I've always had a soft spot for Paul Morley. He moved to Manchester in the late 1970s and discovered its rich, tumultuous music scene, becoming both a fan and a reporter for New Musical Express. Now, he is perhaps most associated with his writing on Ian Curtis and Joy Division; Morley found himself a privileged observer of the Factory Records community, and became personally acquainted with all of the members of both Joy Division and New Order. In some ways, he could be considered the band's official archivist. Of sorts.
The catch with Morley, and there's always a catch, it in his delivery. He plays around with the words he uses as he uses them, and he was never afraid to experiment. His stint at the NME came at a time when a number of journalists were playing around with the form, in the same way that the musicians were testing theirs. As far as I remember, Morley's reviews were the first music reviews I encountered that quoted philosophers and contemporary theorists, if only in passing. It was a new writing for a new music.
Morley can be described as eccentric, quirky and offbeat. But at the same time, he's a monument of seriousness. And it can be too much at times. Philip Roth has said that 'sheer playfulness and deadly seriousness are my closest friends', and the words seem to fit snugly around this journalist, sometimes like a noose. But often not. I have a sentimental soft-spot for Paul Morley, whether it is through his writing or his television appearances. And to accusations of pretension or ostentation I can only say that, of course, he is guilty as charged. But it is his pretentious outlook that appeals to me most: it's the appeal of a philosophical Mancunian dandy, always dressed in black.
I've seen him on television a number of times, and it's never a surprise to see him getting carried away. But his heart always seems to be in the right place. In a fantastically strange interview with Brian Eno for 'The Thing Is...' back in 1992, Morley and Eno spend the duration locked in performance games, while searching out what makes Eno tick. You can click here to watch it, incidentally.
But what's drawn my attention today is a more recent clip, teasing out the meaning of This Charming Man by The Smiths. Paul Morley has enrolled Northern poet Simon Armitage to his aid, alongside one of the original band members, drummer Mike Joyce. Once again, the discussion leaps forward into loftiness without a care in the world, in much the same way as Morrissey approaches the song, and investigates the hidden meaning and significance underlying the poetic lyrics.
Of course, ultimately, it's a mystery that will never be solved: there is a magic underlying the drama of This Charming Man which is impossible to capture outside of the song itself. But it's an interesting attempt. And a nice tribute.