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Morrissey’s Erotics of Protest

Owen Sweeney/AP

The singer's newest subversive resistance. 

Now that the word "protest"--and the very concept of dissent--has been devalued, Morrissey comes up with the perfect song to describe his moral resistance. "Spent the Day in Bed," the new single from his upcoming album Low in High School (to be released this October) is a brilliantly teasing idle.

Morrissey scratches his head about the state of the world, in which political protesting no longer has common cause with humanism. What used to be principled in the long-gone history of mankind's progress has been hijacked by rampaging, looting, jackbooted, cowardly-masked hordes that use the latest social cliches to shout-down others, then proclaim inane Internet memes as if they were ethical beliefs.

Most contemporary protestors don't know the difference. What they know is the political fashion. (And fashion unchecked, as any drag queen will admit in a moment of self-examination, is the carrot dangling before the hungry eyes and slathering mouths of followers, not leaders). Acting as mobs, political followers offend the integrity and courage it takes to be individual and it's that mind-hive, group-think inanity that Morrissey resists.

He goes after clone politics sexually. The image of a day in bed first conjures long-weekend or Honeymoon thoughts. It's a meaningful alternative to the now meaningless term "activism."As a sexual outlaw, Morrissey realizes that this is the most provocative dissent of all. He proposes that there's a constructive benefit in holding back from the conformity that others are engaging so readily. This message comes just in time as campus free-speech controversies are twisting republics across the West. Rather than a sweet-nothing pop tune like "Despacito," it has the excitement of not being a soundtrack-of-our-lives song intended to get the culture marching in uniform.

Sprightly, solitary synth chords begin the song with a melodic equivalent of a morning yawn. It's followed by morning-wood truancy--a determination to defy convention ("while the workers stay enslaved"). Laziness with moral and social implications make this song almost Chekhov-like, resembling the short story "Oblomov" about a man who stayed in bed as a refusal of middle-class routine.

Then the nose-thumbing gets mischievous: "I'm not my type/But I love my bed." Morrissey doesn't forget his pop inheritance from Donovan's delightful, profound "I Love My Shirt" (1967). Better than The Beautiful South's maybe too-clever jack-off song "Tonight, I Fancy Myself" (1991), Morrissey alludes to sexual desire and its immediate, make-do alternative. At this point, he shifts into one of his great media invectives: "I recommend that you stop watching the news."

Not a non sequitur, this media rebuke--the inspiration for Morrissey's witty refusal--is truly subversive. Taking a song from the personal to the political has been a fond, though under-recognized, tactic for Morrissey as well as Elvis Costello and they both (from "Reader Meet Author" to "Radio") have written the greatest media scolds in all of pop music. Here, media criticism becomes the linch pin of Morrissey's principled erotic resolve.

Through the pop song/ love song posture, Morrissey is actually describing an intense political alienation that every honest person this millennium can recognize. We're rarely aroused by social causes these days so much as the media corrals us into hostile positions. Morrissey would rather retreat into something substantive that is tactile, with a known provenance. Thus the song's slyest lyric: "In sheets for which I paid/ I am now laid."

This line conveys awareness of social, capitalist, political process. It rebukes the shameless absurdity in that infamous photo from the G8 summit showing a protestor taking his own selfie, using a $600 iPhone.

"Spent the Day in Bed" challenges the hypocrisy of such political protest. With sex and freedom in mind, Morrissey offers a universal chant: "No Bus/ No Boss/ No Rain/ No Train." This isn't anarchy. (Protestors can't--or wont--even define anarchy). Instead, it cries for release from everything accepted as hip including Beyonce's exploitative "Formation." The chant that ends "Spent the Day in Bed" is Morrissey's most subversive since "Panic's" still controversial "Hang the DJ!"

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