"Excuse me, can you tell me what's happening?" asked a woman stuck in traffic on Halsted Street. It was last Saturday afternoon and she was asking about the throng of young men and women lining the sidewalk from the entrance of the Kingston Mines down to the south end of the block at Lill Street. If she'd been listening to WXRT she'd have known that they were hoping to be used as extras in the Morrissey video being shot at the blues club that day. "Oh," she said, "I thought it was a funeral."
Every one of the would-be extras was dressed entirely in black, and many of them held bunches of gladiolas, the favorite flower of their rock idol, and of Morrissey's own inspiration Oscar Wilde. In his work as lead singer with the Smiths and as a solo act, the wan and boyish singer has modeled himself as contemporary pop's Wilde, an ironically witty but world-weary romantic. This stance clearly stirs a profound response among kids in their late teens and early 20s.
It was about 3:30, still half an hour before extras had been invited to arrive, and there were already hundreds of them. Rick Morales, one of a half dozen off-duty Chicago policemen providing security for the video's filming, said that 12 had arrived by seven that morning.
The first ones in line were Holly Rocha, 20, her 17-year-old sister Patti, and their friend Cory Inosencio, 18. The three had left Grand Rapids at 3:30 that morning after hearing word of the shoot on the radio. "We've been sitting here ever since," Patti said. "I haven't moved from this spot 'cause I'm afraid to lose it," Holly added. Holly, who works in a grocery store in Grand Rapids, said she uses half of her paycheck "for Morrissey tickets, books, magazines, bootleg albums." After spending most of their last $20 on a disposable camera to record the event, the trio had only $3 left for the ride back home.
Another early-morning arrival, Jayson Elliot, insisted that he had been the first to arrive, but that he went to breakfast when he saw that no one else had yet appeared. Elliot, a 21-year-old who works at the Alley boutique on Belmont, was one of those sporting a bunch of gladiolas. Brian Wright, a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Illinois' architecture program now working as an interior designer in Champaign, recalled that his involvement with Morrissey's music began with the song "Rush Holme Ruffians." "It deals with a kind of a painful love," said Wright, who was wearing black lipstick. "There are so many young teens that are confused. To me it struck a chord because I was feeling the same thing."
"He has the strength to stand up and be vulnerable," Elliot said, citing as evidence lyrics from the song "I Know It's Over": "It's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate / It takes guts to be gentle and kind." As Elliot speaks the early arrivals recite the words together in communal incantation.
Not all the crowd members are drawn by this devotional motivation. "We just wanna get on TV," proclaimed a young woman in a black velvet dress standing about halfway down the line. "I don't know any of his songs," acknowledged her friend. The one in the dress, Tina Garcia, said she first heard the Smiths when someone played "Shoplifters of the World Unite" at "a memorial for a friend of mine. They put the wrong side of the tape in." Garcia, an 18-year-old about to begin veterinary school in Ohio, said that after her freshman year in high school Morrissey "just didn't do it for me." But she came to the cattle call for extras anyway. "I just want to be a star," she said.
This occasional irreverence notwithstanding, dedication to Morrissey more often than not was why the extras came. Morrissey, according to Kelly Lindsey, sings about "love affairs, being scared about falling in love, relationships. He makes us realize that he's scared of living and facing life every day, just like everybody else."
Asked what it is Morrissey's audience is afraid of, Lindsey offered "getting hurt, not reaching your goals or achieving your dreams, finding out that things aren't always going to go the way they are now."
In fact, things didn't go the way most of the assembled fans had hoped. No sooner had Lindsey finished her remarks than a crew member rounded the corner of Halsted and Lill to announce that only the first 50 in line would be used but that others could stick around for shots of the line that would be taken later. The video production company, the End, Ltd., had only expected about 100 people. Some of the fans left, but most of them remained in the hope of catching a glimpse of Morrissey or seeing their faces in the crowd on MTV someday.
Back at the front of the line, Tim O'Meara, one of the off-duty cops, had given the Rochas $5 for gas. Someone in turn had given him a gladiola, which he held as if it were a rifle, resting it on his shoulder. Standing next to the club's entrance in his policeman's blues with his back to the wall, O'Meara looked like a bizarre variant on the guards at Buckingham Palace.
Inside the Kingston Mines, Morrissey and his four-piece band ran through "Glamorous Glue," the song featured in the video. As the studio recording played back over the sound system and the cameras rolled, Morrissey lip-synched the lyrics and the band pretended to play. The band looked like a throwback to the 1950s--all ducktail haircuts, blue-jean jackets, and black work shoes--except for Morrissey, who wore a shiny gold shirt that looked like Christmas wrapping paper.
As the band repeated "Glamorous Glue" yet again, a lone fan, 20-year-old Mike Capuz, who was lucky enough to have a friend on the production crew, waited in the bar. Rolling up the sleeve of his Morrissey T-shirt, Capuz, a Columbia College student, showed off a large tattoo of Morrissey on his right shoulder. It was a remarkable likeness. "My room is like a shrine," said Capuz.
The video will feature Morrissey and the band performing in an empty blues club, watched by one bluesman, played by local actor-musician Al Lewis. Earlier in the day, the crew shot footage of Morrissey, Lewis, and the band coming up some basement stairs into the Maxwell Street flea market. The video will suggest that the Kingston Mines is located there, and that the group is leaving the club in the morning after playing all night.
The extras were to be used for a brief scene in the middle of the video. "The idea is that we juxtapose shots with an audience with shots of this appropriate observer," said Anthony Taylor, who works for the End. The black clothing requirement was to ensure a stark dynamic contrast between the fans, who are being filmed from behind, and the brightly colored sunrise motif at the back of the Kingston Mines' stage.
It was past six in the evening when the crew finally let in about 50 extras. The line still nearly reached the end of the block. At the club entrance, the disconsolate fans stuck at the door pleaded for admittance. Inside, pandemonium ensued. Screaming and rushing the stage, the fans barely quieted down enough to hear instructions to wave their arms and gladiolas in the air. When the cameras rolled they mobbed the stage again, offering flowers and grabbing at Morrissey, who hastily left the stage and the club before the end of the song. With Morrissey gone and the song over, the shoot came to an abrupt halt, and, only minutes after entering the club, the fans were ushered back out onto the street.
For more than a few of them the abruptness of the experience after the long wait in line was overwhelming. "I touched him! I touched him!" screamed one, clutching her hair and shaking her head. "They let us in and they played it once and I got his collar. I was grabbing and grabbing and he was beautiful and wonderful, and he was great."
"He signed my arm, I'm going to a tattoo parlor," said another.
As most of the fans dispersed two young women in black cocktail dresses remained, holding a plastic garbage bag for a crew member picking up refuse in the street.
Jayson Elliot was pretty disgusted by the entire experience. "People went in and they couldn't calm down. I couldn't believe how completely pathetically people acted." As he sat dejectedly on a doorstep, Officer O'Meara approached him. "Was it worth it?" he asked.
After a moment, Elliot shook his head.
"You had to think about it. Would you do it again?"
After another pause Elliot nodded.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yolanda Gonzalez.