I arrived at Fort Sam Houston, located in near-northeast San Antonio, Texas, on a Friday evening on January 21, 1983 after being stuck in a crippling ice storm that grounded my flight from St. Louis for three days. I was on my way from Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky to my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Sam’s US Army Academy of Health Sciences, where I was to embark upon a rigorous, 4-month, 6-day-a week schedule of Chemistry, Microbiology, Hematology, Parasitology, Immunohematology, and all the other fun courses in the Basic Medical Laboratory school. My class was BML3-83.
So I arrive at my new unit’s HQ that Friday night to learn I’d arrived too late to enjoy the weekend pass that was given to the rest of my class that arrived that Wednesday when I too was supposed to arrive, but was delayed. I was confined to the barracks for the weekend because I wouldn’t get properly signed into the unit until that Monday, so I was basically a captive until then. The Sergeant on duty handed me two wool blankets, a pillow, and bedding, then escorted me to my new room, where he handed my new meal card and gave me a quick but very demanding set of rules for what I could and couldn’t do. I couldn’t leave the barracks compound and especially not the post. I could go to the mess hall, gym, and Post Exchange (PX). That was it. Nice.
Luckily at the St. Louis airport I’d purchased Prince’s new album 1999 on cassette, so I loaded it into my Walkman and headed downstairs to my barracks day room, where there were a couple of TVs, a few pool tables, and some food machines. Sitting in one of the TV lounges was a tall, lithe, utterly gorgeous blonde girl wearing only PT clothes (Army T-shirt and shorts) and flip-flops, and, since I’d just come from Basic and hadn’t seen a hot girl in ages, I naturally walked over to her and introduced myself.
She arrived late as she was a Reservist from Maine who finished Basic in December went home on leave for a few weeks before AIT, and, like me. her flight was delayed, although for other reasons than mine, so alas she too was confined to the barracks for the weekend. She had taken a year off from the University of Maine after her sophomore year to join the Army Reserves for the college money, went to Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and here she was for BML.
Right away, as if to ward me off, she declared she was engaged to the love of her life, which I duly noted but ignored, and of course within thirty minutes of meeting we were in her room making out like maniacs, our clothes coming off with frenetic naughtiness, with my cassette of Prince’s 1999 blasting on her little boombox. It was, I should say, a wildly erotic and fun weekend, the two of us all alone in that huge barracks for those glorious two days, taking breaks only to go to the mess hall for food and the PX for beer. We played the fuck out of 1999 as we screwed like a couple of rabid dogs. It should be noted we also played my cassettes of The Psych Furs, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Stray Cats, but mostly our fuckfest of a weekend was serenaded by Prince. Dance Music Sex Romance, oh yeah.
That Monday, after we had our first formation with our classmates who were all back from a wild weekend pass that they bragged about to us relentlessly, she informed me she really loved her fiancé, although, yes, for sure, she had a great weekend and I was a great guy, and hot, but that was it, we wouldn’t be repeating our weekend’s carnal adventures. And we didn’t. We remained good friends all through our training, and when we parted at the San Antonio airport four months later as our flights left about the same time, she heading back to Maine and her life there while I was off to Fort Benning for my first duty station as a Regular Army Medic, we kissed for about ten minutes. A great kiss, the best of my life if I may be honest. We realized with that amazing kiss that we probably should have been a couple, but such is life.
She married that fiancé a year later as she told me in a letter while I was at Fort Benning, which was the last I ever heard from her. All I have is a great memory of that weekend, which, when I play Prince’s album 1999, becomes vivid in my mind. And I smile. She was a cool girl.
Thank you, Prince, you super-cool, nasty, sexy motherfucker.
Watching Valencia FC versus Chelsea FC, 11-27-2019, at Bar Canada in Valencia, Spain
My best mates in Valencia and I gathered at Bar Canada on Avingnuda Regne de Valencia in the Russafa neighborhood to watch Valencia CF play Chelsea FC in a Champions League fixture. On hand in the green shirt was my very good English mate Clive, who, like me, is a diehard Arsenal FC fan and avowed hater of all things Chelsea, and, as you can see, my brother John attended, sporting his Valencia CF shirt, and next to John in the black sweater and blue shirt is his best mate in Valencia, the Belgian ex-pat Lodewijk. The other two chaps were friends of friends who are now my friends after a fantastic night watching a brilliant match, which ended in a 2-2 draw. Many adult beverages were consumed and we all went home happy.
