Saturday, September 30, 2023

Text And Subtext - An Adventure With Morrissey And The Smiths

Yesterday, I was somewhat surprised to find I didn't have enough new music bookmarked to fill a post. It's certainly not that I haven't been listening to plenty. It just looks as though I haven't been keeping a note of what it was.

When that happens it's usually either because I've been listening to familiar artists doing what they do, something I enjoy but don't necessarily find worth sharing, or because the new stuff I've discovered sounded good to hear once but not so good I wanted to call attention to it. That happens a lot.

Still, I wanted to do something musical on a Saturday. It always seems like the day for it. Luckily for me, late last night something really quite peculiar popped up in my feeds. 

To save everyone the trouble of following the link, it goes to a piece at NME entitled

"‘The Smiths Are Dead’ is a new Commodore 64 game about Morrissey". 

What the hell?! So much to unpack there.

Firstly, it's a text adventure. Apparently people still write those. I guess if you're going to revisit the 'eighties it's on point. Do people still play them, though? I mean, I loved a good tesxt adventure back in the day but I can't make myself enjoy them now.

Secondly, it's for the Commodore 64. That's still around? Well, yes, apparently. When I started reading the article I assumed it would be some kind of emulator project. Then I got to the part that said "While it is currently out of stock on the Amiga Store, fans should sign up for email notifications for when it is available again."

Unless you're Square Enix, you can't run out of stock of a digital product. And the Amiga Store (It exists.) hasn't. They've run out of cartridges. The Smiths Are Dead is (Or I guess I should say was and probably will be again, some day.) available in physical format. Specifically, cartridge. Go figure.

I do not intend to turn this into an investigation of why anyone would a) want to develop software for the Commodore 64 in 2023 or b) issue said software in a physical format that - to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge - the original C64 discontinued in favor of tape and disk the first chance it got. 

At this juncture I ought to say I never liked the Commodore 64 and never owned one. I preferred first the ZX Spectrum and later the Amiga 500. I actually still have an Amiga. It's fully functioning as far as I know, or at least it was the last time I used it, which would have been some time in the early 'nineties. Very, very occasionaly I toy with the idea of getting it out and looking at it but somehow I find the urge very easy to resist. As for using it... let's get real.

Never underestimate the draw of the nostalgia market, though. And I guess if you're going to tap that, it makes sense to double down. A Venn Diagram of the Smiths, home computing, the 1980s and adolescent angst would look like one big, filled-in circle, after all.

Anyway, like it or not, "The Smiths Are Dead" text adventure for the Commodore 64 is a thing that exists. It's set right at the point when the band has just split up (Hence the title, which also plays on the Smiths' album "The Queen Is Dead", as absolutely no-one reading this needed to be told, I'm sure.) and the game takes Morrissey's perspective as he prepares to record his first solo album. The cast features a list of characters well-known to anyone familiar with the British music scene of the time:

• Steven Patrick Morrissey 'Moz' is the ex-singer of The Smiths and the character we will take during the adventure.
Gail Colson is my manager and the person who should help us redirect our career after the breakup of the group.
Geoff Travis is the owner of the Rough Trade record label, which published the music of The Smiths.
Stephen Street is a producer and a very prolific and valued musician in the English indie scene.
Vinny Reilly is the ideologue of Durutti Column and a genius with the guitar.
Andrew Paressi is a multi-functional artist who accompanied Morrissey at the start of Morrissey's solo career.

If you want to know more, I guess you'll just have to play the game. Always assuming you have a Commodore 64. With a cartridge port. And that the game ever comes back into stock. (Oh, alright. It is available as a digital download from as well. You can play it using an emulator. I might even do just that, one day.)

In the meantime, why not let's have some Smiths numbers? Everyone loves the Smiths, right? Just like everyone hates Morrissey, now. 

Only, we've all heard the songs so many times. Do we really need to hear them again? So let's have some covers of Smiths' songs! And heaven knows there are plenty to choose from. There can scarcely be any eighties' songwriters more covered than Morrissy and Marr.

