#697: 1983, The Smiths, Handsome Devil

by George_East on May 26, 2013

I was a little conflicted about what to post as my song today, as I spent yesterday at Field Day Festival in Victoria Park with Ray, Jackie, Bobby and some others.  It was a great day and a lot of stuff we heard is still very much playing in my head.   However, in his last post Charlie called a theme week and we’ve not had one for a while.  More importantly the theme week marks both the landmark passage through the House of Commons of the Same Sex Marriage Bill and the idiocy and bigotry of some of the opposition to it.

So, I will probably return to some Field Day related postings over the next few weeks (though there are a lot of other gigs over the same period) but for now I turn to song 2 in our gay theme week dedicated to the idiot and bigot, Sir Gerald ‘#aggressivehomosexualcommunity’ Howarth, Tory MP for the 1950s.

Morrissey was a figure of ambiguous sexuality in the early 1980s.  Famously telling the NME in an interview that he was celibate.   This was, of course, the era of Elton John getting married to a woman and Boy George saying he preferred a cup of tea to sex and even Freddie Mercury denying he was gay.  The number of openly out artists in the music business in the early 1980s was vanishingly small.  Tom Robinson, of course, but precious few others.

A listen though to many of The Smiths’ lyrics told a different tale to the one Morrissey put across in interviews.   I may have been a little too young to fully understand what was going on at the time, particularly given the literary and allusive lyrical forms that Morrissey employed.    But Handsome Devil (like This Charming Man) was, even then, a song that wore its gayness on its sleeve (even if you need to see past the ‘mammary glands’ line.   It is full of adolescent fear and longing.

A boy in the bush

Is worth two in the hand

I think I can help you get through your exams

Oh you handsome devil


And when we’re in your scholarly room

Who will swallow whom

There is a further still reason for posting this particular song.  It was the B-side to The Smiths’ first single Hand In Glove, which, scarily, came out 30 years ago this month.

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