Watching Valencia FC versus Chelsea FC, 11-27-2019, at Bar Canada in Valencia, Spain
Missing was our good English mate Chris, originally from Newcastle—who is now, like John, Clive, and Lodewijk, a permanent resident of Valencia—and the owner of Bike Alao; Chris was off to Girona visiting his father, though we texted him constantly with photos and commentary. Also on hand was London native Jonathan (standing behind me in pic #2), another fanatical Arsenal hooligan like Clive and me, who works for Chris’s Bike Alao shop in Grau. It was one of the best futbol matches of the year and about as exciting as European soccer can be, full of dramatic goals and wildly exciting attacks by both clubs. I only have a few days left in Valencia before I head home, but I am so glad to have made so many epic memories on this current trip. I’ll miss my good friends here until my next trip on 2020. This time I stayed 46 days after staying 40 back in February and March, and hopefully next time I can stay much longer. It is slowly becoming my second home.
The new USA motto: “It don’t matter no more, so pass the Oxy, Cheetos, and vodka.”
As I stated the day after Trump won the US Presidency, his win marked the end of the Age of Enlightenment in the United States of America. Although Hillary Clinton thoroughly dominated the popular vote by well over 3 million votes, our insane Constitutional loophole called the Electoral College gave Trump the win. Millions of people across the states needed for an Electoral College victory for Trump voted for this insane, bloviating, utterly contemptible human being, like it or not. Sure, he lies like no other public figure in recent memory. Sure, he bragged like a randy frat boy about grabbing pussies and assaulting women against their will. Sure, he insulted and mocked the disability of a New York Times journalist. Sure, he bankrupted nearly every business he started and yet parades himself as a success. He’s an avowed racist asshole, pathological liar, failed businessman, and raging dumbass, and yet people voted for him.
That question I asked then was, simply, what the fuck, America? Why would people vote for this insane, silly, deeply pathological man-child? What insanity gripped so many millions on that Election Day in 2016? What nihilism led to this madness? Well, now I know.
The USA is, simply put, populated by some increasingly irrational, stupid, insane, and self-destructive people. Voting for Trump is just one symptom of a much larger problem with this country. Rejecting science is another, as is the rise in fundamentalist and evangelical religions and other irrational belief systems such as libertarian ideology or Chicago School economics. And finally there’s this amazing sad fact: recent health statistical data points to a declining life expectancy in the USA, due mainly to profligate alcohol and drug abuse (alcohol-related deaths have risen 41% since 1999; fatal drug overdoses have increased 387% in the same period!); overeating and morbid obesity and all the chronic ill-health pathologies associated with it (hypertension, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, et al.; mortality rates for obesity-related maladies have increased 114% since 1999); and a 39% increase in suicide rates for Americans aged 25-65—with a whopping 56% suicide increase for ages 55-64!
That’s right: Americans are killing themselves either slowly or quickly in much greater numbers. And this increase is largely happening to people in their middle-age years after 40. It has shifted health stats overall to reflect the first decline in life expectancy in a century in the United States of America. Crazy but true.
People are literally killing themselves in this country with a frightening, and, I might add, highly perplexing self-destructive streak that defies logic and reason. So why not vote for a fucking asshole like Trump when you already don’t give a damn whether you live or die any more? Why bother listening to scientists who are screaming at the top of their lungs that our planet’s climate is in serious danger, or that income inequality continues to rise and the middle class is largely disappearing, when you’re going to OD on smack, or overeat yourself into a diabetic ketoacidosis state, or drink yourself into systemic organ failure, one abjectly self-destructive habit or other that will lead to an early death before you’re 60? Worse, why care at all if you’re going to blow your brains out with a gun immediately? Live and let die, bitches. Flip the world the bird as you exit that mortal coil. God and Ayn Rand are waiting for you with open arms in the afterlife you so quickly want to join, so fuck it, right?
I probably sound like an elitist jerk, and maybe I am, but I’m completely dumbfounded and stupefied by the overwhelming irrationality and suicidally self-destructive behavior of far too many of my fellow citizens. Rejecting science is insane on its own, and fraught with horrific peril for our future as a species. Voting for reprehensible human beings as our democratic leaders who then do everything to destroy the self interest and well being of tens of millions citizens to favor the super-rich elite few is another form of insanity. Add all that to millions of citizens—millions!—deliberately eschewing good health and longevity through shitty eating and not exercising, or suicidally abusing drugs and alcohol, or simply killing one’s self outright.
