I recently turned 29. And as an “ambitious outsider” and “resident alien,” I find myself wondering if my youthful transgressions from popular culture and a “healthy” Western lifestyle are still relevant, if my identity still addresses and confronts those aspects of heteronormativity that I despise so much and if I am even so proudly “still ill.” I would like to hope so. But hearing my mentor, love, and savior ask, thirty years after initial inquiry, “Am I still ill?” reassures me that my lifestyle is still one worth fighting for and the lifestyles of those surrounding me are still worth questioning and mockery.
Earlier this year Saint Morrissey, that is Steven Patrick Morrissey, and better known as Morrissey, returned “Still Ill” to his setlists… a song he wrote three decades ago for The Smiths’ debut and which has been absent from performances for nearly as many years. Hearing the 53-year-old (who’s now 54) take on and confront this question this January in Bethesda, Maryland at the Strathmore, was quite a relief… And seeing him highlight it in his latest official text, Morrissey: 25 Live, a performance DVD out today on Eagle Rock Entertainment, just confirms that, despite his elegant aging, that same, once “small fat child in a welfare house,” that got me through my hardest years and continues to get me through my most difficult hurdles, is certainly still present and potent.
Morrissey’s 25 Live documents Steve’s two-and-a-half-decade-long solo career, in addition to the sadly short existence of The Smiths in a relatively unique setting… the auditorium of Hollywood High School… the night after playing a sold out performance in Kobe Bryant’s safe place… The Staples Center. The DVD is chock-full of many of the Mozzer’s biggest hits, such as “Irish Blood, English Heart,” and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” but the disc’s (and the evening’s) highlights tend to be those largely absent from setlists of recent years. The evening began with “Alma Matters” a mid-period single that is both ineffably popular and ineffably profound. “Maladjusted” (the title track of album of the previously mentioned song), one of Morrissey’s most melancholy (even for him…) and least popularly palatable, although not classically a fan favorite, provided the evening’s most stunning, awe-inspiring, and (even a bit) frightening moments. In addition to the newly revived “Still Ill” (which was truly the highlight of the performance), Smiths classics “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” and “Meat is Murder” received beautifully spine-chilling treatments. The set also boasts Morrissey’s most impressive unrecorded work of recent years, “Action is my Middle Name,” a pop tune equally indebted to James Bond and rebellious young celibates.
Although not quite as poignant and stunning as 2005’s Criterion-worthy Who Put the M in Manchester?; which documents Morrissey’s 45th birthday and entrance to middle-aged-ness nearly as impressively as Pennebaker once captured a snotty, twentysomething Dylan; 25 Live is, nonetheless, an engaging, moving, and actually-worthy documentation of the intoxicating charisma of possibly the wisest man of pop music’s history.