Morrissey serenading his audience FLICKR/ MELISSA GODOY,

It’s Lent. If one sought an antidote to the wave of new-term optimism, they need look no further than the miserabilists in chief, The Smiths. Coincidentally, a Smiths tribute band is set to play at MASH (of all places) at the end of term.

This May will mark 40 years since The Smiths’ debut single, “Hand in Glove”, first thumped to life with melodic vulgarity. “Woe is me!”, Morrissey crooned with tongue firmly in cheek, lamenting the impending loss of his illusory sweetheart; “I know my luck too well/ And I’ll probably never see you again”. Composed impromptu on a “crappy old acoustic guitar” while Stretford-bound on the M56, the riff dovetails elegantly with Morrissey’s trill. A body-blow of “complete loneliness”, according to the frontman, “Hand in Glove” is as intoxicating now as it was back in ’83.

“Praise of the song is not praise of the songwriter”

Other tracks like “Rubber Ring” and “How Soon Is Now?” warn against romanticising the future: a chronic folly of the average Cambridge student. To live in the now, after all, is to face the spectre of the week one essay. The latter’s title seems to tease the would-be Lent term resolution maker: how soon will that Varsity article be written, or that May Ball committee joined? When you say “it’s gonna happen now”, when exactly do you mean?

As is now tradition, I must state that I regret what he has become, lest my name be forever preserved in print as a vassal of House Morrissey. Praise of the song is not praise of the songwriter. “The world won’t listen,” Morrissey cried,“For once in my life/Let me get what I want”; yet, as Oscar Wilde once noted, getting what one wants is an utter tragedy. The spokesman of the bedroom-bound, Thatcher-bashing teenager became a standard-bearer of the English right. Controversy-monger that he is, Morrissey never knew when to shut up. As drummer Mike Joyce recalled from a December 1983 performance of “Barbarism Begins at Home”, Morrissey just went “fuckin’ on and on”.


Mountain View

The 1975 at the Brighton Centre

The Smiths are as much beholden to Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke as they are to the quiff. One can’t imagine their most celebrated single, “This Charming Man”, without the twang of Rourke’s blues scales or the crackle of Marr’s Rickenbacker riff. It was this pair, after all, that thrust the cassette containing “Hand in Glove” brass-necked into the arms of Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis on Friday 4th March, 1983.

Long-term planning is a sort of blindfold, as their 1983 single “Accept Yourself” reminds us; “carpe diem” might as well be the song’s title. It’s a perfect foil for the rest of The Smiths’ self-piteous discography. Perhaps at odds with received perception, the track is upheld by Morrissey as the band’s “fundamental request” to listeners: “simply accept yourself, be yourself, relax, don’t worry about anything”: a valuable lesson, perhaps, for the term to come.