I took the CD out of the Walkman, snapped it in half, and threw it in the trash.
There was a point in my life when one of my favorite albums elicited that reaction in me. The Smiths’ 1984 self-titled debut, particularly its third track “Miserable Lie,” played a heartbreaking role in my teen years, which I described at the time as “bleak.” They were not, in fact, bleak. But if I had to go ’round with my head in a black cloud, at least I chose the most classic of teen-angst bands to soundtrack it. That was 10 years ago, and today (February 20) The Smiths turns 30. In 25 more, I can only hope my future child finds a reflection of her own blackened soul in Moz’s crooning.
As for “Miserable Lie,” the reason this song has not existed in my music library for the last eight years is because my first serious boyfriend in high school used it to break up with me. He emailed me the lyrics with certain portions italicized and bolded (“Please stay with your own kind/And I’ll stay with mine” and “You have destroyed my flower-like life”). Then just, “Goodbye, Jill.” It gutted me, and not just because my heart felt like it had been stabbed with a BIC pen. The Smiths were a big thing that bonded us initially, and Morrissey’s sardonic tongue colored the way we perceived the world in our “us vs. them” battle. He had gone and used these same words as a weapon against me. It felt like a violation of a force much bigger than us.
I realize this idea of a music library is not a relevant one for many these days, and I too am a big Spotify person. It would seem to make no difference now that I deleted “Miserable Lie” from my iTunes library at the age of 18 because I could listen to it on a number of services both paid and free. But it did actually make a difference in 2006, when I was still using a CD Walkman and YouTube was just becoming a thing. A few months after the split, probably my first week or two at college, I grabbed a random stack of CDs, my yellow Sony Walkman covered in stupid Sharpie drawings, and my econ book. I went to the study room in my building and popped in The Smiths while I went to work on the fundamentals of supply and demand. Third song came on. I stopped and listened all the way through to “Miserable Lie.” What I felt was not the break-up all over again, but the violation of Morrissey’s words. CD destroyed, study session over.
A few months later, after I’d bought my first iPod, I went on a CD-ripping binge with my friend Erica’s impressive ’80s- and ’90s-alternative collection. Of course she had the Smiths’ debut, so I ripped it — but I left off “Miserable Lie.” I couldn’t risk letting this irrelevant force ruin one of the most important bands of my life up to that point. It just wasn’t worth getting upset over.
At some point I forgot that “Miserable Lie” had ever appeared on the album. I think that actually makes it a more enjoyable listening experience, though a little on the short side at only ten tracks. Most crucially, “You’ve Got Everything Now” flows right into “Pretty Girls Make Graves” without the dip in BPM that “Miserable Lie” provides. You’ve got that sad-sack intro to “Miserable Lie,” which to me is overkill considering the subject matter. My big-picture takeaway from The Smiths was the juxtaposition of Marr’s jangly guitar pop with Moz’s raw poetry. “Miserable Lie” goes to the extremes of what Moz and Marr do best together a few minutes in, when it morphs into a punk song led by Morrissey wailing, in falsetto, about needing advice. It goes on about a minute too long.
Maybe I’m biased, but “Miserable Lie” is the weak spot on a near-perfect album. I remember thinking this a year or two ago when I found myself listening to The Smiths on Spotify. At first I was confused, not remembering the choice I had made numerous computers and listening devices ago. Living with the realization that “Miserable Lie” is a bad song, I’ve come to feel a little ripped off. Couldn’t he have used a little compassion and ended the relationship with “I Know It’s Over”? Nature hadn’t made a man of him yet, it seems.