Thirty years after the Smiths ended, Morrissey carries on being his outrageously caustic self. The British rock legend just released a well-received new solo album, the mordantly witty Low in High School. He's spent most of the fall on an American tour, despite the usual controversies over his last-minute cancellations. He's been dusting off classics like the 1987 Smiths deep cut "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish," which he'd never performed live until now. And true to form, he's kept busy all year offending vast numbers of people every time he opens his mouth, whether he's going off about terrorism or the royal family. (Shortly after Morrissey answered our questions, an interview appeared in the German news outlet Der Spiegel in which he seemed to express vague sympathy for Kevin Spacey. Morrissey has insisted he was misquoted.)
It seems this Bigmouth never stops striking again. But he was mellow and reflective when he took time out from his current tour to answer a few of our questions via email, pondering music, politics and the legacy of his old friend David Bowie.
Your new album is called Low in High School. Do you worry about young people today?
Yes. With world leaders like Predicament Trump and Theresa May, we must wonder if the university generation actually had minds. This global hopelessness can only crush young people ... and perhaps that is the intent?
Are you ever surprised you've kept your artistic inspiration burning for so long?
No, because I haven't ever given myself over to the demoralizing aspects of marketing. I paddle my own canoe.
Your music has always spoken to the young. Who are the young people who inspire you?
They stare up and at me with every concert. We both know we're in the right place. There's nowhere else to be.
Who are the humans you trust?
Only those gone to their great reward. Of the living, I like those with an interesting blend of shyness and aggression. I couldn't ever trust anyone who ate animals, birds or fish.
"Break Up the Family," from 1988 – what a perfect song. Why isn't that song recognized as a classic?
I think the same about "Hold On to Your Friends," "Let Me Kiss You," "Alma Matters," "Black Cloud," "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris." Other artists say absolutely nothing and are handed nine Grammys. It's debauched.
If you could go back to one room you've left behind, what room would you return to? (And who would be there?)
I dream constantly about my old bedroom in Manchester. I am always there, it is always 8:35 and time to walk to school, toppling into ditches of rain. Picture a swan being shot during flight.
"My final aim is to abolish the abattoir."
What book or film or music have you recently discovered that you wished you'd discovered earlier?
I was virtually blind at 14 from books and films. I left no stone unturned, and those were days when the efforts for discovery were something of a life sentence. Anything that happened was very, very slow, so therefore, the final effect of films, books, clothes, music created the full person.
If David Bowie called on the cosmic telephone, what would you two talk about?
He called many times on the terrestrial telephone. He must surely be happy now. Music is eternity, and there he is, now, very much in it. I don't imagine he wanted anything else from life.
What kind of connection do you feel with your audience?
We are full-blooded lovers. This is why I have decided to devote the rest of my life to lust. You reach a point in life where you must go further than just looking. It's all in the interest of science, of course.
Have people evolved in any way during your lifetime?
Meaning the human race, generally? Well, because of food enlightenment, yes – it's clear to everyone how the dairy industry is a bigger threat to the planet that the nuclear arms race. People are sick of animal slaughter. My final aim is to abolish the abattoir, and although I haven't ever once voted in a general election, my vote awaits any party intelligent enough to ban the slaughterhouse. Only at that point would the world begin to grow up.
Do you find it painful when fans thank you for changing their lives? (And if not, thank you.)
They changed mine. And thank you!
One final question: Does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body?