhere in Asia. No, the Tokyo I knew was the animated version. I recognized the boxy taxi cabs (why were they rendered like that in anime, I had often wondered, the shape so old-fashioned? Because that was how they actually looked in real life, Duh!)

Tokyo rolled by, indescribably cute busses, my favorite covered with cartoon vegetable characters. And the lights changed every few minutes and the people all crossed, all Japanese, all straight outta anime. And here, look, I pointed out to Nora, a grown woman out at 9am in full anime princess costume. A few minutes later, I pointed out another.

"Is she on her way to work, do you think?" I asked. "Maybe she works in an anime-themed cafe where she has to wear a costume."

"Costume?" Nora said. "Why do you keep saying costume? I think she's just being herself."

Yes, wow, of course she was. Fantastic. We were really here, really in real-live Japan.

The first Morrissey show was that night, a seated show, so we had the day free to entertain ourselves. 

"I want to do weird quintessentially Japanese stuff," I said to Nora who was Googling our options on her iPad.

"How bout a place where carp swim up and nibble at your feet," she suggested. "It supposedly exfoliates you."

"Okay, not that weird."

We ended up going to a cat cafe where Japanese people pay by the hour to hang out with and pet cats. Our server explained to us that the ones wearing collars were having the day off and weren't to be petted.

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Settled in with our tea and the beautiful Japanese cats, my brain pinged again, like it had been doing every six seconds all day, I AM IN JAPAN! And then another ping began, WE SEE MORRISSEY TONIGHT! The two pings combined, MORRISSEY AND JAPAN AT THE SAME TIME! What kind of awesomeness was this going to turn out to be? I could hardly wait.

The venue, Orchard Hall, was right across the street from our hotel. We went in as soon as doors opened and took our seats in the front row of the very harmoniously designed concert hall along with our other Morrissey pals who had traveled from Europe and the U.S. for this tour.

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The stage wasn't very high. There was no barrier. At the end of the videos (between which there was pin-drop silence, Japanese fans were very, very quiet) we stood and took the two steps forward to stand and lean our elbows on the stage to watch the show. Magic.

But oh, something very unexpected happened at that moment. It wasn't an unexpected occurence at a Morrissey show in general--it happened literally everywhere else all over the world--but I had been told it would definitely never happen in super-polite Japan.

The fans rushed forward from their seats and swarmed into the space between the front row of seats and the stage.

Oh my. 

Local security was utterly unprepared and overwhelmed. Without a barrier to work behind, they were jammed in with the fans. I found myself pressed full-body against a Japanese security guard who was battling furiously to get fans to go back to their seats, but they were having none of it.

Chill out, I tried to telegraph to him mentally. We're all just standing here, it's cool. Roll with it.

But Japanese security guards were not roll-with-it kinda guys.

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I really can't write a coherent account of what happened on the stage, what Morrissey sang or said, what he did, because my primary experience of the show was of this security guard pressed up against me and his battle with the fans. He did not let up, not for an instant. When he wasn't trying to shove fans back to their seats, he was pulling their hands down when they tried to take forbidden pictures on their cellphones. 

There was nothing I could do except focus on accepting what was happening. I accepted the hell out of that security guard during that show. I also had to accept myself, the limits of my attention. I could be there with the security guard, I could be there with me, but I couldn't continuously be there with Morrissey and the band. I mean, yes, I followed along, was undistracted for whole songs at times. But my attention was always pulled back to security's shenanigans. It was a very weird night.

The second show was at the same venue the very next day. I woke up and for the first time ever, felt a hint of dread at the prospect of going to see a Morrissey show. I was looking forward to it, of course I was. But what if things got weird with security again? 

"Today we should visit a Buddhist temple," I told Nora as we drank our morning beverages overlooking Shibuya Crossing, "for the show tonight..."

I paused as I tried to put into words my need to address this tinge of dread. I wanted to face the show with a clear and light heart.

"Cause you need to do a spiritual thing?" she said.

"Exactly."

"Frankly I'm surprised you've held out on the temples this long."

Buddhism. What can I say? I have written before about how massively important all kinds of meditation and awareness work are to me, how inextricably linked they are to my Morrissey fandom. The Buddha is the guy who came up with my all-time favorite practice to do before shows, Loving Kindness. Though I am not officially Buddhist, have never studied it, I adore the practices, the retreats, the tenets that underlie Buddhism. In the US, where Buddhism arrived only in the past couple of hundred years, it is not possible to be in spaces where people have been meditating for a super long time. But here in Japan, it seems like the age of your average temple is oh about 1000 years. I was so excited to visit these spaces, absorb the energy, be around people who have been steeped in this tradition for eons.

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We went to Sensoji temple. Approaching the gate, we could see that it was big, beautiful, crowded. And loud! All of the Buddhist spaces I have been in in the US have been super, super quiet--meditation halls where beautiful silence reigned.

But here there was such fantastic noise! Monks in robes at the gate calling out for donations, people rattling cans to shake out little sticks that told their fortune. We got in a line going up the stairs--what was it for, we didn't know, to buy tickets?--and at the top arrived at a giant metal grating where the people in front of us threw in coins, put their hands in prayer position, bowed and silently made their petition (clapping their hands first though, because why not make a little noise while you're at it, to grab the Buddha's attention?)

