It’s notoriously difficult to discuss The Smiths without getting personal. And I’m not just talking about myself. This is not a band that people casually enjoy – it’s a band you have relationship with. Smiths’ fans know better than anyone that being understood is a short step away from being loved, which accounts for much of the passion surrounding the band to this day, 25 years after they broke up. It also helps that they’re responsible for the the best non-GNR music of the 80s.

The Smiths grasped the power of a good paradox – to wit, the life and persona of their lead singer/amateur deity Morrissey. I implore you, if you can, to look beyond the Oscar-Wilde-in-a-pompadour schtick, the militant vegetarianism, the alleged asexuality, the misplaced racial sentiments (it’s admittedly not always easy). The appeal has nothing to do with aesthetics or politics. Morrissey is loved because he is unloved. He is envied because he is envious, praised for his self-pity. It’s intoxicating, a little silly, but glorious. 50,000,000 Japanese girls and Mexican boys can’t be wrong.

Perhaps no song captures his gifts for skirting the line between loneliness and misanthropy better than “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” In reference to its opening verse, Morrissey once explained, “When I had no job I could pinpoint my depression, but when I did get a job, I was still depressed.” He has enough self-knowledge to know that our real problems are rarely circumstantial (Mark 7). Theologically speaking, we might say that works of the Law are a bottomless pit when it comes to genuine self-fulfillment. Then there’s the ueber-honest, Romans 7-like I-should-but-I-can’t dynamic that’s so pronounced in his repertoire. Why do I spend valuable time with people that I’d much rather kick in the eye? Why indeed. Morrissey is his own worst enemy, or, rather, the only person he despises more than himself is everyone else, the “lovers entwined” being just one more walking condemnation.

There’s much more to say on the subject, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the tune. Before we get to it though, bear in mind that a key aspect of The Smiths’/guitarist Johnny Marr’s brilliance lay in their ability to illustrate the (often) stark divide between our exterior and interior lives by setting Morrissey’s melancholy lyrics to bright, upbeat melodies. It’s an ingenious move, one that many have cribbed but few have pulled off. There may be no happy endings in Morrissey’s world – pending a savior, that is – but don’t we all feel a little less miserable, basking in his misery?

I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows I’m miserable now
I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

In my life why do I give valuable time
To people who don’t care if I live or die?

Two lovers entwined pass me by
And heaven knows I’m miserable now
I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

In my life why do I give valuable time
To people who don’t care if I live or die?

What she asked of me at the end of the day
Caligula would have blushed
“You’ve been in the house too long” she said
And I (naturally) fled

In my life why do I smile
At people who I’d much rather kick in the eye?

p.s. In the Top of the Pops video, those are gladioli in Morrissey’s back pocket. It was his protest over having to lip-sync. Classic!