What the fuck, people? Are nihilism and self-destruction your only coping mechanisms for a life you so obviously hate? Is dragging everyone else down that rat-fucked hole with you your master plan? It sure feels that way any more. Like a kid who shoots up his school then turns the gun on himself, people are no longer content killing themselves, they have to take everyone with them. People voting for Trump in numbers great enough that he won the Electoral Vote indicates this insane nihilism as much as anything I have witnessed in my 56 years of living. Just look at the map of where life expectancy decline is the greatest: it’s in places where Trump won lots of votes. Think it’s a coincidence? Hell no.
Not all Trump fanatics are self-destructive alcoholics, drug fiends, or chronic overeating fat pigs. Nor are they all uneducated dopes who reject science and higher learning. Of course not, and I would never state something like that with any sort of scientific certainty. But, let’s be honest, his success seems to be greatest in regions where so many of the citizens are dying young from these highly preventable maladies, so there is some provable correlation between voting for Trump and all this self-destructive behavior that drives down our national life expectancy. He won because he got votes across the Ohio Valley, from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, and also throw in Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Missouri too; all of which, if you look at the map above, is where life expectancy dropped the most since 1999. The exception is northern New England where life expectancy dropped considerably too and Hillary won those states, but that’s not a lot of people (or Electoral Votes) compared to the states I mentioned above.
I rest my case; I really can’t say much else. The facts, as they say, are clear on this. Res ipsa loquitur. Extreme negligence towards one’s self means extreme negligence towards others. If people don’t give a flying fuck about themselves, how little do they care for others? The evidence clearly indicates they don’t give a damn at all about anything. Just pass the Oxy, Cheetos, and vodka, and everyone else can go to hell.
I’m spending more and more time living in Valencia, Spain, as I’ve built a nice home office here and can do my job more than adequately some 6200 kilometers from my home office in Philadelphia. Spanish culture is vastly different than in Philly, considerably safer, cleaner, and less frenetic, and, for the most part, much cheaper, especially thanks to a strong US Dollar these days. I work US hours, so I have mornings off to go biking or walk around this old, beautiful, utterly magnificent city. With each passing day my Spanish gets better, but it’s a difficult process to fully master enough of the language to be effectively conversant. It will take me years to do so, but I welcome the challenge.
The good news is I have lost 40 pounds since I broke my arm in 2016. I haven’t been this thin or healthy in ages, and I’m working harder every day to keep thin and fit. I’m also gathering a nice group of friends here with whom to pass the time watching fútbol while guzzling beers at Bar Obispo or Bar Canada, our hangouts for such an activity. My friends Chris and his partner/girlfriend Klara own bike rental shops, called Bike Alao, in the Russafa and Grau districts of Valencia, and sometimes I join Chris as he takes tourists on bike tours of Valencia and the surrounding environs. Most of my friends are British and Belgian ex-pats who have lived in Valencia for ages, so much so that many have married or partnered with Spaniards or other ex-pats and have built nice family lives in this great city.
The Scheck Brothers bicycling to El Monasterio de Santa Maria, El Puig, Spain, 1 Nov 2019.
The best aspect of living part time in Valencia is spending time with my brother John, who has lived here 13 years and speaks Spanish like a native. John’s been arduously writing three novels the past few years and I’ve been helping him as his sometimes editor and critic. All three are fantastic and I hope they get published soon or picked up as the next cool Netflix series. John’s life experience as a master linguist, world traveler, and well-read intellectual has helped him create novels of tremendous depth, insight, and thoughtfulness, while also being exciting works that grip the reader’s attention on every page.
I return to the USA in early December, so my days are winding down on this trip. Next year my company is kicking off a huge project in Souther California, so I won’t have as much time to live in Valencia until that project is finished in a few years, though I’ll escape to here when I can. This trip will be my longest continuous stay, 46 days, though my last one was 40 in February-March of this year. It gets harder and harder to go back. It gets easier and easier to stay.
Das Marabu Diskothek, Zweibrücken, West Germany I was at a German dance club called Marabu, located in the city Zweibrücken near the French border, in early 1987, and the DJ spun this song. I think nearly everyone in the club thought it was a new Depeche Mode song because the lead vocalist definitely sounded like Dave Gahan, but when I asked the DJ who the fuck this was, he said Kissing the Pink, an English band I knew but who had been more of a chic arthouse band to my recollection. No bother. This was an amazing dance track and all the cute girls packed in Marabu danced their perky asses off to it. Good enough for me. I met the love of my life at that club that April in 1987, a ginger-haired beauty named Tanya, who could have been Scarlett Johansson’s hotter twin (no shit!), and who introduced herself to me one night rather aggressively by pinching my ass; her English and my German were poor, but our attraction to each other overcame that barrier. Oh, it was on. Certain things are likely indeed. I can still picture that smoking-hot Teutonic beauty dancing her perky ass of some 32 years later. And so it goes.
