“We look to Los Angeles
For the language we use
London is dead, London is dead…”
I never really listened to a lot of Morrissey, thinking about it. I mean, I had a bit of a Smiths phase at university and I put ‘Last of the International Playboys‘ on the mixtape for a stag do once — that’s about it.
Then Ziba Zehdar-Gazdecki, a cool librarian from Los Angeles, shared photos from a book event on social media.
Mozlandia? I had to find out more.
I picked up Mel Hidalgo’s book about ‘Moz Angeles’ – the Morrissey fandom which exists in the US-Mexico borderlands.
Mozlandia’s author writes from within this scene, exploring karaoke nights, tribute bands, a Morrissey-themed radio show and other phenomena arising from this fandom.
This marks her book out from accounts which render LA Morrissey fandoms as something exotic, those other writers skewered by Hidalgo as “thinking of themselves as a mix of Freud, Cortés, and Lester Bangs”:
Even the Times of London ran its own article under the headline, ‘Heaven Knows He’s Mexican Now.’ […] The world wants to know, tiresome as it is, Why do Mexicans love Morrissey so much? (Funny how no one asks about why Morrissey wants to be Mexican.)
Hidalgo sensitively explores what happens when fans’ love for music crosses cultures and borders, and how the alternative communities and identities of fandom interweave with the experiences of people living in the US-Mexican borderlands.
(Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, which remains a defining work on these areas, was first issued in 1987 – the same year the Smiths split up…)
So after picking up Mozlandia, I started listening to the Morrissey tribute band Mexrrissey, hearing songs I probably “should” have known if Teenage Matt had taken his 90s music listening more seriously back in England.
‘Last of the International Playboys’ felt different from those stag do days when I heard Ceci Bastida singing the gender-flipped ‘International Playgirl‘; and I heard Bastida sing ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ in Spanish before I ever heard the English original.
(I’ve got to say, I even prefer the lyrics in translation: En este pueblo playero que olvidaron bombardear…).
But what I really gained from listening to Mexrrissey, and reading Hidalgo’s words, was the beginnings of an understanding of the ‘long fetch’.
The ‘long fetch of history’ is a term coined by the American Studies scholar George Lipsitz. He sees pop music as a repository for collective memory, surfing on the ocean of history: fetch is a term borrowed from geography and meteorology, usually defined as the distance between a wave’s point of origin and its point of arrival.
By seeing history as an ocean, objects like Morrissey’s songs become waves: phenomena which rise and fall quite suddenly before our eyes, even though their journey began some thousands of miles away.
Just as a sudden breaking wave has a distant, hidden origin, the “Latino Morrissey thing” can be reframed as the outcome of long-building historical movements. Radio shows on LA’s KROQ, tribute bands preserving or reimagining their fallen idols in more or less faithful live performance, even a chap who writes anagrams of Morrissey song titles when he makes requests to his favourite DJ: they all serve to maintain the wave’s energy as it travels the globe, its energies transforming us and being transformed in turn.
If pop music moves across the world like a wave, consider this the swash: a little layer of turbulence which, breaking on the shore, sends ideas spinning off in new directions. I’m English and living in Australia; Mozlandia breaks on my shores courtesy of Ziba’s Twitter feed; I hear a Morrissey song for the first time in a version sung by a Mexican performer and start to explore the back catalogue of the Quiffed One himself.
At the end of this coming week I’ll take to the stage at the New Zealand library conference LIANZA, then the Music Librarians’ conference in Canberra the week after that.
I’ll send both audiences – and you! – to read Mel Hidalgo’s book, to learn from its wise and clear-eyed takes on identity, love of music, art crossing cultures, and even the meaning of karaoke.
Maybe, reading Mozlandia, listening carefully to the fan-scholar Hidalgo, institutions could learn from these phenomena, these preservations and transformations of culture past and present, motivated more by love than profit or duty.
Perhaps we could start trying to make fetch happen?
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