Still decades before the darker side of his personal life would come to light, he was America's comedian. There wasn't a restaurant, club, or theater in the country he could've walked into and not instantly been recognized.
On any other night, Cosby would've been a solid booking as a talk show guest. But on this evening, as he sat on the set's armchair, trading jokes with host Johnny Carson, his celebrity was eclipsed by the presence of the man waiting backstage, a man who had never even appeared on American television. Days before the show taped in Burbank, there was already a buzz in town about the man called Morrissey. Despite having ten years of professional music experience under his belt, beginning with his work in The Smiths, to most adults in America, including Cosby and Carson, the British singer's name was largely unknown.
After all, this was someone who had not only never performed on network television, but didn't have any hit songs, and had never done a solo tour in the US. Even MTV, a channel meant to spotlight "alternative" artists, snubbed his videos. He stated prophetically, "I know I will never have a hit single in America," and when musing on why, offered that "it has to be censorship. I think there are unseen powers who don't want pop music to be anything other than glorified Madonnas.
But while Morrissey struggled to catch on with mainstream America, he built a cult following with a despondent younger generation, one of the most internationally obsessive in music history. They were social outsiders, united by their devotion to an English icon. They knew Morrissey's name, and they eagerly awaited his arrival. Two weeks prior to his scheduled Tonight Show appearance, Morrissey touched down in the United States to embark on the six-week leg of a worldwide tour to promote his sophomore solo release, Kill Uncle , after having just wrapped up a successful show run of Europe.
The shows sold out fast. The entire tour sold out fast, but the West Coast stretch sold out faster. Much of Morrissey's popularity in the area could be attributed to heavy rotation from the area's influential radio station, KROQ, one of the few outlets to lend support. Tickets for The Forum in Inglewood went even quicker — 18, in just 15 minutes.
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The speed of the ticket sales was a precursor to the insanity of the tour itself. Mozmania hit the States in the summer of '91 the same way Beatlemania had done so almost 30 years earlier. His rabid fans wreaked havoc on unsuspecting arenas, who were drastically underprepared for the chaos. It was utter fucking pandemonium. Fans showed up in hordes, creating a nightmare for venue security.
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Many tearful fans rushed the stage to indulge in the Morrissey concert tradition of throwing gifts towards him — flowers, cigarettes, or, very often, their own bodies. These were quickly filled with all manner of paraphernalia: volumes of Oscar Wilde, greeting cards, red 'Our Frank' pullovers, flowers, nude snaps of fans, along with dozens of packets of pork scratchings, underwear to which were attached the donors' names and addresses in the hope that Morrissey would wear the items and send them back — and condoms, presumably with the same thought in mind.
It was an insane moment where you knew everyone else in that packed theater was on the same page as you. The Dallas date of the tour, one of its craziest, would have to be cut short before the second encore when the intensity of the 11, in attendance escalated to near-riot levels. Midway through "Everyday Is Like Sunday," Morrissey was overtaken by a sea of bodies being launched from every direction. They stomped onto and off of the stage, which was almost entirely green from trampled flowers.
Although he generally encouraged the participation, when dozens rushed towards him, grabbing at his limbs and hair, kissing his neck, and tearing off his shirt, it became overwhelming. He escaped through the side curtain to safety, leaving his bewildered band to finish the song without him. Fans remained in the venue for as long as they were allowed, chanting their hero's name for a return that never came.
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Not taking any chances after that, Morrissey's management outright canceled his show the following night in Austin, feeling the venue's security detail — 37 members and 20 more on call — was insufficient, despite being double what they had hired for a recent Slayer concert. The Austin American-Statesman 's Don McLeese later wrote that disgruntled Austin fans should direct their ire not towards the venue, the promoter, or management, but squarely at Moz himself, saying that "the wimp-of-the-year mantle rests easily on Morrissey's shoulders.
It wasn't just the fans' fervor that was unprecedented, but their diversity. Fanbases of male musical phenomenons had historically leaned heavily female, conjuring images of seas of swooning "fangirls. And, at the time of the Kill Uncle Tour, New Kids on the Block were the male heartthrobs du jour, enjoying superstardom following the triple platinum success of their album, Step by Step, and the throngs of young women they sang its songs to. But because of Morrissey's ambiguous sexuality and refusal to conform to the male frontman stereotype, eschewing the norms of traditional rock stars, the crowds he drew were a motley crew of genders, sexualities, sizes, and ethnicities, all connected by their devout belief in a God they called Moz.
I can't think of another incident in pop history where men jumped on a stage and kissed a male artist. As to what it is in me or my music that evokes this response, I think the arena environment has something to do with it — people are allowed to be a little bit looser in big concert halls — but that doesn't fully explain it. I think perhaps I touch on a different passion in people. It's not simply the passion of rock 'n' roll rebellion — it's more romantic than sexual.
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This isn't something I tried to achieve, by the way — you can't consciously work on getting a lot of people to want to kiss you. The tour left the destruction of the West Coast in its wake. After all six California dates were completed, naturally, fans wanted one more chance to gaze upon their Mozziah, and there was only one place in the area left to do so: NBC Studios on West Alameda Avenue.
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