Certain Things Are Likely – Kissing the Pink (1987)
My old man died of a brain tumor on October 15, 1973. He was 48, 8 years younger than I am today.
Memories fade as we grow older, but I cling to the memories of Michael Leo Scheck greedily with every fiber of my being. He was a very good man taken from this world at far too young an age. Some men, some fathers, are complete shitbags and hardly worthy of living, but my Dad was one of the good ones, a smart, kind, gentle, highly moral and ethical, loving, and yet super-strong man who loved his wife and nine kids with all his heart and sacrificed his own well being to ensure we had a good home and everything we needed. He just ran out of time too soon to be there for most of my life; 82% of my life has been spent without him around, which sucks.
I take full ownership of every aspect of my being and how I have conducted my life, and I certainly don’t blame the fact my Dad died when I was ten years old for any of my mistakes or shortcomings in my life. I am responsible for everything fucked-up that I have done, no excuses, no blame anywhere but towards me. However, my teen years were a fucking bleak nightmare of trying to overcome his massive loss in my life. I don’t even remember who I was before he passed. I just remember the dark wilderness through which I tried to navigate the decade after he died and what a god-awful time I had finding my way to the light again. How, in my 20s, my fear of dying young like my old man led me to unbelievably stupid behavior, reckless and thoughtless at every turn, and how my anxiety and self-loathing damn near destroyed me, and yet how I overcame that toxic shitpile of neurotic self-abuse and emerged a better person. Not a great person like Mike Scheck, but I’m not a villain or scumbag either.
I can tell you this: I’d have rather he lived longer. Over 16,360 days have gone by since he died, and on not a single one have I not thought about him, that 6’4″, lanky, eternally-grinning, charming, deep-voiced man that he was, and a delight to be around. He was as human as the rest of us, sure, and like us all he had flaws, but he was a better human being than 99.99999% of the other human beings I have encountered in my life. I say that from an objective point of view as well as a highly biased one.
I don’t know how many days I have left in this world, but already I have lived over 3000 more days than he did, so I have been luckier than he in that respect, but I’m hardly half the man my father was, and everyone who knew him and knows me would heartily agree. And I am at peace with that fact. He was a great man and I’m merely average at best.
My retreat from the social media world since I quit Facebook and Twitter some 18 months ago has been a rebirth of anonymity for my personal life. This silly and pointless blog remains my one tie to the weird, crazy, and confusing Internet culture. For my friends and family, this photo is a proof of life, and as you can see, I’m thriving. I still look and feel younger than my age and my hair refuses to get grey or fall out of my scalp.
Life slips by so fast; I wake up today and I’m 56, my bones are creaking, I’m diabetic with a congenital aorta defect that is like a ticking time bomb in my chest, and yet I’m as fit and healthy as I have been in 20 years. The true key to good health is a sparse, processed-foods-free diet mostly consisting of fresh plant-based foods, abstaining from alcohol, and exercising like a demon. My blood test results recently were astonishingly great, a massive improvement since I started my new exercise and diet regimen 18 months ago.
Mostly I have eliminated stress from my life by reducing the need to give a shit about anything, whether it’s my work life, politics and current affairs, finances, whatever. I can keep this up for 40 more years. I don’t plan on aging a lot in the upcoming decades as I think I’ve found the key to arresting the sinister forces of aging. Sure, I will get older, but I will fight like a motherfucker not to surrender to its more nefarious effects on my health and well being.
The news headlines and relentless babble emanating from the boob tube all scream we’re in one crisis or other, but the truth is, life and living in this world will always present challenges to one’s survival and well being, and yet living life is a brilliant gift that one should not waste wallowing in fear, anxiety, or self-doubt. Yes, the future feels dark if we don’t fix the environmental crisis we’re creating with our pollution, and, yes, democracy is failing everywhere. Yes indeed. But wait.
Those out there who try to upset my karma can all suck the sweat off my fat ball sack. I am stronger, smarter, tougher, and more resilient that 99.9999% of humanity, so don’t tread on me, you miserable fucks who try to bully or impose your will on the weak. I am not one of the sheep, motherfuckers; I am the Alpha wolf who would rip your fucking heart out if you mess with me. Bold words, sure, but I am also mostly indifferent to anything but living life in the now and enjoying the good vibes of living well for as long as I can. Anyone trying to upset that balance is unwelcome in my immediate vicinity.
