. . .
Your prejudice won’t keep you warm tonight
Shortly after I bought “This Charming Man,” The Smiths put out their third single, “What Difference Does it Make?” which I once again procured from the import section at Tower Records, possibly helped by an employee who I only ever knew as “Steph.” That may or may not be true, but I do have a memory of her skipping down the aisles single along to this song, which is probably also false. Sorry, gang, but remember this was 1984, a very very very very long time ago.
Which is why it was a scandal that “What Difference Does it Make?” seemed to confirm the suspicions raised by “This Charming Man.” I.E., were The Smiths, you know . . . gay?
All men have secrets and here is mine
So let it be known
For we have been through hell and high tide
I can surely rely on you
And yet you start to recoil
Heavy words are so lightly thrown
But still I’d leap in front of a flying bullet for you
I know, I know. But the late 70’s/early 80’s in Fresno, California was a much different time and place, and I’d grown up in a culture where the only out gay people I knew as a teenager — guys at the claims adjustment company my dad owned (and where I’d worked as a computer keypunch operator since 1978) — were basically made fun of and shunned by the young male accountants in the “cool” part of the building. And of course all of the usual slurs and pejoratives had been used, as well as the “ha ha, you’re gay” “no, you are” shit, which eventually got shortened to people just leaving a piece of paper with “UR” on other people’s desks. Sigh.
So, what difference does it make? (Oooooh)
What difference does it make? (Oooooh)
It makes none
But now you have gone
And your prejudice won’t keep you warm tonight
But at some point in the early 80s — long before I heard The Smiths — I realized something: I really didn’t give a shit about other people’s sexuality. As long as it’s consensual and nobody gets hurt, whatever gets you through your life, you know? Also: binaries are for computers; people are much more fluid. So whether or not The Smiths (and at that early date, it was “The Smiths,” not “Morrissey”) (though it soon was all about Morrissey, because of course it was) were gay or straight wasn’t relevant to me. I loved the music; I loved the melodies, and yeah, I loved the stories being told.
That’s just me, though. If you’re an LGBTQ person, and what Morrissey was singing about made you feel better or helped you come out, then that’s far more important that whatever he was in real life. Which outside of the celibacy/asexual things he constantly talked about in 80s interviews, has never been defined.
Anyways, more relevant to me at the time than what Morrissey was singing was that fucking Johnny Marr guitar line that seesawed back and forth, almost teetering into blues-rock territory — especially with Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke playing a modified shuffle underneath — as Morrissey just goes on and on, barely taking a breath in between the verses and choruses. This gives “What Difference Does It Make?” a weird urgency, like Morrissey is processing his rejection in real time, and if he stopped, the weight of it all would crush him.
Oh, the devil will find work for idle hands to do
I stole, and then I lied
Just because you asked me to
But now you know the truth about me
You won’t see me anymore
Well, I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh
But no more apologies
No more, no more apologies
Oh, I’m too tired
I’m so sick and tired
And I’m feeling very sick and ill today
But I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh
At the end, it actually does start crushing him, as he screams “ooooh-oh, oooh-oh, ooooh-oh” over and over in a sad, strangled falsetto, finally giving away so that Johnny Marr can throw some slide guitar over the seewsawing riff until the song ends.
“What Difference Does it Make?” — which was almost instantly disavowed by Morrissey, disappearing from their set lists within a year — was The Smiths first big hit in the U.K., making it all the way to #12, and topping the U.K. indie charts.
There was also a kerfluffle involving its cover star, Terrence Stamp (kneel before Zod!), whose permission they’d fail to secure prior to putting a picture of him holding a chloroform pad from the 1965 film The Collector on the cover of the single. Stamp initially objected, so they swapped out a parody photo of Morrissey holding a glass of milk, which is fucking hilarious, and the first overt taste of Morrissey’s sense of humour.
(It kinda reminds me of what happened over a decade ago when I used a great picture of Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson onstage in the U.K. in 1966 I’d found online to adorn a Medialoper post called “That’s What I Like: Bob Dylan“, and the guy who took the photograph sent us a cease-and-desist letter. In response, Kirk drew a version of the photograph and replaced the it with his drawing, where it’s sat ever since. Thinking about it, I’m not surprised that his response was close to Morrissey’s response in the same situation.)
Eventually, though, Terrence Stamp relented, and allowed his likeness to be used, turning the Morrissey version into a collector’s item. I remember seeing it somewhere and wondering what the hell it was about, though I didn’t buy it.
The bottom line for me, though, was that “What Difference Does it Make?” was another killer song, and I couldn’t wait for what their imminent debut album was going to be.
“What Difference Does It Make?” Official Music Video
“What Difference Does It Make?” Live on Rockpalast, 1984
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