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The Smiths: Best Band Ever? (Better than the Beatles?)


Of all the many reviews that have been written about my Smiths biography A Light That Never Goes Out, of all the many playlists I’ve composed for various web sites, events I’ve participated in, and interviews I’ve conducted for all forms of media (see previous post for a running list), nothing has gone viral like the piece posted at Salon over the weekend.

Perhaps this would be understandable based on reach alone: Salon has long been a major player in the American online landscape, and I for one visited it daily in the run-up to the elections this November. But I think it’s safe to say we can credit the interest in the interview to the headline, The Smiths: Best Band Ever? And the accompanying URL, http://www.salon.com/2012/12/08/the_smiths_better_than_the_beatles/

Neither of these are my claims to the Smiths’ fame, I would hasten to add if it wasn’t already too late to do so! But when I sat down with Salon’s executive editor David Daley in Manhattan last week for an hour, it was evident within two minutes that here was a massive – and massively informed – fan not just of the Smiths, but also, I am pleased to say, of R.E.M. (“You have what seems like my dream job,” were, I believe, his introductory words.) And when he opened his line of questioning by asking of Morrissey and Marr, “Should there be any doubt that this is as significant a songwriting team in rock history?” I have to say that I felt some immediate inner vindication about writing this book with an American audience in mind and securing an American publisher ahead of a British one.

People who think the Smiths were but one of many interchangeable cult bands of the 1980s, or that their impact in the States was marginal at best, are perhaps not ill-informed, but they could certainly do with a brief history lesson. And Daley, it ought to go without saying given his day job, is far from the cliché of the perpetually self-absorbed Morrissey acolyte that was, wittily or unwittingly perpetuated by comedian Chris Gethard in his review of the book over at that other major online magazine that begins with an S, Slate. But the fact of the matter is that the Smiths’ influence on their original generation of 1980s fans has proven indelible, which may go some way to explaining why they continue to appeal to new generations of teenagers and twenty-somethings despite the fact that they strummed their last chord over 25 years ago.

The Salon interview has spread over several thousand facebook pages, been retweeted approximately 500 times, and has generated, at time of writing, almost 200 comments, many more than most political pieces at Salon and twice as many as did the review in Britain’s the Guardian. As with that particular piece, though less so than the clever ripostes to Gethard at Slate, many of these online observations are on the level of school yard/playground insults, and you have to wonder sometimes about people who’d sooner troll round the comments section of an online magazine feature on a Saturday night/Sunday morning than spend it with other people in the default world, but they’re quite entertaining for all that.  Signing books after my event in Woodstock this Saturday evening, somebody asked me to inscribe a book for a friend with a reference to their argument over who was the better singer, Dylan or Morrissey. I wrote that it was like comparing marzipan to spinach.

So yes, I take all this stuff with a large pinch of salt. And as such, my fave amongst the many comments is this:

‘The Smiths: Best band ever? The author of a new 700 page bio explains why they matter.’
I am thrilled to see that Salon is finally using articles from The Onion to fill up empty space.

My thanks to David Daley for spreading the love.

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