People who know me best know that I am a generous, altruistic, magnanimous, and mostly positive friend. People know where I stand because I am thoroughly unafraid to express my feelings, thoughts, and ideas. I will never be the most well-liked person in a room because I am so direct and blunt when I speak, but I will also never be known as a cowardly, timid, untrustworthy, and duplicitous person.
Like all human beings, I am far from perfect and my flaws and pathologies could fill volumes of books. I apologize for nothing about myself at this point in my life. I’m super-self-confident—some would label me arrogant—but I tender that bluster by always admitting when I am wrong, by always learning from my mistakes and shortcomings as a person and trying my best to fix, correct, or change them. I never try to obfuscate or deceive others when honesty and directness are truly warranted.
I am a weird guy, maybe an anachronism like some old medieval knight swinging his sword at windmills as if they were giant monsters. The principles that guide me are often obscured in a culture obsessed with opulent wealth, fake beauty, the anti-intellectual dimwittedness brought on by fanatical religious and political certainty, and hugely compromised moral and ethical standards in the reckless pursuit of greedy, self-obsessed ambitions, even at the expense of others and the future of humanity. There are plenty of good people out there, but there are also masses of rotten ones too. The balance seems to weigh towards the rotten, to be honest.
I see democracy fading as the guiding ethos of even the most advanced nations, mainly because wealth and power have fallen into the hands of a few oligarchs and warlords worldwide who don’t like the idea of sharing their wealth or equality with their fellow citizens; they prefer subjects to their wealth and power over citizens sharing the wealth and power. I see our environment barreling downhill into catastrophe as mankind destroys it by emptying its filth into the air, land, and sea without regard to its horrific effects. Ugh. So much is wrong. And yet I worry less.
I’m 56 and will be dead before the environment collapses and the world falls into chaos. In my youth as a soldier I joined the fight against worldwide communist aggression because, truly, they were the bad guys and evil, and their rapacious criminal enterprise collapsed in 1989 just as my military service ended. I never thought in 1989 that the world would be far more dangerous 30 years after the fall of communism. How naive I was at the age of 26. I thought democracy, regulated capitalism, and good will would triumph and uplift the world. It has and it hasn’t. Maybe as people were uplifted they forgot how we got to that good place, and now cannot wait to tear it down even if they don’t know why. It’s a weird world right now.
The anarchy, nihilism, and chaos we face today is far more evil and much more dangerous than anything since World War II. There is no singular entity or nation-state driving this chaotic madness today because it is driven more and more by powerful but not politically-connected people who thoughtlessly pursuit personal ambition over the good weal of humankind. Meanwhile hundreds of millions of people seem to have accepted this fate brought on by such dark forces without putting up much of a fight against it, or perhaps are thoroughly incapable of even acknowledging or understanding that it exists, and so the chaos, anarchy, and nihilism the world faces grows stronger and more deadly while more and more people get captured in its whirlwind of destruction and decimation. At some point good people will turn on each other in a savage pursuit of simple survival. This isn’t a science fiction fantasy; this is our future and I’m sadly pessimistic we humans can vanquish it before it engulfs us all. Or maybe we find our way out and the world thrives in the future. Maybe, a big maybe indeed.
All I can do is stay true to my beliefs and live my life being on the side that is good and just and caring. I don’t wallow in misery and fear of this future I see because I realize I will be dead long before it truly gets awful. What precious life I have left will be spent enjoying what is still good, beautiful, and wondrous about the world outside my door. To enjoy the company of good people, to savor all the good food, to enjoy every day I draw breath, to keep myself fit and healthy and not let the aging process piss on my parade.
That will be my role as a faithful witness to a life lived well. Please don’t try to get in my way.
Solo rocker Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek of The Cars, two acts that hit it big the summer of 1978, passed away over the weekend. Oddly, both were born a couple days apart and died a couple days apart; Ocasek: March 23, 1949-September 15, 2019; Money: March 21, 1949-September 13, 2019.
In the summer of 1978 both The Cars and Eddie Money had huge hits that made it a fun summer, as music was fantastic that year and their songs were among the most memorable, and certainly made that summer rock & roll like few others.
My two best friends and I were 15 and about to start high school that summer, and we had the best time of our lives mostly fucking off, smoking pot, and hitting on cute girls everywhere we could. Doug Russell and Chip Johnston, wherever you are, these are tributes to you two and that amazing summer and all its great music. You dudes are the best friends I’ve ever had by a huge margin. What’s great is I’ve been in contact with both the past year and we’ve shared a lot of laughs and memories since those wild times as bad boys 40 years ago.
