Not for the first time, Morrissey and me – two habitual solitaries, registered grumps – spend our Saturday sitting on his sofa, conversing with the wary trust of being, if not Old Friends then New Companions. He finds himself faced with yet another tape recorder, another journalist, but one he knows and who knows him. Almost immediately he falls happily, comfortably, out of his usual quiet caution into a form of mannered authority, an imposed, almost rigid confidence.

Although we confront and clarify subjects such as Appearances, Friendship, Seriousness, Sex, and, above all, that miserable obsession that captivates us both, Solitude, I find myself thinking a complete stranger could plunder the grey intricacies of Morrissey’s mind and past easier than myself. Equally, I discover I can confront things I would normally shy away from. Neither of us quite get used to this state. When the interview’s over, we carry on as if it never happened.

“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing” – Oscar Wilde

For a while now to me Morrissey has appeared torn between his more extravagant, effete, effusive image and his retiring, caring, perturbed self. As a public face and an adored figure, he is imposing and arrogant, a beastly bully, sour giant, offering a blaze of blasé bluff, haughty disregard, wicked taunts and a stream of fancifully brash pronouncements of his principle(s). Left alone, as he ultimately prefers to be, he is a person of gentle charm, crushed trust, tough enough to be tender but bearing the grave pained burden of a childhood and adolescence that tormented him.

I suggest that like Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly, he presents such a charming character that no one treats him as a real person.
“The thing in Breakfast at Tiffanys, I can see quite clearly, is quite appealing but unrealistic. This is not a character or a role, everything I’ve said I’ve meant. I know it can seem like attention-getting because it’s so embroidered and exaggerated by the press, but it never ever was meant to be.”

But a lot of what you’ve done was carefully planned.
“Most of it was planned but people would suspect it was, as a result, fake, which would upset me because it certainly was not. Because it’s so important and serious, it required a lot of thought. I’d thought about it in the most extreme detail before I’d met the others – we’d have failed otherwise. I certainly never rehearsed answers.”

You do use it as a defence mechanism, to protect yourself.
“Well, as sickening as it may seem, this is how I am. I do allow myself to be thoroughly dogmatic, that’s true. But I’m hounded by apes and buffoons day and night saying, ‘You must make a video or the single won’t sell,’ so when I get the chance to hit back I take it.”

You must play up to it now, what’s expected of you. There must be changes in attitude before an interview or a gig.
“Almost. A dressing room is an absolute minefield, I disintegrate. There’s only so much intimacy I can take. At that polluted hour of five o’clock I do feel something creep up on me. But we’re all guilty of that, we act differently toward people we care about than people we detest. People expect me to be abrasive and aggressive and, of course, I’m not.”

So how many people treat you as a real person, look beneath this casually contrived figure ?
“Almost nobody does. In a way it does worry me but I don’t really care. But it is one of those minor dilemmas.”

“He was a hero crucified between learning and clownishness”
– Al Alvarez on Samuel Beckett

Morrissey seems to be the wisest of fools: an answer for everything but deep down in that huge heart of his he still wonders quite what he’s doing here. Too much of what he does and is expected to do is loathe to him. Too many of the people around him, he says, are: “apes – and I tell them so.”

His frown worn onto his crumpled brow, he admits some surprise at himself: “There is a certain naïve disbelief, but I can understand it because I say ‘If not THIS, then WHAT ?’ and there is no other avenue that would interest me. But the whole thing does have one on the emotional edge, but that’s natural because, to me, I’ve always lived that way.”

But people spit at you, they slap you on the back and call you ‘Mozza’, they steal your money, a certain mouldy individual has even called you a fascist !
“It’s really pathetic, but every individual wants to be noticed. I never got what I wanted. I was ignored by the entire universe as a child. This is the only way of gaining revenge. I spent my entire childhood with my head buried in a pillow, which was… quite interesting !” (Laughs)

How far does it go back ?
“To the realization that suicide was quite appealing and attractive, and that happened when I was eight. These statements always sound so dramatic, I know, but I can’t produce a document or anything. Sincerely I was considering it, I always had this great fondness for people who’d led tragic lives. I was completely fascinated by failures.”

Are you merely enduring it now ? I know you’re fed up being Morrissey.
“There’s an hour of every single day, a silent hour, where I pray for another world. But I’m not enduring it. The business side depresses me intensely but I battle on. I feel I’m having the last laugh.”

There’s so much that you force yourself through, it must change you.
“There’s an endless waterfall of things I have to force myself to do. The wine before each gig was a purgatory. In certain ways it’s changed me a great deal. I never ever had money before, so that’s quite exciting to me. I’ve become alarmingly more cynical, although I was halfway there anyhow, and I do mistrust people more. I feel a lot sadder, to be quite honest, than I did a year ago. Things have become a lot more serious for me. Professionally, I’m absurdly happy. On a personal level, I have no social life, no friends whatsoever. I still get immensely depressed about death and all the other things that have clouded me since I was eight. Nothing’s really changed for me, except I’m now totally isolated in a different part of the country.”

