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The Legacy of Urban Renewal Helped Make Morrissey Sad

Morrissey has a new autobiography out in the U.K., but U.S. fans who are still waiting to learn when it will be released here can tide themselves over with this great 1985 interview we recently stumbled across. In it, the singer offers a tour of his native Manchester, and, we think, reveals at least one place-based source of his famed mopey sadness: the legacy of urban renewal. 

Morrissey begins the tour at the housing projects that replaced Queen's Square, the working class neighborhood where he and his family lived when he was growing up. Neighborhoods like these around Manchester were being demolished in the name of urban renewal at the time, Queen's Square just one of many targets.

"In a way it was like having one's childhood wiped away," Morrissey says in the video. "In Queen's Square, my grandmother occupied the fourth house. We occupied the fifth house. And the sixth house was occupied by my mother's sister and her family. So it was a very strong community and it was very tight. Very solid. And it was also quite happy."

"Well there's nothing at Queen's Square now. As you can see, everything has just vanished," the singer continues. "It's just like the whole thing has been completely erased from the face of the earth. I feel great anger. I feel massive sadness. It's like a complete loss of childhood. Because although I've always lived in Manchester, and I've always lived relatively close to here, to this part of Manchester, now, when I pass through here or even being here today, it's just so foreign to me. And that's quite sad, I think."

Morrissey then arrives at the site of his primary school, a place "full of character" only to be demolished around the same time as his childhood home. Then, he arrives at his secondary school, which he describes as "very sadistic, very barbaric" (although the experience likely gave us songs like "The Headmaster Ritual"). 

The singer goes on to explain how his many long walks around the neighborhood of his teenage years helped turn him into such a wordsmith:

"The only way that I could find any mental relaxation was to simply go out and walk. And to walk around these streets, which can seem quite depressing to most people and seem quite laughably simplistic but for me it was perfect fuel because then I would go home and write furiously and I found that for me it was a brilliant outlet. It was the thing that helped but also you had to have a grain of hope, which is a very difficult thing to have."

Despite these traumas, the 1985 version of Morrissey was still quite devoted to his hometown. Manchester had become one of the most important cities in the world for new music and his band was a big part of that. Despite The Smiths' international success, he couldn't bring himself to leave.

The Smiths broke up two years later, with Morrissey then pursuing a solo career and moving to Los Angeles before eventually calling more than a few cities home. No matter where he chooses to live, he'll always have Manchester to thank for supplying the angst that made him into the pop star he remains today.

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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