From left: Chip, Mat, Doug, high school, 1979
RIP, Eddie & Ric, you were both great rock stars from my youth. Your music made life fun and worthwhile and cool.
Just What I Needed – The Cars (Released May 1978)
Two Tickets to Paradise – Eddie Money (Release June 1978)
The Smiths: The band that changed everything. From left: Andy Rourke, Steven Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce.
I was 22 when I first bought the album Hatful of Hollow by the Smiths. I found it at a record shop in Athens, Georgia in the fall of 1985, recommended to me by the weird kid working at the shop, who, after learning I was a devout fan of Athens, Georgia’s proudest sons of the moment, R.E.M., informed me that this album by The Smiths—mostly recorded live in the studio for the John Peel BBC radio show, plus containing new songs not on the band’s eponymous 1984 debut album—was a masterpiece and much better than their first, and, he added emphatically, better than anything by R.E.M., which was almost a sacrilege to utter in that town.
The Smiths was a band about whom, at that moment in 1985, I knew nothing, and luckily this weird kid educated me on this unknown subject. He declared grandiloquently, and with great passion, that Hatful of Hollow would change my life. Bold words by a goofy, odd, and yet wise young man when it came to music, and I was a willing and hungry student, eager for something—anything—new and exciting. So I bought it.
And of course Hatful of Hollow changed my life. From then until when The Smiths broke up in 1987, I was a devoted and fanatical lover of their music and bought every record they released. Since their breakup in 1987 my devotion waxed and waned over the ensuing decades, but every now and then I’ll return to their music if only for the intense nostalgia I felt for that period of my life. But also for the band’s songs, their incredible motherfucking songs, each and every one of them; the Smiths recorded 74 songs in their brief career, and every goddamn one of them is great.
I shall list my 10 favorite songs by The Smiths in descending order. Everyone’s opinion varies on any subjective art form like music, so my favorites may not be your favorites, or anyone else’s for that matter, and if you disagree with mine, so what. It’s just an opinion. My opinion.
10. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (1984, Hatful of Hollow)
The anthem that I am sure articulates the existential angst felt by all mopey, dorky, sexless boys too afraid to leave their bedrooms. In 1985 I was not among their ranks, as I was a randy and fun-loving US soldier sleeping with every pretty girl I could possibly bed and was as cocky and confident as any annoyingly smart and charming pretty boy, but I appreciated Morrissey’s lamentations on this song. Johnny Marr truly began experimenting more here with his idea of a beautiful guitar sound, a crisp, wonderfully jingley-jangley cacophony of chords and picks that make this song perfect. Morrissey’s prissy, quasi-faggie demeanor and complete lack of testosterone, coupled with the fact he possessed not a molecule of muscle tissue on his body, made him the most curious and yet fascinating pop star, especially since he was capable of articulating his angst with such eloquence and poetic silliness, plus he had the coolest haircut in the 1980s, hands down. He was a far cry from the arena rock gods like Robert Plant or Punk assholes like Johnny Rotten. Morrissey’s Rock & Roll rebellion was to be smarter and more annoying than his peers, and to hold the entire pop world in sneering disdain, and yet to succeed in it despite his dyspeptic view on life. We fans just loved his dark bedroom, navel-gazing rants. He was nothing like me as a man and everything like me as an intellectual.
9. Bigmouth Strikes Again (1986, The Queen is Dead)
Hell hath no fury like that of a prissy sissy, and on this rolling rocker Mozz thumbs his nose at his critics while the band rollicks through a pretty kick-ass tune, especially Johnny Marr’s brilliant wall of guitars, so gleefully recorded over god-knows-how-many overdubs, and sounds wildly majestic and overwhelmingly alluring here, moreover Andy Rourke’s pulsing bass lines and Mike Joyce’s steady drumming resonate with frenetic pace and feeling, and meanwhile Mozz sneeringly mocks everyone who mocks him, wiggling his bum triumphantly as he figuratively compares himself to Joan of Arc being burned at the stake for the way he’s lambasted in the press; it all works because the song fucking rocks by a pretty damn good Rock & Roll band. It’s silly, yes, but silly is Morrissey’s strong suit and why he so endeared himself to his fans as the sad, brilliant, witty clown, the mopey, sneering smart-aleck with the heart of gold. We all wish we could articulate such an annoyingly funny “fuck you” at our own critics backed by such cool music. Yeah. The Queen is Dead is an album of a great band maturing into the best one of its era, hands down. Most of my Army friends fell for The Smiths because of this song or Boy with the Thorn in His Side, or simply because I played the fuck out of this album the fall of 1986.
