Back in June, I wrote a piece for the Guardian recounting how Morrissey had once been my greatest inspiration. As one of his very few black fans, I described how, after years of giving him the benefit of the doubt, buying every record he ever made, and leaping on stage to kiss him at shows, I felt personally betrayed by his repeated demonstrations of intolerance.
Fast-forward a few months, and on Sunday I woke to friends sending me pictures of Morrissey wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Fuck the Guardian”. One message was accompanied by expletives, another by the eye-roll emoji. Another simply said, “You did this.”
Now, I can’t take sole credit for Morrissey’s hostility towards this newspaper. Many colleagues have spoken out about his outbursts. But given that I was publicly invited by Morrissey’s manager to the Hollywood Bowl concert where he donned the sweary garment, and then refused an interview when I tried to take him up on the offer, the T-shirt does feel like it was aimed at me.
The invitation was set in motion the day after my article was published in June, when his manager, Peter Katsis, posted on Morrissey’s official Facebook page asking me to join his autumn tour of America, all expenses paid, to see for myself that (in block capitals) “MORRISSEY IS NOT RACIST.”
Was this a genuine offer? Many of Morrissey’s 1.3 million Facebook followers thought so and encouraged me to take the gig. What an opportunity to finally get answers to all the questions I’d had since my teens. I was genuinely excited.
I emailed Katsis at his offices in Beverly Hills, accepting the invitation and his one proviso – to “find a better paper than the Guardian to sell it to, since they have the absolute lowest circulation of all the major dailies in the UK”.
I explained that the Guardian had shaped my identity from an early age as much as Morrissey had, because it stood up for marginalised people – as he once did – sought to uncover truths and spoke its mind.
To get across how much this invite meant to me, I told Morrissey’s team that I was prepared to break my boycott of Trump’s America, which I haven’t visited since 2015. Katsis and I talked on the phone, and he seemed pleasant enough, even if I had to bite my tongue at some of his more cringeworthy defences of Morrissey: that he had people of colour over to his house for dinner all the time, that he’d never heard him say anything racist; that he was simply a provocateur who had never voted for a political party in his life.
Later, he sent me a picture of the soul singer Thelma Houston with Morrissey in a studio where they’d just cut a track, as if to say, “Look, look! She’s black!” As I say, he was nice enough, but also a bit like an out-of-touch uncle who didn’t really get it and thought I could be swayed into writing a sympathetic piece on his wayward star. Regardless, I spent the whole summer pitching the story to editors of various publications. Every approach was met with a similar response. They were all intrigued by the idea – a tour diary, on the road with Morrissey through Trump’s America – but despite giving it some thought, said it wasn’t right for their periodical. You see, Moz, your T-shirt should really say “Fuck all press” – as, sadly, that’s what you will end up with.
Then, finally, a breakthrough came. GQ, the well-respected, glossy men’s mag, said that if Morrissey agreed to a full interview, it would publish it. It seemed the perfect fit. Everything was in place. I got my US work visa, agreed to Morrissey’s amended timetable – not the first week of the tour as first promised, but the final date at the Hollywood Bowl.
And then? Morrissey refused to grant an interview.
The reasons given were that he didn’t trust journalists, used his own website to put out communiques, and hadn’t done an interview since one with Der Spiegel two years ago, which ended badly.
I’m left feeling that the invitation was intended to garner good publicity, and that there was never any intention of confronting my questions head on. I was supposed to meet Morrissey to see for myself that he’s not racist. Sadly, he declined the opportunity to prove it.
• Joshua Surtees is a columnist, feature writer and reporter based in London and Trinidad