When it was our turn, I threw in all the coins I had and asked for help with that night's show, and moved on. What fun it all was. Such beautiful peace and energy enveloping the throng visiting the different statues and shrines on the grounds. I couldn't resist and rattled a can and shook out a stick to tell my fortune--oh, a bad one. Not to worry, the paper it came on told me to remember that fortunes could be changed and instructed me to tie it to a nearby railing to leave the bad luck in this space so it could be cleansed.

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Arriving at the show that evening, everything was different. We heard that one of the reasons security had been so freaked out the night before was because we'd all been standing on a temporary floor that covered an orchestra pit. It wasn't designed to take that much weight and they'd been afraid it would collapse.

But there was no danger of that happening tonight. Security were ready. As the videos came to an end, they took their positions, standing in the aisles, their arms outstretched, nobody was going to get past them. 

And so Morrissey and the band appeared. 

I dream a lot, and one of the things I dream about most often is being at a Morrissey show. Of course it's always extremely unrealistic. There are other people there but I'm the only one standing by the stage. There's never a barrier. Morrissey is just casually inches away, singing. Sometimes we talk. In one dream, he handed me a microphone and we did a duet. 

This show was as surreally fantastic as one of those dreams. First of all, he began with Let Me Kiss You, and did a shirt toss at the end of the song. What? A shirt toss at the start of the show? It made it feel like preliminaries were being dispensed with. We were starting tonight in the deep territory where most shows normally ended. Everyday is Like Sunday followed, then Irish Blood, English Heart, a song that had come at the end of a lot of recent shows.

Where could we possibly go from there? Could that kind of intensity be sustained for the duration of a whole show? You bet it could! And it was the best kind of intensity, the kind that only Morrissey could bring. In that dreamlike landscape, us foreign fans in the front row were the only ones allowed to stand at the stage. The whole rest of the audience was held at bay by security. But it did not matter one bit. Morrissey put his everything into reaching out and connecting with the faraway crowd. 

It sounds contradictory, but he was doing two very different things at once. On the one hand he was a powerhouse of intensity, filling the space to the rafters with his energy, relentless. On the other, he was connecting very sweetly and gently with his audience. This was seamlessly all one thing.

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The net effect was a sense of powerful heart connection. And being in the front row for that. No! Not just in the front row, but so close, I had to pull my hands back when he walked over to my side of the stage in case he accidentally stepped on my fingers--it was beyond special. The intimacy of a living room show--I was close enough to hear the dinging little notes of Boz tuning his guitar between songs--combined with an arena-sized outpouring of energy. I can hardly believe it happened. A real-live waking dream.

Morrissey spoke some words of Japanese to his audience. He thanked Japan for giving the world Yoko Ono at one point, asked the crowd what they thought of her. Unlike shows in other parts of the world, there were very tentative and quiet responses from the crowd. I had read before coming to Japan that Japanese people, though they learned quite a bit of English in school, were filled with shame about how imperfectly they spoke it. I could only imagine how self-conscious they might feel when faced with the prospect of engaging in witty banter with the Real and Proper Poet Laureate in front of a huge audience. 

And speaking of poetry, one of my favorite moments in the show arrived when Gertrude Stein appeared on the screen. She is the backdrop image for the song All the Lazy Dykes, a song I love hearing Morrissey sing for so many reasons. It was the very first Morrissey song that Nora put on a mix for me, one of those first songs that entered my awareness and started the process of reeling me in. It's not just a coming-out song, it's an incredibly accurate and evocative specifically lesbian coming out song. How did a man conjure this out of himself? I can only chalk it up to damn good writing. 

And Gertrude Stein sitting in front of an American flag? I love that she is the backdrop for this song. She was a lesbian poet who was big in the 1930s. Nora read a book of her poetry last year, it was called Tender Buttons, and she read me snippets of poems that were endlessly wildly juxtaposed images and sensory impressions, poetic synesthesia. 

"Gertrude Stein," Morrissey said pointing to her image. "Former president of the United States."

Tokyo didn't give this one much of a laugh, but oh my God, Nora and I were so tickled. Can you imagine a world with a lesbian poet in the White House? It's such an absurdly fantastic image, did I dream he said it? No, it really happened. Because I remember turning to Nora and saying, "She ran on the Tender Buttons ticket." Then the room fell silent. Then the music began and Morrissey sang the song like he was living it, like he was ready to cross the threshold and begin his sweet new life among the girls. So beautiful. And followed by an even more heartfelt It's Hard to Walk Tall When You're Small.

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There were so many other is-this-really-happening moments in the show (did the kick drum really blow smoke rings through the fog during Jack the Ripper?) but I can't write all night. We are still in Japan, we've taken the train to Yokohama, a train ride during which every flat roof, every telephone pole pinged my brain, I'VE SEEN THIS IN ANIME!

Is this all really happening? Is it a dream? Where do we go from here? To the Cup Noodles museum here in Yokohama, and then we take the bullet train to Osaka for Sunday's show. And in between, we'll squeeze in as many Buddhist temples as we possibly can. Will they all be as loud and fun as Sensoji? We will see... 

