Along with the Smiths, Rourke (far left) helped shape a sound that inspired decades of discouraged rockers and singer-songwriters.
Photo: Lisa Haun/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
The Smiths’ career has been a volatile study in contrasts. Morrissey loved fine art, literature, 60s pop and 70s glamour. Johnny Marr and his longtime friend Andy Rourke had a balanced diet of transatlantic folk, funk and blues rock. Mike Joyce fell in love with punk rock as a teenager. The band was the sound of those interests pulled in different directions, giving weight, emphasis and dimension to each individual player: the classical/miserable singer and guitarist who studied Neil Young and the versatile bassist and punk drummer who complemented and expanded each other. horizons. But this approach ultimately worked against them. The various points of acrimony that continue to hang over the legacy of the Manchester quartet make the memory of Rourke – who died last Friday at 59 and whose slick bass lines added precious melodic weight to Marr’s legendary riffs – an examination of the band’s problems, and the space between the lingering myths about success in the music industry and the harsh realities of trying to sustain a stable career on the whims of the public.
It’s one of the oldest stories in music: they got the splits wrong. Morrissey and Marr, dreaming of the glory of songwriting duos like John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, each took 40% of recording and performance royalties, effectively treating the Smiths’ rhythm section as session musicians who didn’t need to know the inner workings of decision-making. Ten percent was an unfair assessment of what Rourke brought to the table. He could be every bit the virtuoso that Marr was; he had to be. Morrissey wrote to instrumentals that other players sent him. And Rourke couldn’t just trace the Rickenbacker lines of Marr’s fleet and the chord progressions of the octaves below. It would have seemed thin. He needed a counterpoint. “It was just a guitar and a bass,” Rourke said of recording Smiths’ songs in a tell-all 2013 interview, “and that’s why we were both working on trying to fill the void, because we didn’t know what the voice was going to do or how it was going to sound, so we filled it in as much as we could.
The effort was evident from the start. In “You’ve Got Everything Now”, from their 1984 debut The Smiths, Rourke is a driving force, tracing the path where Marr’s chords dance through the ominous verses, then, as the song brightens during the chorus, teases some of the sadder melody from earlier, preparing listeners for be dragged back into the maelstrom of the next verse. This infallible and unresolved sense of frustration, at the heart of the Smiths, is often attributed to Morrissey. But when Marr felt like using his shimmering tone and amp reverb for ambience – splashing around the mix in 1986’s “Never Had No One Ever” The queen is deadfor example – Rourke had to guide the ship.
Rourke could handle Marr’s intimidating speed and versatility because he was a brilliant musician himself. A survey of the classics finds it sneaking sounds from several other genres into the Smiths’ indie-pop formula. He could play irrepressibly busy punk lines (The Smiths‘ “Still Ill” or “Handsome Devil” from 1984 hollow smell compilation) or smooth soul licks (The Smiths“I don’t owe you anything” hateful“This Night Has Opened My Eyes” from “This Night Has Opened My Eyes”) or faithful rockabilly riffs (“Death at One’s Elbow” from 1987 Strangeways, here we come or 1985’s “Shakespeare’s Sister”). The bass swing in “Rubber Ring,” on the 12-inch pressing of The queen is dead“The Boy with the Thorn in the Side” launches somewhere between Iron Maiden and Whitney Houston. “Barbarism begins at home”, from 1985 meat is murder, crosses the threads of funk and punk in the same way budding alt-rock heroes like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More simultaneously learned in the United States. Rourke helped shape a sound that inspired decades of discouraged rockers and singer-songwriters, from Damon Albarn and Chino Moreno to the National, who sought to investigate the many elegant emotional textures between sadness and anger. .
As Rourke added these impressive colors to the music, he was under threat of a replacement. His struggle to curb a heroin addiction and adjust to methadone treatment in the mid-1980s led to an unceremonious arrest and firing, which was quickly reversed when the band realized they had been the lifeline of the sick bassist. (They took on Craig Gannon as second guitarist in 1986, but the original plan was for Colourfield and Aztec Camera alum to sit on bass.) Their lyrics attempted to challenge the prefabricated gender and sex roles and Thatcherism of those years; the whole project was a kind of monument to a carefree otherness, a feeling of not being like everyone else but also of not wanting to be. But the power imbalance coupled with the lack of an impartial oversight apparatus, of anyone on the inside not jostling for Morrissey and/or Marr’s favor, exacerbated the problems wherever they surfaced. When the guitarist got fed up with the bickering in 1987, there was no one to mediate, just like there was no one to secure fair contracts for the members who were shocked to finally see the band’s accounting . Rourke and Joyce then sued for royalties, and Morrissey and Marr could not prove that they had explained the financial arrangement, but, in need of cash, Rourke took a prompt payment, losing some of the funds Joyce would earn in the end.
You can do a job better than most people in the world who share the occupation and still feel useless. You can change rock-and-roll history without enjoying a cut of your own merchandise. (“For every t-shirt I see,” Rourke said in 2013, “I think, shit, I should get 25%.”) The lingering dream of sudden success overlooks the tireless and about the cunning and luck it takes to maintain a flying career after takeoff, or how easily one miscalculation or deliberate mis-dealing can put a person or an entire organization on a crash course. Marr liked the idea of having an outspoken leader; it took the heat off the guitarist. But within five years, he was beginning to feel trapped and limited by the Smiths’ tussle for control—the friction between his balance between retro rock chops and modern studio magic; Morrissey’s love of kitsch, smarm and vintage pop; and Rourke and Joyce’s burning desire to make their worth known. This marriage was apparent in songs like “How Soon Is Now,” “Money Changes Everything,” and “Shoplifters,” which seem to telegraph the handover between indie rock bands, descendants of Roxy Music and the Cure, and Madchester and alternate dance numbers that would propel the scene into the future. That Rourke has come out and performed with everyone from Stone Roses singer Ian Brown to Sinéad O’Connor shows he was always eager for the challenge.
Andy Rourke shouldn’t have claimed the installment of the Smiths’ salary he received. It shouldn’t even have been a splinter. Remove its parts and the songs fall apart. The maneuvers that put Rourke at a disadvantage in the group that made him famous are inseparable from the history of his hits. And the xenophobic rhetoric that Morrissey has shared over the years is hard to tear away from the smiling, aching loneliness that colors his early work. From the perspective of 2023, where the path from abandoned isolationism to nationalism and exclusion is very well lit, it turns out to be a short journey between “England is mine, and it owes me to live and “Has the world changed or changed?” I changed?” to Brexit and the For Britain movement. Sometimes everything burns as quickly and beautifully as it gels. people have done, not just carve out parts that we want to remember and hide parts that make us feel uncomfortable. We would have fewer idols to break that way.