8. How Soon is Now? (1984, Hatful of Hollow)
Most people rate this song higher than I do in compiling their Smiths greatest hits list, and I can understand why, yet I do not agree that it’s top-5 worthy great compared to other songs by the band. But of course I love it, cherish it, and thought it was wonderful from my first listen onward. Johnny Marr’s wall of guitars sound is incredible, and of course Morrissey’s whiny, self-absorbed plea for social acceptance is both poignant and yet annoying as only he can exude so gloriously eloquent, and obnoxiously so. It’s a great song, rocking, and should be on everyone’s playlist for the band.
7. Handsome Devil (1984, Hatful of Hollow)
Here we have The Smiths as Punks, although smart ones who could deftly play their respective instruments better than most Punks, and fronted by an almost anti-Punk singer who sounds like a gayer and smarter version of Roy Orbison in the throes of a horny hissy fit over someone obviously oblivious to Steven’s desires. Mozz was an admitted celibate (or so he claimed), so all his sexual longing was theoretical and creepy like in all involuntary celibates, and even when he became a huge pop icon in England he vehemently clung to his celibacy as a weird badge of honor, as if shagging other people would ruin his intellectual purity. It was obvious he was gay, not that we fans cared, as homophobia was not only stupid but also just plain wrong, and I think we all collectively wished he’d just get his fuck on at some point with some muscular football hooligan bloke with good hair, though we loved his musings on the subject of forced sexlessness. This is a fucking rocking tune, The Smiths doing Jumping Jack Flash or I Wanna Be Your Dog in their own wonderful way. Rolling Stones and Iggy and the Stooges, meet Steven Morrissey, sissy crooner and well-coifed pop star wannabe, backed by his kick-ass band.
6. Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before (1987, Strangeways, Here We Come)
By the time we got this one from the record store, the band was no more. This is, in effect, their swan song. And what a tune! Morrissey and Marr could no longer agree on the band’s sound or musical direction, yet when they did collaborate it was fucking beautiful, like here. Morrissey’s had a decent solo career, but none of his post-Smiths songs sounded this great. Without Johnny Marr, Morrissey’s just a weird-looking singer with a slightly annoying voice and some clever wordplay, but never as good as he was in this great band. I have never really dug Morrissey’s solo work, and, in fact, since his first solo record, I’ve ignored him completely. Now that’s he’s super old and still prancing around the stage singing his songs of youthful sexless celibate angst to crowds of dorks living in the long-gone Smiths past, I find it sad and weird and boring. I was even happier when Morrissey was forced in court to dole out part of his wealth to brilliant drummer Mike Joyce, whom Steven fucked out of royalties since day one. This wasn’t a one-man band nor was Mozz the sole genius in the band. Marr was equally brilliant in creating the band’s sound, and Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke certainly played a massive part in making the band’s music amazing.
5. This Charming Man (1984, Hatful of Hollow, Peel Session Version)
This version is hugely better than the original single that put the band on the UK pop charts for the first time. It’s got a cheeky ebullience lacking in the original, and Johnny’s guitars sound better, with more jingle-jangle for the buck, so to speak. And Andy Rourke’s bass sounds utterly perfect. On the original version, Johnny’s guitars sound annoyingly like an 8-bit telephone ring tone, while here the stereo mix by John Peel’s amazing engineer/producer Roger Pusey sounds fabulously warm and utterly inviting. The version produced by John Porter annoys me. In fact I have never liked the first album by The Smiths because Porter’s production makes the band sound tinny and hollow and gross, while on Hatful, the songs, especially the Peel Session versions, all sound fantastic. It’s why Hatful made me love the band and luckily I didn’t hear their debut first.
4. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side (1986, The Queen Is Dead)
Easily the best pure pop song by The Smiths, almost AOR-radio-friendly, and for most of my friends it was the first Smiths song that truly pricked their ears. Johnny Marr again shines with a layered symphony of guitar sounds so sublime it feels like you’re listening to pure heroin. I also think it’s Steven’s finest vocal performance of his recorded career, as he sounds completely sincere in his expression of his angst and isolation. Say what you want about the guy, but he was a proper pop star at this point, working perfectly with his excellent band to make songs on The Queen is Dead that put The Smiths on the top tier of English Rock & Roll greatness with The Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Who, Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Clash (and later Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur, and Radiohead). Really. That good. And on my list we’ve yet to get to the best song on that great album.