My book I Will See You in Far Off Places: A Memoir of Following Morrissey's 2015 South American Tour is now available on Amazon worldwide

Excerpt from I Will See You in Far Off Places

(This piece is about the show in Asuncion, Paraguay, held at the Yacht y Golf Club. In the first part of the chapter, the show has been delayed because of a flood, but everything gets sorted out, and we join the action on the morning of the show day.)

We got up and got on line at 8am. We were the first to arrive, and were soon joined by Alyssa, and Brazilian fan Vanessa. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny. We set up camp on the patio of the snack bar and had a quiet and luxurious morning, lounging around, ordering drinks and snacks, watching workmen busily setting up barriers and booths and tents.

After lunch, we discovered that throughout the morning, security had directed arriving fans to form a line outside the fence of the property, so we gathered up our things and went and joined the rest of the queue, where we were warmly welcomed into the front of the line.

This was Morrissey’s first time playing in Paraguay, and the Paraguayan fans we met were really quite amazed and excited that Morrissey had come all the way to Asunción to see them.

I think the most excited fan of all was Gustavo. His banner had a quote from Morrissey’s Autobiography:

It was a really nice afternoon on line. I really like spending time around people who like to sing, and Gustavo was one of those people. He was so happy about the show, he would every now and then spontaneously burst into song, just one line. “I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear!” or “Bigmouth, la da da da da!”

And when it came to sound check time, well! Sound check at an outdoor venue like this was very special. There were no walls to muffle the sound, so everyone on line could hear everything crystal clear, from the crewmember checking the microphones, “Check, hey, two, check, hey,” all the way through to the whole band testing the system by running through whole songs from start to finish (minus the vocals, of course).

It was really a wonderful setup, the perfect opportunity for Morrissey karaoke. Everyone knew the words, and we were singing along to—well we were singing along to the real thing. The band started with Suedehead and with me and Gustavo leading the pack, we had a good singalong going in no time. It was really fun.

We sang and sang and before we knew it, we were getting closer to doors. The line was divided into two rows of men, two rows of women. The sun set behind the bamboo fence. And even though I tried to optimize things by having the security guard pre-search my bag as I stood waiting in front of her, when the signal was given and we dashed for the entrance, my ticket taker took so long to scan my ticket, people were streaming past me. Luckily one of those people was Nora, so our spot on the barrier was never in jeopardy. We ended up on the Boz side, and sat for a while before the show began to watch the sky get dark and the place fill up.

It was an absolutely beautiful night. The sky deepened into an almost metallic blue, with wispy clouds turning the pink of cotton candy. Off to our right, a single star hung low on the horizon. It must have been a planet, it was so bright. I remembered, for the hundredth time that day, to be present, to occupy my body by connecting to my senses. My ear tuned into the sounds around me, the clop-clop of people walking up the metal stairs to the bar, the happy hum of conversation rising from the crowd.

Photo by Daniela Leiva

Photo by Daniela Leiva

I did my usual loving kindness practice towards Morrissey, the band, the crew. I moved on to fans, happily including Nico and Aubry, who’d made it to the show after all, and fretting for a moment when I got to Chayane, who nobody’d seen all day. He was on a long-haul bus trip from São Paulo that had clearly gotten delayed. But as soon as I pictured him in my mind’s eye and wished him well and safe, he magically appeared before me, giving me a little wave from his spot a few rows back.

The sky grew dark, the pre-show videos came and went, and finally the moment came where Morrissey and the band took the stage. The excitement of the crowd was huge.

Before he started singing, Morrissey took the microphone and proclaimed, “On this day of days, peace and justice, republic or death!” and the first chord of Suedehead rang out on the guitar.

Even before Morrissey sang the first line of the song, everyone was singing, a loud chorus of “do do do do do do do” accompanying Jesse’s opening riff on the guitar.

“Why do you come here?” Morrissey sang.

The answering cheers and screams and whoops from the audience said it all. The people of Paraguay came because they utterly adored Morrissey. The whole place was singing along, delight and excitement in every word.

“Why do you telephone?” Morrissey sang, “And why do you send me silly notes?”

In my hand, I waved the little seven-page note that I had written. The stage was very far away, and really high up. There was no way that he could reach down and take it, so I put it away until the next show in Buenos Aires.

Alma Matters was next, and it was clear that Morrissey was feeling a warm and lovely connection with the audience. Alma Matters was a song during which Morrissey often shook hands with fans at the barrier. Even though he was so far from us, there was no way he could possibly reach, he still offered his hand to people in the front row during the line, “Because to someone, somewhere, oh yes, Alma matters...” As he did, someone at the front row tossed a Paraguayan flag up to him and he caught it and waved it around to the massive delight and approval of the audience.

The enthusiasm of the crowd was just wonderful. The sweetness with which they cheered for Morrissey, the love that was pouring out of them was so palpable. When First of the Gang began, there was a massive cheer, delighted screams, and again everyone sang along with Jesse’s intro on the guitar. First of the Gang is an utterly singable song, and right from the start, people were jumping, clapping, singing along to every word, whether they could sing in tune or pronounce the words in English or not. The song is one of those Morrissey masterpieces, full of paradoxical emotion, the good and the bad, side by side, neither canceling the other out. It is, in short, the happiest song about a dead member of a street gang you are ever likely to hear.

