Dave Carlock: I made the ‘Pope of Mope’ laugh

Published 7:41 am Friday, August 23, 2013

My daughter thinks I hate The Smiths. But that really isn’t true. I USED to hate The Smiths, but time changes us all, no?
When I first heard The Smiths, I was into big rock music, big dance music, jazz, pop ballads — ANYTHING that was powerful in sound or emotional in delivery. This was the absolute counterpoint to the tracks I’d heard by The Smiths.
“Ask” was the song that pushed my pop sensibilities over the edge one day. At the time, its melody struck me as utterly sing-songy. The music was easy going, almost easy listening. Its lyric: “Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life that you’d like to”, was just too much to bear when delivered in Morrissey’s alternative, crooning baritone of governed emotion. The first verse was even sung fairly sharp.
Nothing about the sound was strong, compelling, driving or particularly inspiring to me. The poetry of Morrissey’s lyrics didn’t even appeal to me at the time; and in the way I took in music, the lyrics were last on the list. There were so many elements I didn’t connect with before I got to the lyrics, I wasn’t even interested in the words.
I never was a great fan of poetry as song lyrics anyway. The Doors come to mind, but when they did it, at least it was epic in scope and sonic. Jim Morrison had a power and intensity in his voice that delivered the poetry. The guitars and drums were powerful, the VOX Continental was entrancing. But what were The Smiths? Alt-pop LITE! Music for the shy? I wasn’t shy.
But that was a long time ago. This week I found a Tumblr page that combined Peanuts comic strips with lyrics from Smiths or Morrissey solo tunes. Very funny. Drawing parallels between Morrissey and Charlie Brown’s melancholy is the best thing that’s happened to reenergize new interest in the songs in quite a while. The cartoon stirred in just the right amount of smile to the music’s gloom, captured my imagination, and made me listen again.
Today, “Ask” sounds more interesting to me, starting at about the halfway point when the harmonica chord begins pulsing 1/8 notes. This rhythmic pulse seems to be a reprise of the guitar hook in “How Soon Is Now,” perhaps the most well known Smiths track, from two years previous.
And then, somewhere in time between my ancient history as a young Smiths hater and my current, highly mature self, I had a chance to meet and hang with Morrissey. It all happened at Conway Studios in LA, a beautiful, multiple suite studio complex where each control room’s large bay window looks out into an exquisite, tropically landscaped courtyard. I was there tracking basics for the Transplants’ 2nd record, “Haunted Cities.” In the next studio over, the late producer Jerry Finn was tracking Morrissey and his band for “Who Put The M In Manchester.” Just after dark, Morrissey and Jerry were taking a break standing outside the studio’s bay window so Travis Barker, Tim Armstrong and I went over to visit with them.
Jerry was well-known to be a “gearslut” and when he made a record, his tech showed up a day or two early to move into the studio, literally, with a big moving truck full of 40 or so electric guitars, 20 or so acoustics, 15 or so basses, and maybe 20 guitar amps or heads of all makes and models. Once it was ready to go, a band member could take their pick of an ax and plug into any classic amp imaginable when it was time for a guitar track.
As light poured out of the control room, Morrissey’s guitarist and musical director Boz Boorer was seated near the window in plain sight running some scales up the neck prepping for a guitar take. He was playing one of Jerry’s multitude of guitars while gazing up into the corner of the room, watching TV as he worked his hands out.
While we chatted and watched Boz, Jerry nodded toward Boz’ flying hands and asked me, “so what do you think of my new toy I just got from eBay?” I deadpanned: “Well he looks fit, but does he usually watch so much television when he works?”
As the rest of the guys started laughing, I looked over at Morrissey and the most amazing thing happened. Morrissey seemed for a split second, determined to not laugh as he tightened his lips shut.
And then, like two caterpillars walking, his lips did a quivering dance and he lost control — bursting out into raucous laughter with the rest of us.
It took a while for it to dawn on me what I’d done I had actually made The Pope Of Mope laugh with heart, despite his best defenses. The more I thought about it, the more significant it seemed and to this day, I count it as one of my proudest accomplishments.
And once I’d had that honest and spontaneous connection with Morrissey, how could I continue to hate the Smiths, really? And there’s a chance he just might die with a smile on his face after all…


©2013 27 Sounds, Inc.
Dave Carlock is a 26-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District. www.davecarlock.com