Before he was famous, Morrissey was Britain’s loudest spokesman for the New York Dolls, a one-man fan club for Sandie Shaw, and a serial scribbler of letters to the press about the people he wished he could be more like. His bedroom was festooned with pictures of James Dean, and he would turn cartwheels over broken glass for a kind word from his heroes. I remember Alan Bennett phoning the London Review in 1992 to ask if any of us knew about this singer called Morrissey, who’d just been round to his house and dropped a CD through the letterbox with a note suggesting tea. We told him Morrissey was just the bee’s knees. ‘Oh,’ said Bennett. ‘Is that right?’ And when they finally got the teapot out Morrissey wanted to spend the afternoon talking about the forgotten British comedian Jimmy Clitheroe and a host of old Ealing actresses whom Bennett had barely heard of. Alan liked Morrissey and got the point of him and soon the singer was saying in interviews that he could retire happy because he’d had tea with Alan Bennett.
That is the essence of Morrissey: his brand of loneliness and longing and hopelessness (all the stuff he sings about) is that of a person who finds it natural to have relationships with the unreachable – that’s to say, with images and works rather than people.