Friday, 19 October 2012
Joey Barton, Morrissey and the teenage me
Back in the day, Eric Cantona was the philosopher king with his gnomic musings on sardines and seagulls. In recent years philosopher footballers have been thin on the ground. Until now that is. There is a new pretender, an unlikely heir to the cod-philosophy throne: a tattooed boy from Birkenhead (actually Huyton, Merseyside) called Joey Barton, presently on loan from Queens Park Rangers to Olympique de Marseille.
Depending on your point of view, Barton is a sweet and tender hooligan who can’t control his fists or a refreshing voice on the football scene who eschews Neanderthal soundbites in favour of speaking his mind and mixing it up with a quotation from Virgil or Nietzsche. His musings range from Gary Lineker to Lucian Freud via Isambard Kingdom Brunel. There’s nothing David Beckham about Joey Barton – nothing photo-shopped, manicured or groomed. Barton is old style, George Orwell working class: the lad from the council estate who got hold of a library card and got clever and lippy. Joey Barton has over 1.6 million Twitter followers hanging on his every unpredictable word.
I’ve taken an interest in Barton because he is interested in The Smiths and their lead singer, Morrissey. Barton’s Twitter biography reads Yes, we may be hidden by rags but we have something they’ll never have... These are lyrics from The Smiths song Hand in Glove, that soaring anthem to working class nobility. The song was all rage and vitality, romanticism and self-loathing. It was the clarion call the doomed youth of Thatcher’s Britain had been waiting for or that was how it felt at the time.
I still remember the first time I heard John Peel play Hand in Glove and how pop music suddenly seemed important – important in the way that Shakespeare and Rembrandt are important. Culturally important. The idea that Culture and pop music might cohabit was a kind of revelation to my teenage mind.
I remember climbing on to the shoulders of a friend as Hand in Glove was played at a gig in The Venue, Leicester Square and having to take the following day off school because I’d lost my voice and my ears were still ringing. I still have the twelve inch, Rough Trade vinyl (and the wonderful B-side Jeane) with the cover photo of some handsome devil mooning at the world. Hand in glove, the sun shines out of our behinds...It was 1983. I was 17. Hand in Glove was a thing of beauty and youthful joy.
From that moment on, I went to every gig The Smiths played in London. I bought every single, every album, learnt every lyric off by heart – I can still spot a Smiths lyric from a hundred miles. I watched A Taste of Honey and read Saturday Night and Sunday Morning because I read in the NME that these were Morrissey’s inspiration. I bought gladioli and hair gel and made compilation tapes of favourite Smiths songs which I took with me to university. It was great to be a Smiths fan in the 1980’s. I am proud to admit that the music of The Smiths became the romantic soundtrack to a chunk of my reckless teenage years.
For me, Hand in Glove has become the equivalent of Marcel Proust’s madeleine. Every time I hear the mouth accordion opening, every time I stumble across words from the song, my involuntary memory ignites and, to paraphrase Proust, the vicissitudes of life become indifferent to me and life’s disasters innocuous. I wonder if Joey Barton enjoys the same experience?