When I was about 14 I started listening to metal and punk almost exclusively. The loud, sloppy, noisy, and angry kind. The stuff that sounds good when you are a kid and parents just don’t understand. Since I was a certified poseur I also read all of the rock and punk magazines that I could get my hands on. Despite my South Carolina public school education I was able to read the interviews and could even glean common points that the musicians would bring up. There were bands that would be mentioned as influences and, even though I didn’t know them, I could at least name drop and pretend that their first album was good. At some point I noticed that a lot of the punk bands mentioned some band called The Smiths. I had no idea who they were, but if all of these cool punk guys like them, then surely they must be punk as fuck.
Since this was the late 90s I went to a thing called a record store. I went to my old familiar punk section and recited the alphabet quietly to myself and found the S section. And then the SMs. But where The Smiths should have been, they were not. After repeating the alphabet several times and making quite certain that I had it right I decided they might be a metal band after all. No. Not in metal. I took a deep breath and went and found the guy who works in the record store really hoping that he wouldn’t murder me for not knowing where The Smiths are categorised.
I explained that I wanted to buy a CD of The Smiths, but I couldn’t find it for some reason. He was only a little snarky and dragged me past the metal section, past the punk, and right over to the section that I had never allowed myself to get close to… POP. I thought “What is going on here? This can’t be right.”, but alas. There was the plastic divider clearly labelled The Smiths. He then said “Do you know what you want?” and I confessed that I didn’t know them. He handed me ‘Meat Is Murder’ and said “I like this one.” If you don’t know the album, the cover has a soldier with ‘Meat Is Murder’ handwritten on his helmet. Looked punk enough. Maybe it was in pop because they were older? I didn’t know, but I did know I was about to have an experience once I got home– my car only had an AM/FM radio.
As soon as I arrived home I took the plastic off the case and put it in my CD player. I distinctly remember waiting for a second before hitting play. From the first note in The Headmaster Ritual I was sure there was some mistake. There was another band called The Smiths. They were underground and even the best record store in Columbia didn’t have them in stock. Whatever The Smiths were, this was not them. Of that much I could be sure.