Saturday, January 12, 2013

I Ushered for Morrissey: Now My Heart is Full

By odd coincidence (or maybe because he read the book), much like Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I was introduced to The Smiths when a junior high school teacher made me a mix tape of their works. “In order to be an eighties fan,” said my teacher, for lamentably, I once claimed that title, “you’ve got to like The Smiths.”

Hesitantly, I put the tape in my portable tape player, pressed play, and at “There is a Light that Never Goes Out,” I felt some switch deep within me click. Thus, at age twelve, with my interest in music piqued (having lain dormant with the worsening state of popular music at the start of the millennium), a lifelong adventure ensued.

All of my indie flames taken into account, my lengthiest musical love affair has been with Morrissey and The Smiths (the band he once led). The iconic singer has long provided the theme music to my life. In High School, Viva Hate and Strangeways, Here We Come spun round and round on my turntable. In College, I mourned to “I Know it’s Over,” celebrated with “A Swallow on my Neck” and wandered around Boston to “Late Night, Maudlin Street,” wondering about the whereabouts of loved ones lost. More recently, I spent my 24th birthday – still shell-shocked from losing Glasgow – ambling around Manhattan to “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself?”

In addition to all of his erudite lyricism, often tailored to empathize with his listeners, Morrissey made me feel less lonely about my decision to abstain from meat. I became vegetarian at age nine. When I discovered that Morrissey had similar anti-meat reservations – enough to write a song about it and even entitle an album “Meat is Murder” – I felt infinitely grateful.


While browsing his songs on YouTube, I discovered that Morrissey would soon be performing at the very place in which I ushered. I yelped around my apartment. This was simply surreal: I had the opportunity to watch my musical amore perform, and I would get paid for doing so.

Immediately, I sent an e-mail to the head usher, wondering how long in advance I should request that shift. I was told to wait a month. These things take time. When it became time to sign-up, I mistakenly sent my request to the wrong e-mail address. I did not discover that I had done this until a week before the gig. Fortunately, remembering how I felt about the man (she knows I’d love to see him), my manager added my name to the shift. Cue Natalie Merchant:
On the day of the gig, I felt an unbearable mixture of excitement and anxiety, as if my shift were some mixture between a hot date and the interview for the perfect job. I spent hours preparing: showering, grooming, making sure I smelled alright, double-checking that my black ushering clothes did not magically disappear, etc. Once aboard the subway, my muscles and viscera started seizing-up: taut as steel knots. “Panic” indeed.

I arrived fifty minutes before call, so I decided to pass the time by talking distractedly to fellow ushers. Eventually, the sign-in sheet was brought out, naming our stations. Mine was far up in the balcony: our theater's nosebleed section. What difference does that make? It makes none.

During our pre-show usher meeting, I found myself grinning in blithe disbelief throughout the head usher's introduction to the show. No attempts at composure would hide my happiness as she ran-down the details. She was presumably unfamiliar with Morrissey and bemused by the unusual protocols surrounding the show:

  • In case we weren't aware, Morrissey has a highly-devoted fan base. Despite being a ticketed event, and despite being sold-out, some of the people in the lobby had been there for over three hours, just happy to be in the same building as their musical hero. On a related note, this would be a high-security gig and extra measures would be taken to keep order.
  • Morrissey is a vegan (has he gone vegan?) who is "into PETA," hence the PETA stall in the lobby and the absence of meat on the first floor. However, should a patron ask for meat, there were turkey sandwiches available in the mezzanine cafĂ©.
  • It is not unusual for people to leap on stage and try to hug Morrissey. Four guards would patrol the stage to keep people from doing this.
  • The water bottle incident was mentioned. Patrons would be discouraged from bringing capped bottled into the theatre. However, as the ushers reasoned, this was a difficult rule to enforce, and damage could be done with an uncapped water bottle if thrown correctly. The head usher agreed, adding that slips from water spillage were more of a priority anyway.
  • Kristeen Young was the opening act. She would perform for the first thirty minutes. There would be a thirty minute intermission in which an anti-meat film would be screened (this did not actually happen: music videos – including those starring Nico, the New York Dolls, The Sparks, David Bowie and a couple of sixties/seventies European pop musicians – were instead shown during the break).
  •  Morrissey would come on stage at around nine and play until ten thirty, “but Kelsey, the devoted fan in our midst, would probably like to see him play until midnight." You guessed it, Ms. Manager!

