Morrissey’s crotch sweat almost killed me once, and I have Ursula Le Guin to thank.
Her essay, Telling is Listening, hit me hard in 2009. (Read it now. Read it instead of this. That is all.) One quote of many: “Oral performance uses time and space in a particular way of its own. It creates its own, temporary, physical, actual spacetime, a sphere containing a speaking voice and listening ears, a sphere of entrained vibration, a community of body and mind.”
As a result, I made a bucket list of every artist with whom I wished to be “entrained.” You see where I’m going here.
By chance Morrissey was touring that year. Nowadays, the main energy I direct toward Morrissey is willing him to SHUT UP whenever a catastrophe in the U.K. occurs, but at that time, he had recently released what I still think to be an amazing record, “Leader of the Tormentors” which is one big piercing ache of unrequited love/lust. Life is a Pigsty still gives me chills. And is probably my theme song.
In other words, definitely in my wheelhouse. I bought tickets to see him Vegas, and then in Indio, California the next day. I was going it alone, and I was deeply excited.
I got on a plane, got to my crappy hotel, checked in and then immediately headed to the Hardrock Cafe to get in line for the show. I waited in line for 20 hours straight while I read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (appropriate!) in order to make sure I got a prime spot. I made the acquaintance of several Morrissey fans, many of whom had tickets for every tour date. Finally, we were allowed in, and I found a coveted spot at the front, pushing and shoving and being pushed and shoved to keep my position. In case you were wondering what the Morrissey crowd looks – it’s a lot of 30-something women dressed in black, and many, many smoldering, muscular Latino men. He played two songs. And then, he played “Let Me Kiss You” and removed his shirt with a face full of sorrow and resignation. And he looked at me, little ol’ me in the first row, surrounded by burly, burnished men who were certainly more to Morrissey’s taste than I. He pushed his white shirt mirthlessly into his pants, slowly pulled it back out, and then threw it into the crowd… more specifically, onto my head. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
The crowd went wild. I couldn’t see anything, as the shirt was properly over my head. (Morrissey’s crotch smells like Avignon, for the record.) Then I began to feel the shirt tightening around my neck as the men next to me started tugging on the arms. I passed out briefly, and was roused by security, who took me out of the crowd and took sent me to the emergency room. I had seen three songs. That was it. Being the utterly insane person I am, I left the emergency room and drove my rental car straight to Indio, only to learn that he had cancelled the show a few hours before due to “violence in the pit” the night before. In other words, he was irritated by what had happened with his shirt. To me. Exhausted, bruised and fabric burned, I drove back to Vegas to get on a plane home.
Now that’s entrainment. And entertainment. That’s the wonder and the danger and the adventure of it. There is no such thing as a monologue. The audience acts on a performer, too. I felt the influence, the pull, the rhythm of Stephen Patrick Morrissey in three songs in a way that I never could from a hundred repeats of the CD. And I influenced him, in some small way. When we choose to experience, rather than consume, there can be no monologue, only dialogue.
Le Guin again: “That formal oratorical act can be echoed, can be shadowed, can be recollected by films and recordings. Images of it can be reproduced. But it cannot. An event does not happen twice. We do not step into the same river twice. Oral performance is irreproducible.”
A friend I made while waiting in line those 20 hours, one who had seen what happened to me, got in touch with me a few days later. He sent me a piece of Morrissey’s crotch-sweat shirt from that night. The big burly men had divided the shirt into pieces after I had been carried away. And they saved one little piece for me.