Photo by Daniela Leiva

Photo by Daniela Leiva

When Morrissey got to the chorus, “Hector was the first of the gang with a gun in his hand, the first to do time, the first of the gang to die!” the whole place was belting it out along with him in joyful full voice.

By the time we got to the closing lines about Hector, that lovable rogue who “stole all hearts away,” it was clear that Morrissey had stolen Paraguay’s heart away, and there was no doubt as he put his hand on his heart that he was feeling the love too.

Photo by Gustavo from Paraguay

Photo by Gustavo from Paraguay

Morrissey wasn’t only one affected by the enormous warmth and affection that was pouring out of the audience. The band seemed to be feeling it too. A couple of time, I caught Boz looking out at the crowd, an incredulous look on his face like, Is this really happening?

Because the stage was so high, and we were so close to it, I could only see Jesse when he walked up to the front for his solos, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t noticing him. There was something extraordinary about the way he was playing. His solos during World Peace Is None of Your Business were massive, like the love of the crowd had supercharged his performance. It really hit me again during Kiss Me a Lot, and so many other times throughout the show. I really wished I was closer to him so I could see what he was up to. I promised myself that if I got the chance, I would take in the next few shows on his side of the stage to get the full-frontal blast of his guitar magic.

The show was perfect, the night was alive. How could I have ever doubted my heart’s intuition that something truly special would happen here at Yacht y Golf Club?

The show moved on, and Morrissey delivered song after song that spoke to that paradox of light-and-dark, joy-and-sorrow. Sometimes it was the audience that held one side, and him the other, like when he sang How Soon Is Now? This is one of the most unremittingly dark songs Morrissey has ever written, and unlike some of the songs he co-wrote with Johnny Marr, the darkness is not alleviated by an up-tempo beat or cheerful guitar riffs.

“There’s a club if you’d like to go,” Morrissey sang, walking over to the side of the stage, approaching the audience. “You could meet somebody who really loves you.” He sang, of course, as he always did, like this was freshly occurring to him. “So you go and you stand on your own, you leave on your own, you go home and you cry and you want to die!” He cut off the last word with a sudden whip of the microphone cord, turning away from the audience, as if he could not bear to reveal the shame of this memory while looking at another human being.

How Soon Is Now? is one of the most painful songs ever, but at the same time, it is the most well-loved piece of anything that Morrissey has ever written. And so the crowd in Asunción went wild, loving every second of howling those heart-scalding lyrics along with Morrissey, “I am human and I need to be loved!” What could be more fun than that? Nothing, if the reaction of the crowd in Asunción was anything to go by.

Photo by Alyssa

Photo by Alyssa

When paradox appears, it’s so tempting to try to simplify it, to collapse an experience into one side or other. Standing there watching Morrissey, I felt so grateful to him for existing. His music, and especially his presence on stage, invited an opening to paradox, allowing the heart to have a full experience that didn’t always come down to choosing sides. My weekend at the Yacht y Golf Club was perfect, not because everything had gone well, or according to plan—clearly a flooded venue and a postponed show was not anyone’s idea of things going well—but because I could be there fully, letting my heart communicate with him in the words of gratitude I had written in my letter, letting my heart be here now to experience this amazing night.

Gratitude for all of it overflowed in my heart. For the good things, yes, but also for the space Morrissey held open for the bad things—the loneliness, the shame—all the unacceptable aspects of ourselves were held in the music too. Nothing was left out. All of us could be present.

And then a hush fell as Gustavo started his solo piece on the piano. Gustavo always played this piece so beautifully, but tonight, you could hear that he was bringing something extra to it. His heart too, it seemed, was reaching out to Paraguay through the music, responding in kind to the outpouring of audience love. The piece reached its crescendo and morphed into the opening strains of Everyday Is Like Sunday.

Oh! The audience gave a heartfelt shout of recognition and approval that echoed everything I was feeling.

“Trudging slowly over wet sand,” Morrissey sang, “back to the bench where your clothes were stolen.”

It was a desolate opening to a song, for sure, and things really don’t get better.

“This is the coastal town that they forgot to close down. Armageddon! Come Armageddon! Come Armageddon, come!”

Photo by Daniela Leiva

Photo by Daniela Leiva

And yet at the same time, running alongside this lonely desolation, there was this melody, this music that sounded like a resurrection, like sun breaking through clouds, like a heart filled up with hope.

This hope was present with the despair, not canceling it out. Both were there, intertwined in every line that Morrissey sang, every gesture and movement, every breath he took. He was living the message of this song, he was hope and despair. Standing there on stage, he was a beautiful symbol of that paradox—the heart that can open up to everything that is here, even if it seems to contradict itself.

And that wasn’t all! He was humor too.

“Trudging back over pebbles and sand,” he sang. “And a strange dust lands on your hands, and on your face.”

Here, bright lights came up, shining out directly onto the audience. Morrissey came to the front of the stage, looking out at us. He pointed at us, gesturing at our faces. As he did, someone threw a flower that hit him right in the face, but he didn’t flinch, he playfully tried to catch it, but it fell out of his grasp. More flowers immediately followed, and he caught one deftly and flicked it cheekily into the crowd on the words, “On your face!”

