It’s typically an honor to be parodied in one way or the other on The Simpsons, but legendary alt-rock moper Morrissey thinks otherwise following the long-running cartoon taking deep aim at his career, beliefs and lifestyle this past Sunday. It’s made for one of the most controversial episodes in the program’s history.
For those unfamiliar, Morrissey – he’s excised the Steven Patrick off his moniker and goes by a single identifier – was the frontman for the wildly influential British act the Smiths, who broke up in 1987. The group were responsible for such classics as “How Soon Is Now?,” “This Charming Man,” “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want.” The flamboyant singer, known for stripping off his top during shows and strict adherence to vegetarianism and later veganism, split the band and went off on a solo career.
Morrissey found solo success with tracks like “Suedehead” and “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” but also became known for his anti-establishment tirades against the British monarchy, venues who served meat during his shows and criticisms about pop stars such as Madonna. His melancholy was an easy target for attacks from fellow artists and writers, yours truly included, but there was always an underlying love for the man, his material and, especially, passionate liver performances.
Things changed in recent years though as Mozzer’s comments turned less incendiary and more tinged with actual racism. Way back in 2010, he launched into a tirade about China in an interview with The Guardian.
“Did you see the thing on the news about [China’s] treatment of animals and animal welfare?” he said. “Absolutely horrific. You can’t help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies.”
One can chalk that up to being overly peeved about his love of animals, but not so much when he went overboard with nationalism and opposed Muslim immigration to the United Kingdom, adding in an interview with the NME, “Although I don’t have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. So the price is enormous.”
The public at large didn’t feel the same way, evidenced in the Simpsons episode titled “Panic in the Streets of Springfield,” a play on the Smiths’ “Panic on the Streets of London.” In it, Lisa Simpson is infatuated with the Smiths doppelganger “The Snuffs,” as well as their singer, “Quilloughby.” Voiced by renowned actor Benedict Cumberbatch, the present day quasi-Moz is shown as a disappointment to Lisa, now a pastrami-on-rye eating, obese monstrosity. That depiction didn’t sit well with Morrissey.
“The hatred shown towards me from the creators of the Simpsons is obviously a taunting lawsuit, but one that requires more funding than I could possibly muster in order to make a challenge,” he said in a lengthy statement.
Episode writer Tim Long stuck by the interpretation, as well as parody songs he composed with Flight of the Conchords leader Bret McKenzie titled “How Late Is Then,” “Hamburger Homicide” and “Everyone Is Horrid Except Me and Possibly You.” “I’m sticking by that,” Long told Variety. “The character is definitely Morrissey-esque, with maybe a small dash of…Ian Curtis from Joy Division, and a bunch of other people.”
A version of this article appears in this week’s print and online editions of my syndicated Rock Music Menu column under the title “Simpsons’ Portrayal Has Morrissey Seeing Red.”