There’s a game I play at lunch with my coworkers, a game which probably everyone has played. I’m not sure it has a name — if it does, it’s probably some bullshit name imposed by a board game company — but you’d all recognize it. It’s usually something like this: "Would you take a billion dollars if it meant your head would grow to the size of a watermelon?" "Would you accept 50 million dollars, but you could only eat Egg McMuffins and drink Dr. Pepper for the rest of your life?"
It’s a philosophical game. It’s a game of ethics and dignity. And, on good days, it ends with one of us non-hypothetically eating something disgusting for money.
I was reminded of our game when I heard that Morrissey rejected an offer of around $75 million to perform under the Smiths name (the only condition being that Johnny Marr must be a member of the band). What a mind-boggling sum. What a positively industrial amount. That’s enough money to buy an aircraft carrier and build a castle on it. Is he nuts?
I like the Smiths, and I’d love to see them re-form. Johnny Marr is, or was, one of the best guitarists in the recent history of the sport, and since his split with Morrissey he’s seemed entirely unable to find a collaborator who wasn’t a waste of his talent. Even if they just played the same old songs, seeing Morrissey and Marr together would be the ultimate indie bonerthrobble. It would also end a lot of pointless clamoring (to this day, even at this very moment, people exactly like me are writing "Smiths Reunion" articles that you don’t give a shit about).
I’m glad he didn’t accept the $75 million offer, though. Not a "whew, that was close" sort of a glad, but more like the kind of glad you’d feel if beings from the fifth dimension didn’t fill your lungs with scorpions: glad that the utterly impossible didn’t happen.
How could any self-respecting musician, let alone Morrissey, accept an offer like that? The amount of money is so absurd that it might as well be part of our hypothetical game. "Okay, Morrissey. You get $75 million, but you have to re-form the Smiths. Oh, and you have to shit thumbtacks for a year." The fact that re-forming the band is distasteful to Morrissey is, for that amount of money, beside the fucking point. If someone had offered him $75 million to write a song about being sad, he might have to refuse. It’s just a creepy amount of money.
If he accepted such a grandiose offer, the reunion would automatically be about the money. Even if he earnestly decided that the time was right to reunite, even if he buried the hatchet with mortal enemy Mike Joyce, even if he accepted the tour schedule but rejected every penny of his paycheck, it would still be about the money. Anything that comes within a mile of $75 million is about the money.
Absurd sum aside: considering Morrissey’s personality, it’s obvious that he can’t re-form the Smiths right now. Everyone is doing it. "Puttin’ the band back together" would be too unoriginal for an iconoclast, and too predictable for a guy who’s worked so long and hard to be inscrutable. And it goes beyond that: Now he can’t do it because somebody else suggested it. Re-forming the Smiths is the last trump card Morrissey has, and selling his control over it would deprive him of the greatest professional pleasures he might ever enjoy:
A) The prospect of re-forming his band on his own terms; of deciding, with no money on the table, that the time is right to call Johnny Marr and suggest that the two of them get together, for old times’ sake. Not as the Smiths, maybe, but as "Morrissey & Marr" or something. Maybe they’d both be 90 years old.
B) The prospect of never, ever re-forming his band. He can die alone, childless and unmarried as he’s promised, and he can’t take his money with him. But — and I think this might be enormously satisfying to someone like the Mooze — he can take his band to the grave, just to piss us all off.