Morrissey will play Madison Square Gardens in Manhattan on June 27. If you grew up in the 1980's that is information you will really want to be aware of. Most things in life change, but the lonely flame lit by this singular talent back in 1983 still burns hard and clear in 2015.
In that long lost era of big hair, shoulder pads and MTV, most of the world's most popular bands had multi-syllabic names like Kajagoogoo and Duran Duran. To call your band The Smiths, as Morrissey playfully did in that era of pretentious excess, was to was stand in opposition to everything the decade apparently stood for.
In Ireland in those years our own U2's Bono liked to roam around festival stages like he was tapering on the Matterhorn, having studied the stage presence of people like Mick Jagger and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds, but in contrast Morrissey could hardly raise his head to look at the crowd. That was how I knew he was Irish. His awkwardness on stage and his discomfort in his own body mirrored half the lads in the nation.
He wore broken National Health spectacles fastened with sellotape, he had a thing for old lady blouses, he stuck branches into his back pocket to suggest he lived closer to the natural world. He was unlike anything pop that music had ever seen.
It became clear to me quickly that it wasn't just an act. All those unforgettable songs about romantic rejection and the ache of poverty and the pain of lost love came straight from the heart. You could tell they did because the lyrics had the power to stop you in your tracks in the middle of your day. They could make you laugh or cry, or both, effortlessly. If the north had a soundtrack it was written by him. Because Morrissey was many things but he wasn't kidding. He had loved and lost and lost again. It had been murderously hard. You could hear it in his voice, you could see it in his face.
At home Bono was singing about unforgettable fire, whatever that was, and his lyrics were usually as disposable as a pop tart. He lived on the opposite end of the spectrum that Morrissey inhabited, which was the distance between pop and poetry.
If you lived though those years you will vividly remember what a revelation Morrissey's songs were to your fifteen year old self. He sang of alienation and dispossession, the twin inheritances of most Northern lads of the period.
“I am the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar/I am the son and heir of the nothing in particular.” Hearing those lyrics sung over Johnny Marr's sonic wall of rock genius was like hearing the anthem of the country you didn't know you belonged to.
The reason he mattered was the reason he still matters, he had a gift for saying more about northern life in two and a half minutes than most writers manage in their entire creative lives. When he takes to the stage later this month it will be over 30 years after The Smiths made their debut, but his songs have only grown in potency since those far off days. As other rock acts wither into irrelevance the lighting that he captured in a three minute pop song hasn't lost its bite, its found a new generation who are being as evangelized as ours was.
Critics who called him miserable or the king of mope never understood his subtle humor or his challenge. That was true in the '80's and it's even more true now. If you didn't get him back in the day you've had three decades to correct the mistake.
But if you still need convincing then book a ticket to his MSG show on June 27 and discover why his voice has remained so vital for so long. It's the voice of a displaced Irishman singing about living in a land he does not quite belong to, and if we had sense we would reclaim him as a brilliant compatriot of the Irish tradition. To get tickets visit www.ticketmaster.com.