The lights went down again and the song drew to a close that felt like it was epic. Inside my heart, up on stage, in the audience, there was a massive Yes to the space of the heart where we could be present with it all—hope, loneliness, longing, despair, anything that we had to bring. Everyone could share grease tea together, nothing left out.

Let Me Kiss You came soon after that, and on the line, “You open your eyes, and you see someone you physically despise,” Morrissey ripped off his white shirt, mopped his brow with it and tossed it into the audience to tumultuous cheers and screams. As the song ended, Boz and Jesse came and stood at the edge of the stage directly in front of us, Boz, as always, vigilantly keeping an eye on the shirt melee as it was torn apart by fans.

We were getting to the point in the show where I was afraid the show was ending because Morrissey had left the stage, but he reappeared wearing a blue shirt. He took the microphone to introduce the next song.

 “Of course, as we all know, most people on the planet, they don’t actually have any taste. But the worst thing is, they don’t actually care. In fact—”

Here he was interrupted by heckles from the audience. I couldn’t understand what they were shouting.

“I don’t know,” he answered in a funny accent. “I really don’t know.”

It was hard to tell if he was answering an actual question, or just pretending.

Then he continued. “You could almost say—if you had the time—that the world is full of crashing bores.”

The song was beautiful, they all were. I didn’t want the show to end, but when he began The Queen Is Dead, I knew that it was over. He left the stage after the song, came back quickly for the encore. Before he launched into the very final song of the night, he gave us a few words of advice.

“Just remember,” he said, “be true to yourself, hold onto your friends, be good to your mother, be kind to animals, and if you have a god, she or he will watch over you. I love you.”

Photo by Daniela Leiva

Photo by Daniela Leiva

Then he sang This Charming Man, and when he came to the line, “I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear,” he ripped his shirt open halfway, revealing his chest, much to the delight of the audience. The second time he sang the line, he ripped it the rest of the way open and took it off entirely, wiped the sweat off his brow with it, and played with it while he sang, until he finally tossed it into the audience and left the stage for good.

I Will See You in Far Off Places is available online at sites like Amazon.com and Amazon.com.br or can be ordered through your local bookseller

My New Book is Here—I Will See You in Far Off Places

From the back cover:

Áine and her wife Nora, self-described introverted bookworms, were happily ensconced in their small-town-with-cat life when everything changed. Faced with the death of Nora’s beloved mother and new twists and turns in Áine’s unfolding spiritual path, they both wanted more from life. More what? More of their beloved Morrissey. Two (quietly) raving fans with some U.S. shows under their belts hit upon a life-changing idea: follow Morrissey for his South American tour. These non-Spanish-speaking, comfort-seeking, fortysomething non-adventurers joined throngs of screaming twentysomethings in opening up to the mysterious, enthralling embrace of The Real and Proper Poet Laureate. Braving floods and medical emergencies (including one late-night trip to a jungle ER), searching for monkeys, living for days on the sidewalks of far flung cities, Áine and Nora find their place among the motley family that is Morrissey and his fans, woven together through music. In this passionate memoir packed with gorgeous photos, Áine brings to life a journey of two unlikely travelers who find their way to the most beautiful destination of them all: the one big heart.

Buy it now on Amazon

The Mystery Within—Morrissey, AB Brussels

It’s easy to get stuck on the outsides of things. It can almost be a reflex, to look at the surface, point to a flaw, sink into a quiet depression. This was certainly an option when we arrived at 6am outside AB, Ancienne Belgique, the music venue in Brussels where Morrissey was playing that night. We added our names to the list of people waiting. Nobody had slept out overnight—it was too cold, too rough. The street the venue was on was a pedestrianized stretch filled with bars of all kinds, interrupted by kebap shops and places selling frites. Everywhere had tables spilling out onto the street, and the noise and merriment had gone on all night, it seemed. At 6am, drunk homeless men were still in high gear, roaming up and down, hallooing and joking with each other, trying to get a rise out of us Morrissey fans who had strangely arrived on their turf.

The pre-dawn air was bone-chilling. Nora and I sat in a sheltered spot by the venue door, carefully avoiding the puddle of pee in the corner. She kept her eyes open while I closed mine. Pre-dawn is a beautiful time to meditate, and relaxing into myself, I remembered Egypt. Since I’d been there in February—on a trip that was about studying esoteric symbolism in Egyptian art and architecture—certain places rang very resonant bells on a symbolic level.

The music venue AB was oddly one of those places. I couldn’t help thinking of it as being just like a pyramid. On our Egypt trip, the marvelous culmination of our experience was an hour-long private meditation for our group inside the great pyramid. We moved from the everyday world, through the immensely massive stone layer that made up the outside, crawling and scrambling down ramps and up ladders into the smooth stone chamber inside, devoid of everything, even light. What was in there? What was in the still dark space that made up the core? 

I won’t put what I saw in that inky darkness into words because the details of my particular experience don’t matter. What endures is the model, the symbol. There is an outside and there is an inside, the place of mystery. We don’t go up to find the source, we go within. We move past the surface layers into what these layers are moved by. We drop into the depths, allowing the mystery to take us, and from there, it is easy to see that it’s all part of one thing. There is no depth without surface, no inky black magic chamber in the great pyramid without the massive outside that defines the space.

