Morrissey is beloved in Los Angeles, Mexico and his native Great Britain. But in the United States as a whole, the singer has been more cult figure than mainstream star. Despite a less than massive U.S. following, Morrissey’s landmark 1982-87 stay with indie-pop-rock band The Smiths and the solo career that followed have clinched a massively devoted American fan base for the melancholy crooner.
Morrissey starts a 20-date U.S. tour Thursday, June 11, at the Saenger Theatre. It will be his first New Orleans concert since 1992.
Earlier this year, the singer performed in the U.K., the Netherlands and Spain. Last month, he played four consecutive sold-out shows at Australia’s Sydney Opera House.
Morrissey’s latest round of international touring follows the big U.K. reception for his memoir, “Autobiography,” published in late 2013, and the 2014 release of his 10th solo album, “World Peace is None of Your Business.”
The singer’s U.S. summer tour is a makeup trek of sorts. A virus canceled Morrissey’s 2014 American tour, and late last year, he mentioned to Spanish-language publication El Mundo that he’d been treated for cancer.
“They have scraped cancerous tissues four times already, but whatever,” Morrissey said. “Right now, I feel good. ... I’m not going to worry about that. I’ll rest when I’m dead.”
A review in The Guardian of Morrissey’s opening night in Sydney last month says he “looks healthy, slimmer and relaxed in silver-lined shirt and inevitable blue jeans.”
The review further mentions that the singer, whose songs tend to be bleakly romantic, was warm and, for the most part, in good humor. In both his often stinging memoir and the caustic lyrics he’s been writing for decades, warmth and good humor can be rarities. Equipped with razor wit, Morrissey is an incisive critic. He directs his barbs at pop music, politicians, institutions, record companies and those who mistreat animals, to name a few.
But the singer also has a knack for expressing appreciation for the things he loves. In “Autobiography,” he fluently devotes pages to the musicians and poets who helped him become the clever artist he is.
Despite growing up in grim, colorless Manchester, England, as he describes the city, and attending cruel Catholic schools, the young Morrissey found a way out of his English purgatory.
“The topsy-turvydom of 1972 had brought an explosion of music and art and newness into my life and I was now in full self-development mode and desperate to free of censure,” he writes in “Autobiography.”
Early heroes included glam-rockers David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, T. Rex and, from America, The New York Dolls.
“The new poets were not by the Lakes,” he writes, referring to English Lake District poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “but suspending disbelief in recording studios where words and sound mix the literal with the perceptual and the conceptual.” Bowie was an “inexplicably liberating reformer.” The makeup-wearing Marc Bolan, of T. Rex, “didn’t seem to have any life other than song.”
Morrissey’s love for music and poetry formed a natural bridge to The Smiths and beyond. In “Autobiography,” he writes about how impressed he was upon first hearing Johnny Marr, his future songwriting partner and bandmate in The Smiths.
“I am shaken when I hear Johnny play guitar, because he is quite obviously gifted and almost unnaturally multi-talented.”
A good call. As The Smiths, Morrissey, Marr, bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce recorded only four studio albums, but they’re all classics. In 2013, British music magazine NME ranked the group’s 1986 album “The Queen Is Dead” at the top of its 500 Greatest Albums, above albums by The Beatles and Morrissey influence Bowie.
Morrissey’s continued popularity in the U.K. includes the huge success of “Autobiography.” The book debuted at No. 1 there, outselling the previous record holder, Rolling Stone Keith Richards’ 2010 memoir, “Life.”
“From London to Manchester,” British magazine Uncut reported in its January 2014 issue, “there was the whispering sound of pages urgently being thumbed. It was like Morrissey fever of old.”
Morrissey’s fans include American singer Nancy Sinatra, who recorded one of his songs, and British comedian Russell Brand.
“He is the sweetest guy, and he’s a real fan of mine,” said Sinatra, who appears in Morrissey’s book. “He’s so self-deprecating that I wanted to shake him.”
Morrissey leaves Brand awestruck.
“He’s so funny and so brilliant,” Brand said in 2013. “But I don’t think of Morrissey as a normal chap. It’s more like he’s got a tablet under his arm and he’s just come down from Mount Sinai.”