A CHAT WITH MISS ROSEN ABOUT THE SMITHS

We had the opportunity to chat with culture writer, curator and publisher Sara Rosen about our current exhibition of vintage Smiths and Morrissey posters, I Started Something I Couldn't Finish.

Transcript below or click HERE

I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish

Posted on October 19, 2017

Invariably a day will come where I put “How Soon Is Now” and get into my feelings. The highs, the lows, the fighting the air blows, I’m absolutely consumed with a maudlin mania that overcomes and nestles me in its clasp. One time is never enough. Play it again, Sam.

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And – I’m not even a Smith’s fan. Coming up, I found them morose. But as time goes by, I can’t front. Where so many other bands faded away, The Smiths and Morrissey live on. In celebration, These Days, Los Angeles, presents, I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish: The Smiths & Morrissey Collection, now on view through October 22. The exhibition takes you back to the days when poster art was errythann.

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The exhibition features a selection of vintage, 40 x 60 inch duotone posters made between 1985 and 1995 originally displayed in the UK and around Europe in train stations and record stores (Remember those? I’m sayinn). From the start, lead singer and co-songwriter Morrissey ran the show when it came to the band’s artwork, working alongside Rough Trade art coordinator Jo Slee.

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At a time when everything was neon colors and punch pop graphics, Morrissey opted out and when vintage. Coming of age during the Pictures Generation, appropriation was de rigeur. Rather than take use of the band Morrissey chose images like Cecil Beaton’s famed photo of Truman Capote mid-jump, just as his career was taking off and the world was his oyster. It was evocative, if not provocative in part, a comment on popular culture and the spaces between high and low art. Stephen Zeigler of These Days shares his reflections on the power of the band here with us.

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What was the inspiration for the show?

Stephen Zeigler: To be honest it was quite unplanned and came about very happenstance.

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Do go on…

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Stephen Zeigler: A good friend of ours is a huge fan of both The Smiths and Morrissey. He is a compulsive collector of all sorts of band merchandise (not just Smiths/Moz) and came to a point where he needed to downsize some of his collections. When he told us he would be selling off the Smiths and Morrissey posters, we thought it would be a great opportunity for the rabid Los Angeles Smiths/Moz community to be able to view the collection in it’s entirety before it was pieced out.

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Everything is for sale and been selling quite well. We have had buyers from across the country purchase pieces. We even had an awesome couple drive over 400 miles from Oakland to see the exhibition and purchase a piece.

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The Smiths are the perfect definition of a cult band. How would you describe their appeal? 

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Stephen Zeigler: Wow, that’s such a tough question and something I have been thinking about a lot during the shows run. I don’t think it can really be stated definitively but I think that Morrissey’s lyrics are intensely personal and yet the melancholy, anger, and emotions are universal and can mean something different to everyone.

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I think for the average listener who grew up in the 1980s their music was always present and brings people back to certain points in their lives, and for the devoted super fans it’s deeply personal. I have spoken to visitors who tell me that Morrissey and The Smiths saved their lives, showed them another life besides gangbanging, or they were going through a rough time in their lives (even to the point of suicide) when they heard a song or lyric that showed them they weren’t alone in their emotions.

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I love how music has the power to reach people who are on the brink. I’m very intrigued by the fact they continue to be so popular now, as so few groups from that era have such a prominent presence in the culture today. Why is it about their work that makes their appeal transcend time?

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Stephen Zeigler: I think The Smiths are one of those unique bands, like The Clash, The Jam, The Specials, or Public Enemy who come from a specific era and time but are able to speak to an audience who may not have even been born yet when the band was together.

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Specifically to The Smiths it was really a perfect storm of Morrissey’s voice and lyrics and Johnny Marr’s innovative guitar playing.

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Morrissey said, the artwork needed to “take images that were the opposite of glamour and to pump enough heart and desire into them to show ordinariness as an instrument of power—or, possibly, glamour.” Could you expand on how these images do just this?

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Stephen Zeigler: The Smiths have always been sort of down played in their appearance. Coming from working class Manchester where pretentiousness can get you an ass beating, the band embraced the common, hence the name “The Smiths.” With the artwork, they took images from many common looking British elements and personalities and the act of repurposing them as record covers or blowing them up as huge stage backdrops, in itself gives the images an importance never before imagined.

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I’ve always loved the visuals they used for their campaigns. Could you speak of what the works have in common and how it defines their aesthetic?

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Stephen Zeigler: Morrissey selected still images from little known or remembered mid-century films and photos of authors and artists that influenced him. The images were then stripped down and taken out of their original context to become a visual poetry of their own.

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