A sound in the street interrupted my meditation, and I opened my eyes to see a hunched, drunk, Belgian homeless man stagger past, groaning, “Morrissey, Morrissey.” In a way, we were all just like him. Standing on the outside, barely understanding, but knowing that there was something waiting within the walls of this space, a mystery worth crossing oceans and continents to stand before and behold. The venue had sent an email saying that Morrissey would take the stage at 8:34pm. Just thirteen and a half hours to go.

The long day passed as all these kinds of days do, with reading, eating, looking, talking, trying to find a spot—just so—under the warming sun with a pillow behind the back for a little softness on the hard street. Even though our names on the list gave us a certain measure of freedom to move around, I didn’t want to stray too far from the venue. I felt like the black chamber inside it calling to me, like I was connected to it with a rubber band that kept pulling me back.

I walked up the street to get some frites (from a place where the sign was a picture of a french fry peeing. Really? It made more sense when I learned that there is an iconic statue in Brussels of a little boy peeing, but still, really? Is it ever a good idea to depict food emitting urine?) and was drawn back quickly by the sight of fans huddled around a side door of the venue listening to the sound check. I sat and pressed my ear to the door, reaching inside to the mystery getting ready to unfold. I heard the closing bars of Reader Meet Author, a perfect song to play the week that Morrissey’s novel was released.

Security eventually lined us up behind a barrier in front of the door, we arranged ourselves according to our order on the list, and waited. There is always a frisson of anxiety as the clock ticks down to doors. Getting through security and into the inner sanctum quickly to secure a spot is a moment of great hazard. No matter how high you are on the list, things can go very wrong with a slow pat-down from security, or a new gate opening up, letting the hoards stream past you. I got stuck in a line of tickets that wouldn’t scan, but luckily, Nora got in without impediment and held a spot beside her on the barrier. We were on the right, the side where Jesse and Gustavo would be.

After the tumult of getting in, more stillness and waiting. The pre-show music and videos are always a litmus test of the sound system, and I found myself crisply hearing lyrics I’d never been able to make out before, words that had been mush through the sound systems of other venues. 

Clarity, then. The chamber was filling up with warm bodies, but as I settled in, I felt more and more space, emptiness. It is always my aim to be as present as I possibly can for each Morrissey show I attend. But especially when attending a series of shows in a short number of days, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, Oh this one is just going to be a continuation of the other day in Paris, it’s more of the same. 

But no two shows are the same, each is a discrete event with its own trajectory. This show in this space felt like it was starting from a place of emptying out, of letting go of all the baggage, leaving the outside and coming into the still place within. 

Psychological/spiritual author JG Bennett writes beautifully about the different states and levels of selfhood a person can experience. In everyday life, we are in our material self, concerned with the world of things, or we’re in our reactional self, a slave to our sensitivities, tossed hither and yon by our likes and dislikes. But beyond all this, if we go deep enough to develop a conscious, stable sense of self, if we can stop being attached to things and our reactions to them, stop being attached even to the self who works so hard to not react, we may catch a glimpse of something extraordinary—the True Self, the mysterious source of all selfhood that can’t be defined.

The pre-show videos came to an end, the curtain hiding the stage went up, and Morrissey and the band appeared and began as usual with Suedehead. 

Every show is different. Sometimes the vibe is dark, as if Morrissey is singing from a place of pondering the imminence of his own demise, sometimes it’s playful and fun, Boz dances around with his guitar and I feel like, hey, I’m a musician too, the boys in this band could be my friends. 

On this night, even though the gap between the barrier and the stage was smaller than usual, I felt that Morrissey and the band were a different order of beings than we were, so far above us, gods of music brought in to remind our hunched selves groaning along “Morrissey, Morrissey” that True Music existed and this was what it was like. Every strand of the music was distinct, I could hear every stroke that Matthew Walker played on the high hat, every note everyone plucked on every string, all separate, and all coming together with timing so good, it went beyond mere timing and breathed the cool air of living perfection.

And the vocals? Morrissey came forward and reached across the short breach to shake hands with fans during the first few songs—Nora reached up and got a handshake!—but then he settled back and undertook the work of really singing.

It is always fun to go to shows and hear Morrissey play around with his songs, substituting lyrics or inserting unexpected pauses. Will Never Marry has been a wonderful example of this over the past year. A cry from the heart when played straight, Morrissey has turned it into a tragicomic masterpiece by stopping short after singing, “I’m writing this to say in a gentle way…” and allowing the audience to warble unaccompanied in unison at him, “Thank you but no!” The raised eyebrow in response, the “Really, I didn’t think I was that bad!” Pure comedy gold.

But tonight, he sang the song—he sang all of the songs—as if he were displaying the Platonic ideal at their core. It didn’t make the show overly-serious. When introducing the band, he attempted to do it in French.

“J’aimerais…” he began and faltered. “J’aimerais…”

He laughed and gave up, proceeding in English. And when trying to thank us later, handed the microphone to Guillaume in the front row so he could coach Morrissey in his pronunciation of “je vous remerci.” 