3. What Difference Does It Make? (1984, Hatful of Hollow, Peel Session Version)
Again, this is a vastly superior version of the song than the one on the band’s eponymous debut record. That version is very good, sure, even great, but this version is magical. Mozz later slagged this song, but, dude, we fell in love with your band because of songs like this, shut the fuck up, you silly wanker. This has the anger and energy and brilliant wordplay that made you a star and endeared your band to its most ardent supporters. What makes this song swing is Andy Rourke’s bass line, coupled with Marr’s angry guitar attack, like the band is assaulting a hill in wartime, led by that prissy sissy singer all filled with vim and sneering vitriol. Punk never sounded this good except on the occasional Clash song. This is, to me, the song that sold me on The Smiths as a great Rock & Roll band and not just a silly novelty act of a bitchy, weird, sissy-boy lead singer.
2. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (1986, The Queen Is Dead)
In many ways The Smiths’ defining song, of course beginning with Johnny Marr’s brilliantly layered guitars, but also because Morrissey’s lyrics—sad, ironic, wistful, tragic, and yet beautiful—convey everything that made him a brilliant voice of his generation. He manages to sound sincere and not the least bit cheesy or phony. He was who he claimed he was, a mad genius trapped in the walls of his angst and frustration at dealing with the humanity around him. On this album the band figured out what made them great and finally produced a recording worthy of their greatness. Is it any wonder most critics call this the best album of the 1980s? And most fans agree? This just sounds perfect. I cannot describe how many late nights in 1986 I listened to The Queen is Dead over and over. It’s one of my favorite albums in my long life of music fandom, right up there with London Calling by The Clash; Remain in the Light by Talking Heads; The Bends and OK Computer by Radiohead; Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth; Doolittle by Pixies; Nevermind by Nirvana; Murmur by R.E.M.; and of course the greatest: Pet Sounds, Sergeant Peppers, Let it Bleed, Ziggy Stardust, Paranoid, Who’s Next, Physical Graffiti, and Dark Side of the Moon.
1. Well I Wonder (1985, Meat Is Murder)
Oh my fucking god. What a song! In the fall of 1985 I split with a girl I adored but didn’t really love, and immediately began missing her when I saw her with another guy I considered a huge step down from me, so I felt sad for her and even sadder for me as I missed her but could never admit it to her—or even me for that matter. And then I heard this fucking song and it penetrated my cold exterior into my heart like a searing hot dagger made of a welding high-intensity arc used to cut titanium. Oh, Steven, you created the ultimate depressing, mope-friendly, hide-from-humanity classic. Jesus, has ever a song evoked such heartache like this? “Gasping, dying, but somehow still alive, this is the final stand of all I am.” Fucking hell, that’s brilliant. Everything about this song is great, from the sublime guitars to the slow, rolling feel as the tune wanders through that rainstorm and Steven bleeds out his heart with such earnest candor. This, my friends, is all the proof you need of this band’s true greatness. This is a magical song, sad, yes, but sadness is an integral part of human feeling. Mozz spent much time in the dark pondering his own sadness, then penned this classic song for all of us to view his dark psychological depth along with him. Love him or hate him, he had a gift. Hand this to Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, or some Country star, and it’s a pop hit these days.
Do NOT RIP, David Koch. I hope your last days, months, and years were horrific and you died miserably.
Oh, I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, you say? This cocksucker doesn’t get that kind of magnanimous treatment.
Just read Jane Mayer’s excellent New Yorker piece on the Koch Brothers from 2010. The Koch Brothers have done more harm to the world’s environment and America’s democracy than any two individuals ever. They deserve a fate worst than death. Prostate cancer wasn’t horrible enough for David Koch. A good old public Medieval disemboweling, castration, hanging, and quartering would have been better.
He died being worth over $42 billion. How many billions of humans will suffer from the environmental calamities that this bastard and his even more vile older brother Charles helped to create by spending a good part of their fortune to block even the mention of the word “Global Warming,” let alone how many politicians they bought to keep our government from acting even the least bit sensible and proactive? How many poor American children will starve or go without adequate health care because of this so-called “libertarian” tax cut advocate? And your legacy will be that you were a gigantic, vile, evil, useless piece of shit exiting the asshole of hell. Yeah, you’re worth all that money and your asshole still rotted out, you fucking creep.
Fuck you, David Koch. I hope your asshole brother, Charles, dies even more horribly, perhaps by some Biblical malady like being eaten from the inside out by huge maggots while being gang raped by a pack of rabid and syphilitic wolverines. OK, if I ever read the Bible, and I haven’t, that would be how I would hope someone evil died in days of yore.