The first hour was chaotic. People entered and exited at their will during the opening act, which meant that I had to guide rushes of people to their seats, in darkness, on the steep inclines of the balcony level. I also had to remind people to keep their tickets with them as they left for concessions.

Soon, the intermission ended, and the screen on which the aforementioned music videos were projected went dark. A disembodied voice had started reading from a list (was it a list of 20th century new events?) and a light show commenced. People were still trickling in. I was momentarily worried that I wouldn’t find a position from which to enjoy the show before it started, but the announcer's bizarre list droned on. Thankfully, with the trickle quickly slowing, I took my place, and as I rested on a post between two emergency doors, Morrissey and his band emerged from stage left. Even that far up, I recognized him: the stage lights caught the contours of his face.

My job during the show was reduced to shining my flashlight at the floor, helping patrons see whenever they ascended/descended the stairs. That, in addition to keeping an eye out for the special instructions of floor managers (which I did by glancing over my shoulder every few minutes), I was able to enjoy the performance.

Morrissey began the show with “Action is My Middle Name,” a newer song that he's been performing a lot lately. He followed with “Everyday is Like Sunday,” which resonated through my bones like a religious affirmation. I shouted the lyrics along with my comrades in the audience in spite of myself. I was only singing.

At first, I tried to keep a mental playlist, but my memory has not held up. Instead, I’ll run through some highlights:

  • “How Soon is Now?” finished with killer drumming from a most splendid drum set.
  • There was one apparel casualty: a pink shirt was sacrificed following a magical performance of “Let Me Kiss You.” Morrissey tore it off and threw it to the ravenously crowd. Three shirts were worn overall.
  • I regard Vauxhall and I as a flawless album – his best solo work, even if Viva Hate has personal significance to  me – and so I was thrilled by his stunning performance of “Speedway.”
  • In between songs, Morrissey brought out a sealed envelope. "...And 'the best musician award' goes to..." This was how he introduced his band: "Boz Boorer on guitar..." etc.  "...And the winner is," said the singer, opening the envelope to the sound of the audience chanting his name, "Taylor Swift?" He flicked the envelope into the audience. Trash.
  • During “November Spawned a Monster,” the first person to successfully jump up on stage embraced Morrissey at the lyric when the Mozzer requested to be hugged. I found this incredibly touching (much more so than the couple next to whom I was standing, who seem to have found romance in this song about a disabled child).
  • A female audience member was able to climb up on stage and hug Morrissey. I get the impression that this is rather rare. Usually the men do the hugging.
  • “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” was performed like a prayer, answered in the end.
  • The show finished with “Meat is Murder,” in which Morrissey gesticulated to graphic factory farm footage, asking “Do you care? Do you care? Do you care?” Some of the lines were changed, most memorably: "K. F. C. ...MURDER." The song concluded with Moz kneeling in front of the screen as the guitars shrieked like screaming knives.

At the end of "Meat is Murder," Morrissey bowed with his band members and left the stage. The audience and I applauded wildly until they agreed to perform an encore. He chose “Still Ill,” a favorite of mine. Here the audience went wild. Several who got on stage were thrown violently back into the crowd by the security guards, who were now lurking behind Morrissey like failed back-up dancers.

Then Morrissey and his band left the stage permanently, and no amount of applause would bring them back.

With our love-drenched feelings mutual, I enjoyed my interactions with Morrissey fans. Noting my status as an usher – an enforcer of theatre house rules – a bearded gent jovially grabbed my arm, albeit unexpectedly, and informed me that he wouldn't stop dancing even if I told him to do so. After all, this was a concert. Smiling, I told him that I wouldn’t stop him unless my superior said I should. He wasn’t in the aisle, so this wouldn't have been a problem.

After the show, a different fellow shook my hand, noting that he had seen me clearly enjoying myself in the corner. He expressed happiness that I did, being that there were probably several shows that I had to see and didn’t like (this isn’t really the case; my venue puts on amazing gigs). I awkwardly shook his hand for the second time and thanked him for his positive regard.

As the crowd emptied, a woman who had enjoyed the show asked me whether I knew much about Morrissey. I confessed my enthusiasm, which I hope paralleled her own.

I would have liked to talk to other patrons about Morrissey, but alas, I had to hop a subway and head back to the old house. A fellow usher was seated next to me on the subway. I found myself speaking loudly to her about the show (which wasn't her thing), hoping to catch the attention of a rather attractive concert attendee seated across from me. It didn't work. The said concert-goer had earphones in and alighted only a few stops down.

Regardless, after finally witnessing the splendor of Morrissey in concert, Now My Heart is Full.

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