There was room for that playfulness, along with searingly perfect renditions of the songs. ‘I’m Not A Man’ was particularly pristine. The boys played, not as if they were on fire, more as if they were a frictionless source of all heat and light. 

As I watched Morrissey sing, the black backdrop behind him seeming to hold him and all the mysteries of the universe, I wondered if it was just me. An amateur musician, easily impressed by professional-level talent, how easy was it to bowl me over, knock me into a state of fevered adulation? Leave me standing there gaping at Jesse Tobias and Gustavo Manzur like they were gods?

But the thing is, I know they’re nothing like gods. I know they’re ordinary guys who do ordinary goofy stuff. I’m sure they have really boring stories they tell over and over again,  and leave the toilet seat up no matter how often their wives and sweethearts tell them not to. I’ve even seen enough shows to see them make mistakes in their music. Not gods at all.

And yet. The philosopher Ken Wilber talks about lines of development, how we all have areas we are more or less talented at. Some are very developed in the area of cognitive intelligence, others kinesthetically, some are interpersonally gifted, others excel at music. But all of these lines of development, when taken to the highest reaches of our potential, open us to states that could be termed spiritual.

So I know Matthew Walker is not a god. But given a drum kit, placed in the right setting, he can induce states that evoke the sublime. 

So he and the band, and Morrissey—not even Morrissey—they weren’t gods appearing to us in the inner sanctum of music. They were ordinary men who for a little while were able to evoke something of the depth of what is usually hidden. What is covered over by our groaning everyday selves. Or at least they uncovered it enough so I could catch a glimpse of it.

Am I alone? It’s so easy for us to stand together, impossible for the flesh to combine. Can these things even be communicated about? I’m sure some spiritual teachers would roll their eyes at my naïveté, writing about a passing state experienced at a show as if it could be captured in words, as if those words could convey anything real.

But just as Morrissey and the boys excel at music, my talent is to write. I may fail at evoking anything meaningful, not to mind sublime, with my words, but after coming in contact with even a hint of a symbolic token of something that points to the True Self, I have to write. The True Self is made of creative energy, and if all I can do is groan along in my clumsy way to the pristine song it sings, then that is what I will do.     

A Most Unusual Book Signing—Morrissey, l'Olympia


It was the morning of the 24th of September, and my wife Nora and I were standing on a Parisian sidewalk, watching some men attach some giant red letters to the outside of a building. The building was the music venue, l’Olympia, and we planned to wait outside it all day. We’d brought snowy white pillows and towels from our hotel room to insulate us from the cold wall and sidewalk when we sat. We were happy to be there, happy to gawk and be gawked at by the passing tourists and well-dressed Parisians. 

 

Why were we there? To see Morrissey of course, and getting on line at 7am meant we’d be right up front for that night’s show. Not at the barrier. Probably. We didn't have it in us to sleep rough like many of the 20 plus people ahead of us in line. But second row was easily worth 12 hours of sidewalk time. No question.

I had a feeling that the hours on line were going to go by fast. Morrissey’s new book The List of the Lost, was launching that very day in the UK and I’d been looking forward to reading it while sitting on this Parisian sidewalk ever since its publication date was announced.

There was an obstacle to actually reading it, though. The UK was not Paris. I didn't have a physical copy of the book in hand. But this was a trivial problem easily overcome by technology. I had a plan. 

I ran back to the hotel room for a quick bathroom break and looked up Morrissey on Kindle on my iPad. Yes! There it was! I clicked purchase, but oh no, an error message! It turned out my American iPad was not allowed to buy a book sold only in the UK! Rats!

I fiddled with my account, trying to enter a fake British address, but no go. The clock was ticking, I needed to get back to Nora. I gave up, left my iPad behind and walked the few blocks back to the venue. 

To my astonishment, when I rounded the corner and saw the line, it was garnished with multiple copies of the very book I'd found impossible to buy, the orange covers in the morning sun like a surprise fruiting of a mysterious mushroom.

“Where did they…?” I asked Nora.

“Apparently it's on sale in a bookstore down there,” she said, pointing to a street past the busy intersection we were facing.

“Why? How far?” I said. 

“That's all I know,” she said. “Down there.”

She pointed again, and we both knew that neither of us was going to miss this shopping trip. We left our hotel towels and pillows to mark our place and took off.

Need I mention that everything we saw on our short excursion was beautiful? The buildings we passed all had lovely tiny balconies in the upper windows, we passed a lovely church, pretty little stores, and right before the street ended in a gated park, we found the English-language bookstore WH Smith. After searching the fiction section with no luck, we sought help and were directed to the non-fiction bestsellers, which was an odd place to put a novel, I thought, but it was selling pretty well, No. 5, so that was good. We got a copy each, clutching them in our hot little hands as we walked back up the street. 

 

Let me take a moment here to make it clear that Nora and I are book people. We both misspent our youth lying around reading books, and we neither of us regret it. We’ve written and edited and sweated and learned how to construct stories, how to build books. We’ve congratulated each other on big days when publication contracts were signed. And we made a fuss for each other on the even bigger days when books came out,  finally on sale, launched to the public, the baby born.