Unfortunately, an awful lot of the covers sound an awful lot like the originals, something I've never really seen the point in. Covers ought to sound as unlike the originals as it's possible to get without not sounding like them at all. 

Also, just because there are so many and because I've decided to do this on the spur of the moment rather than work up to it over a number of weeks, I just don't have the time to sift through the thousands of faithful, respectful versions of This Charming Man and How Soon Is Now? on YouTube in search of something interesting, irreverent or original.

Luckily for me, plenty of people have done that already, so all I needed to do was leech off their hard work. At least, that gave me somewhere to start. From there, I relied on YouTube's recommend algorithm to throw up a few more that hadn't been included in every Best Smiths Covers list ever.

I've favored covers that have videos, but some of the best ones don't have any moving pictures, unfortunately, so I've had to accept a few static images as well. Also, since the game starts when the Smiths stop, I'm throwing in a few Morrissey solo numbers, god forgive me.

Enough preamble. Let's jangle!

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side - Holden

OMG! This is gorgeous! And double points for naming the band after a Salinger character then covering a Smiths' song. Talk about teenage alienation!  

Holden are a French duo. I'd never heard of them. It scares me how many great bands I've never heard of. It scares me even more how many I'll never hear at all.

How Soon Is Now? t.A.T.u

The oft-maligned, frequently misunderstood, always inspirational t.A.T.u, who I've loved ever since a blowhard I couldn't stand stormed out of a Yahoo Group I was in just because someone (Not me, sadly.) had the temerity to say they liked All The Things She Said when it first came out. Until then I didn't have any strong feelings one way or the other but I figured if he thought they were some kind of threat to the natural order, they had to be a force for good.

I really love the way Julia breaks the lines in strange places, like between "the" and "heir". It's typical of the idiosyncratic way the two of them phrase. They may not be the strongest singers but they're wonderful with a lyric. True storytellers, both of them.

This Charming Man - Stars

Here in a forceful, if louche, live rendition, opening with a heartfelt plea by frontman Torquil Campbell in which he exhorts everyone to go out and start a band withtheir friends so they'll never lose touch with each other.

I did that. Didn't work. Haven't seen any of them for decades. Just sayin', Torquil.

Girlfriend In A Coma - Mojo Nixon

I could have sworn I'd featured this one before but search says not. I seem to remember a conversation with Wilhelm about Mojo Nixon in the comments. Maybe it was at TAGN

I recommend watching this all the way through. The second half is the best part.

Ask - The Roberts Family

See? Not everyone's a cynic! Recorded during lockdown, apparently, although it looks like they're outside a beach hut. I hope you like the song because we're getting it again in a minute.

Let Me Kiss You - Nancy Sinatra feat. Morrissey

It's not like I was going to let this pass once I knew it existed. Nancy sounds sublime as always and the arrangement is gloriously crazy. Morrissey looks exceptionally sinister in that picture, though, doesn't he? Even by his terrifying standards, which is saying something.

Cada Dia Es Domingo (Everyday Is Like Sunday) - Mexrrissey

Again, I was almost certain I'd used this before but no. It's not even in my archive. I must just have watched it and moved on. Morrissey, of course, is famously Big In Mexico. So is Lana del Rey so I guess it balances out.

You're The One For Me, Fatty - planetbumi

I'm not sure how big Morrissey is in Indonesia these days but there's one hell of an indie scene in Jakarta that seems open to anything remotely redolent of the 'eighties and 'nineties so I guess he's doing okay. I always thought this was one of Moz's more overtly comic numbers, although it needs constantly to be stressed that almost all Morrissey lyrics are inherently amusing, usually intentionally so. 

It also can't be repeated often enough that the Smiths are actually a mosher's delight. All that angsty bedroom misery goes straight out the window once you hear these tunes played in a club. I never saw the Smiths but I did see Smiths tribute band These Charming Men once and believe me, it was exhausting! Pretty much like what you see above, really.

Just a couple more and then we'll wrap it up, I think. The longer I go on doing this, the more curious and exotic covers I'm finding. We could be here all day if I don't exert some self-discipline; something no-one ever accused Morrissey of doing.

