The Smiths is Dead

by J. Tobias Beard

Or, how soon is a little bit late?

A review of Girlfriend in a Coma, a Smiths cover band. Printed in C-VILLE 3/4/2008.

A little before 6pm Friday night, walking up Third Street Downtown, I see a man who looks a lot like Morrissey getting out of a Hyundai Santa Fe. His hair is styled in a proper Teddy Boy quiff and he’s wearing a very British duffel coat, the kind Paddington Bear always wore. If I squint, it could almost be the iconic, adored, former front man for The Smiths, but it’s not, it’s the lead singer forGirlfriend in a Coma, a Smiths/Morrissey tribute band from Baltimore. It’s cold and getting dark as he slings a hanger with a sport coat and silk shirt over his shoulder and heads down to Gravity Lounge to begin pretending to be a legend.

When he takes the stage, our Morrissey for the evening certainly looks the part, but before he starts to sing, someone in the audience shouts out, in a fake Mancunian accent, “Where’s your Gladioli?” a reference to the flowers that, in the early days, Morrissey often stuck in his back pocket, or swung above his head like a mace. “Morrissey” steps up to the mic and replies, in his own Manchester-approximate accent, “Didn’t you bring me flowers?”

He hits all the right poses: arms akimbo looking fey, tongue stuck out coyly, pulling desperately at his shirt then collapsing to the ground and singing curled up like a dead bug. The band is pretty tight as well: The chunky, shimmering siren of a riff that begins “How Soon is Now?” is perfect and the synthesized pan-pipe coda on “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” rings true. The set list is a predictable greatest hits rundown, with a few solo Morrissey anthems like “Suedehead” and “Everyday is Like Sunday” thrown in for good measure, and it seems that everyone is getting what they want: Lyrics are mouthed, people are smiling and swaying in their seats, and a small but energetic group gets up and dances at the foot of the stage.

When I was in high school, I worshipped Jim Morrison and went to see a Doors cover band, The Backdoors, play at Trax. The show left me feeling weird and a little sad—watching a fake Lizard King in fake leather pants just made the real thing seem that much farther away. Most of us in the crowd at Gravity Lounge tonight were too young to see The Smiths; we became fans after it was all over. When a young woman runs up onto the stage to hug “Morrissey,” just as the fans have always done at his shows, I wonder if what we are is a tribute audience, “cover fans” acting out a role just as much as the man at the mic.

Onstage tonight, the man who would be Morrissey tells the story of his conversion, how he had been a long-haired “metal merchant” until one day he heard “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” on the radio and everything changed. He cut his hair and bought a Smiths album, and in 2006 started this tribute band to help spread The Good News. I turn and look at the crowd. They seem happy; the look on faces young and old is one that says, “Don’t burst my bubble. Let me pretend.” Why not? All of us were born too late for something.

But when I turn back to the band, the singer rips off his shirt to reveal “Charlotte take a bow” written on his chest. Is that a clever reference to the dead queen our town is named after, or does this idiot think he’s in North Carolina? Oh well, nothing’s perfect.