On the way back to the venue, I wondered about Morrissey’s publication day. Was a fuss being made for him and his book? It was true, he would be among fans when he got on stage for the show, but that was about his music. Where was the fuss over this book? Probably back in English-speaking England, not here in France. And yet when I came back to the line and saw all the noses buried in that distinctive orange book, I had a thought.

“If I was Morrissey,” I said to Nora, “And I wanted to have an impromptu book signing today, guess where I’d come?”

We both gazed at the line of engrossed readers.

“I'm going to carry a Sharpie today,” Nora said. “Just in case.”

“Good idea,” I said. “I want one too.”

I went to the convenience store and remembered that in Europe Sharpies are not called Sharpies. In Ireland where I grew up, they are called permanent markers. And in France, I have no idea what they are called, so I just pointed to a likely-looking pack of two behind the cashier labeled Pentel (that’s ‘M. le Pentel’ to you, sil vous plait!) and went back to the line and buried my nose in my own copy.

Can I confess that most novels bore me these days? In my life, I’ve read so much that I've sometimes pictured the inside of me as a solid mass of packed-together words. I've studied story structure to the point where I know exactly how a plot is going to unfold from page 5, (or often, how it should unfold and when and how the author went wrong). It's come to a point where I don't read fiction anymore because there are no more surprises.

But Morrissey surprised me. List of the Lost is not a traditionally structured narrative in any way. As I turned the pages, and characters delivered improbable soliloquies or were bumped off in gruesome ways, I was engrossed,  half of me delighted, the other half appalled. Delighted for the sheer Morrisseyness of the story, his voice, his humor, his opinions rolling off each page. There were page-long paragraphs so rich, I wanted to reread and savor them, but I couldn't resist finding out what dark turn the story would take next.

As the plot unfolded, it thumbed its nose at expectation, forcing me to hold up to the light everything I knew a novel should be, only to laugh and let it go. I think  in this way, this book was perhaps the most refreshingly original thing I'd read in decades. It was a hoot, a wake-up for my reading brain dulled by same same sameness delivered on all levels by so many books.

Yet at the same time, again and again, the editor in me rose up alarmed. The critics won't get this, I thought. It's too idiosyncratic, they’ll rip it apart, they'll  rip him apart.

And then I remembered who this author was. Was he likely to write to please the critics? Conform to expectation? Spit out some bland pre-chewed ghostwritten pap? Not a chance.

He’d written to please himself, and that was that. And inspired and challenged by his bravery, I poked at my own orthodox beliefs about needing to meet reader expectation when I wrote. Why couldn’t I just please myself? Wasn’t it true that every time I’d taken a risk and written something that truly pleased only me, it turned out to be my best writing?

I felt a fresh breeze of freedom blowing through the dusty corridors of my mind. Coming to that place after reading a tasty 118 pages of Morrissey’s living voice captured on the page felt like €13.30 and a few sidewalk hours magnificently spent.

The afternoon turned to early evening. Morrissey never turned up for his sidewalk book signing. Nora and I dropped our hotel pillows and towels back in the room, but we held onto our copies of List of the Lost. Along with our M. le Pentel French Sharpies, just in case the opportunity for a signing came up somehow during the show. 

It wasn’t likely to happen. How could it when there were 30 or so people going in ahead of us. But in the lightning-fast moment when we were let in, running to claim our spots in the second row, a guy standing in front of Nora abandoned his spot on the barrier to join a friend who’d saved him a place further down. Nora slipped in and, magic, we had a spot to share, prime position to wave List of the Lost under Morrissey’s nose with M. le Pentel tucked invitingly inside it.

When Morrissey appeared on the stage, amidst the cheers, I held up my copy of the book and whooped. He saw what I was holding and gave a rueful, shy smile. I knew then that it meant something that the book was here. Nora was in front of me for most of the show and offered her copy up whenever Morrissey came to the edge of the stage near us. 

But what were we expecting? That he could hold a microphone, sing, hold a book, sign it, all at once? Still, it felt right to ask. Close to the end of the show, I took my turn on the barrier, and for the last song, What She Said, I held up the book for the “heady books” line, and got another rueful smile. That was more than plenty, and I cheered my head off as he left the stage, and cheered along with everyone else for an encore. A book doesn’t have to be signed, I thought, for a lovely little fuss to be made. 

Morrissey and the band came out for the encore to epic applause. It had been an amazing show. He was lining up with the band to take their customary bow…but what was this? He was breaking formation, approaching the edge of the stage, coming right at me, looking at me, miming an autograph, asking if I wanted the book signed.

Yes!

I handed it over, beaming from head to toe. He uncapped M. le Pentel and signed in big red script on the front of the cover and gently handed the book back to me. I thanked him. Another fan, seeing what was happening thrust their book up  and got the same. Then Morrissey, surprising me at every turn, instead of tossing it away, or stuffing it in his pocket, carefully put the cap back on M. le Pentel, leaned over, and returned it me. It felt almost ceremonial, a baton passed from one writer to another. 

“Thank you,” I said again.

Then he and the band launched into a blisteringly fantastic rendition of the Queen is Dead and I danced and danced, celebrating a delightfully unorthodox book signing on the birthday of a truly surprising book.