“Johnny and Andy were completely obsessed with Spinal Tap,” he says, “and there were mini Stonehenges of cigarette packs left all over the studio… Andy had learned – by note – the bass line to Big Bottom! We only did that when Morrissey wasn’t in the room, though. Don’t worry.”
A few years back I took Twin 1 up to a local seaside town for A Special Day With Dad. We walked past a record shop, and, after asking her if she knew what records were (“They’re like old CDs,” I said), we went in.
We looked around, and I got a used book on REM, and we got in line to check out. There was some awful music playing. It was the kind of racket you’d expect in a place like that. And then – mirabile dictu – one of the clerks took the record off mid-song and put on “Panic” by the Smiths.
(“Panic” is on my Mount Rushmore of 2:20ish knockouts, along with “She Loves You,” “Fortunate Son,” and “Immigrant Song.”)
I grasped Twin 1 by the shoulders and looked her in the eye. “[Twin 1], this is my jam!” (Up til then I’d been telling them it was “Cake by the Ocean.”)
I saluted the clerk on his choice, and he and the other guy and me talked about how awesome the Smiths are. It was only for a minute or two, but Smithdom requires no more.
Andy Rourke, their bassist, who “provided the muscle and drive,” died recently.
This next bit is pretty much a lecture series, so I will do my best to compress it to a paragraph. The Smiths were The Best Band. This is due to their singular singer and virtuoso guitarist, but also to their rhythm section, which grew, over the course of the band’s five-year life, from good to perfect. (You go try that, pal.) At their beginning, you could have swapped out either the drummer or bassist and maybe done better; by their last album this would have been only in the realm of infinite possibility.
The point I’m trying to make is probably best briefly illustrated by one of the singer’s post-Smiths early singles, “Interesting Drug,” in which the lineup is the Smiths without their original guitarist. Holy smokes that’s some drum n’ bass.
But I’ll share instead this one, my favorite Morrissey single. There’s Andy stage right, holding it down.
I smiled at him once, at a club in Brooklyn. He smiled back.
So long, Andy. May it ever be your lucky bun-day.