Ask - Nina Shallman

I promised another version of Ask and here it is. Shimmering, I think, is the word. The dynamics on this are superb but where does that xylophone-style keyboard motif come from? It's not in the original, unless it's meant to be the guitar part. Sounds more like Peter Sarstedt's Frozen Orange Juice to me. 

Don't you just love the way she smiles so happily all the way through "It's the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb that will bring us together"? And yes, there are seven bombs. I counted.

The Light 3000 - Schneider TM

There Is A light That Never Goes Out is probably a lot of people's favorite Smiths song. It's hard to replicate the initial impact of the first hearing, when it kind of rips your soul out. Even harder in a cover, which is why this glitched, bleached-out rewrite works so well. Go elsewhere, get to the same place.

This Night Has Opened My Eyes - WDRL

I was checking to see if Juice WRLD had ever covered a Smiths song, because it seemed like something he might have done (He hasn't. Didn't. Sad.) when I found this instead. Actually, that's not quite how it happened but I wish it was.

While I'm wishing, I wish I'd been the one to leave the comment on YouTube that says "This song makes me feel like I’m driving home late at night after dumping a body in a lake." Not that I've ever done anything like that...

C'mon! Now you're wondering, right?

Okay, I know I said two more but let's make it the round dozen. I mean, Morrissey would want imperial measures, I'm sure.

Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others - Lilly Hates Roses

They're Polish. According to the text as translated by Google "Lilly Hates Roses, taking on the work of the British, pass well-known songs through the filter of their own sensitivity and already developed style. The result is unique arrangements in which The Smiths' music takes on an even deeper expression."

I don't know about all that but I like it.

And finally. We really couldn't do all of this without Rick Astley and Blossoms, could we? Their joyful reappropriation of the Smiths back catalog in recent times has gone a long way towards making it feel comfortable to listen to some of these songs again. I'm sure all Smiths' fans who've been having issues with Morrissey never shutting the fuck up would like to thank them.

Which song to choose, though? Oh, alright...

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now - Rick Astley and Blossoms

It always was a bit of a plodder if we're honest but it's still a crowd-pleaser anyway. Not the finest sound quality but feel that crowd reaction.

And with that we're done. Until next time.


  1. I may not be qualified to answer the rest of that, but... do people still play text adventures?
    Leaving aside that Penny Larceny should be on sale right now, absolutely we do. I for one am waiting 'til tomorrow's opening of "IFComp", the interactive fiction competition for text adventures, TWINE-based games, etc. It's been running since 1995 and every year lately they're like "somehow, it was our biggest year with the most entries yet"...

    1. I was being a little arch for comedic effect! I know there are still plenty of text adventures around, just like there are plenty of text MUDs and the like. I have occasionally tried to revive my interest in the form, which I loved in the eighties, but I just can't manage it. In comparison with all the much more visual and intuitive adaptions that have appeared in the last thirty years, pure text parsing in the 21st century seems less like a specialised form with its own intrinsic value than an unecessarily limited and restrictive reduction of a much richer experience. I do mean pure text with a parser, though, not interactive fiction in its myriad forms.

      Penny Larceny is on sale - with a massive 10% off! Why even bother? Maybe Steam agrees because even though I wishlisted it I didn't get the usual email to tell me it was on sale. I wouldn't call Penny Larceny a text adventure anyway. A text adventure in my book has to require that you type in "Go West", "Pick up key", "Open door" and so on. Even a menu of options you can click to achieve the same end on kind of moves it into another category, I'd say. Penny Larceny is a graphic novel, isn't it? Steam says it is, anyway and it felt like one when I played the demo.

    2. Honestly at this point, a "visual novel" is a text adventure to me. So are most graphical games with a text-navigation interface. So... well, it's a Whole Big Thing and as ever it depends on how you define your genre conventions.

      I may or may not end up streaming some text adventures. There was this one called "The Multi-Dimensional Thief" I never DID quite finish back in the day.

  2. Boo.... Every Day is Like Sunday is "unavailable". It might be restricted to the EU and UK.

    1. Aw, sorry. I hate it when that happens. It's on Apple Music, if that helps. Can't find it anywhere else.


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