When last I interviewed Johnny Marr, I closed with the question “I have one more question written down here, what’s the answer to it?” He knew exactly what I meant. Barely has an editorial brief for a Morrissey or Marr interview been written in the past twenty-odd years that hasn’t included a sly enquiry into whether The Smiths are reforming in the near future, just in case one of them goes “oh yeah, I knew there was something I forgot to mention, we didn’t want to make a big statement about it, we thought we’d pop the news out there at the end of a Soundtrack Of My Life interview…”
Outside of Miley Cyrus’ desperate and tireless work on developing a self-removing leotard, a Smiths reunion has become the most ardently craved concept in music – every tiny hint or suggestion that it might be on is leapt on by legions of ever-hopeful fans with one glaring entry on their bucket lists left agonisingly un-ticked. Morrissey could wink at a vicar in a cemetery in Luxembourg and the rock world would take it as a clue to a secret Marr reunion, so the registering of a Smiths Twitter account by Warner Music last night was certainly enough to make the entire internet hold its breath.
Does it mean The Smiths are reforming? As usual, signs aren’t good. “Please note this account is purely to celebrate the history and the music of The Smiths,” read its first Tweet. Sounds like a firm no, right? But Warners themselves aren’t being quite so absolute: “no comment”, they state on our enquiry as to whether the Twitter development might mean news of a reunion to come. Which doesn’t rule anything out and isn’t the decisive denial you’d expect from a company merely starting a Twitter feed to keep people up to date on reissues, repackages and more repackages. So is there still hope?
We’ve been strung along by this Walking Dead cliffhanger of a story plenty of times before. Morrissey has always been steadfast in denying any and all possibility, repeatedly restating his disdain for Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke and going as far as to say “I would rather eat my own testicles than reform The Smiths, and that’s saying something for a vegetarian.” His thinking? “I feel as if I’ve worked very hard since the demise of The Smiths and the others haven’t,” he explained in 2006, “so why hand them attention that they haven’t earned? We are not friends, we don’t see each other. Why on earth would we be on a stage together?” He revealed that he’d turned down one offer of $5 million for The Smiths to play at Coachella because “money doesn’t come into it. It was a fantastic journey. And then it ended. I didn’t feel we should have ended. I wanted to continue. [Marr] wanted to end it. And that was that.”. In 2009 said “People always ask me about reunions and I can’t imagine why … the past seems like a distant place, and I’m pleased with that.”
The rumoured numbers got bigger and bigger. In 2007 a story circulated – later deemed a “hoax” – that Moz and Marr had been offered £40 million for a fifty-date joint tour; in 2009 Johnny confirmed they had been offered $50 million to play “three… possibly five shows”. Though that too was declined, it’s been Johnny’s recent tendency to never say never that has led to most of the irregular reunion chatter. “Stranger things have happened so, you know, who knows?” he told 5 Live in 2007. “It’s no biggy. Maybe we will in 10 or 15 years’ time when we all need to for whatever reasons.”
You feel their pain – reunion culture has become so prevalent at the top end of both chart and festival bill that The Smiths are condemned to an eternity of conjecture. Virtually every band we’d ever want to reform, and a truckload we didn’t, has done so (this week, Belly! Lush! Marion!), so it still seems like a matter of when, not if, for the 80s’ miserablist maestros. Though Marr is deep into his new solo career and Morrissey has claimed he’s played his last ever UK show, they might well be thinking that they may as well take the money and get it over with. You say it’s gonna happen now? Well when exactly do you mean?