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