You seem even more protective now. Can you trust people at all ?
“I don’t trust a living human being. I find most people totally repugnant, so no wonder I have no social life ! (Laughs loudly). I’m more protective, but in ways that are considered selfish. Even though it’s often good to be selfish, it gets to a point where it’s ridiculous, unhealthy.”

What’s important to you now ? Do you care about people at all ?
“Yes, I care enormously. I’ve got dreadfully high standards, though. The things that are important to me now are the same as always. I’m quite intrigued by friendships and I’d like to have some. I think that would be an entrancing experience, friendship. That would be enough. I’m not greedy.”

Oscar Wilde said friends sympathise with one’s troubles but not a friend’s success…
“Yes, that’s tragically true. The friends I used to have imagine they’ve been replaced and they certainly haven’t. They imagine I go down to the launderette with Marilyn or someone ! They simply don’t understand that I haven’t had time to answer their letters.”

Like Howard Devoto, didn’t you form a band to find friends ? Has it always been so beyond you ?
“Mmm. Yes. I am very shy, though I wasn’t at school, so I don’t know why I am now. Like Howard, I imagined I could escape being miserable if I achieved certain things. I achieved them and I was quite possibly more miserable than ever. I never got beyond that first hurdle with making friends. Constantly, I’d walk up to people with a note saying ‘I live round the corner, I think you’re quite fascinating, please can we have a picnic together on some golf course’ or something.”

Have you ever been close to someone ?
“Never at any point have I been properly close, never formed a communion with a person.”

Is it simply a fear of being hurt ?
“Not really. (Laughs). I’m quite willing to be hurt !”

Hectic happiness and frivolity seem quite beyond you. Did you ever feel young ?
“I was never young. Periods where, by law, you were meant to be totally reckless, I was absurdly, cripplingly serious. I could never relax. I never accepted my sexuality. This idea of fun: cars, girls, Saturday night, bottle of wine… To me those things are morbid. I was always attracted to people with the same problems as me. It doesn’t help when most of them are dead, doesn’t give one much hope.” (Laughs)

Will you learn to be happy ?
“I’ve always found it totally impossible to be happy. You can’t learn. You can learn to cope with being unhappy, to deal with tragedy and disaster, that’s all. It’s not even a matter of not knowing how to relax or not knowing enough about life, it’s knowing too much.”

“I realized that by choosing this world I had said goodbye to my own and to those in it. By such choices we become exiles, until we are at last quite alone” – Edna O’Brien

Away from the happy jests, wild(e) sarcasm (“It’s not a circus, I’m not the tattooed man with the dancing pigeons. Mind you, I’m quite close.”), the Morrissey we are left with, somber, suspicious and susceptible, can say these words of heavy despair with dull calm and a clumsy pride. He’s weary of such weariness but still finds some beauty in despair, a comfort in melancholy.
“Oh yes, there’s maximum beauty in despair. It is a companion but not a friend, I feel. I am glad about it but not content, let’s say that.”

Could you still fall head over heels in love ?
“Yes I could. I don’t feel any relationship can be everlasting but something quite brief is manageable.”

Have you denied love in the past ?
“Yes always. I don’t know why. It seemed safer.”

After seven years of celibacy, would it have to be sexless ?
“Not at all. It’s a long time, but I’m quite prepared to break the record !”

Really ?
“God yes. Celibacy medallions don’t interest me, I’m not after a specially inscribed trophy.”

Are you resigned to solitude now ?
“No, not really, although I realize certain things are with me forever. You can’t go through what I went through and forget it. No amount of candy floss and money can erase those things. Although, the fears and anguishes I had do make some sense now, I’m quite sure-footed. We all have to realise what we are and what we want and what we can do. I’ve realised that.”

Given a choice, would you want to start life again ?
“No, I don’t think so. As a child, I went to this Catholic school they fed us this idea of Heaven and living forever and ever and ever. It used to petrify me. Can you imagine living this life without end ? It’s horrific !”

Do you have any enthusiasm for life ?
“I do, but it’s quite fatalistic and running out rapidly. I often feel I don’t want to live much longer and again, this will incite guffaws and gasps because it’s such a strong thing to say, but if I’m allowed to be quite honest about it, I don’t want to live much longer. There are certain things that enlighten life but there’s such a price to pay. I do feel I’d be disappointed if I got to fifty, yes, it would show a lack of resolve or something.”

Will you never escape the past ?
“Well, a solitude like mine, one has to dwell on the past and no, I will never escape because the past is me. That’s exactly what I am. It’s insurmountable.”

And we finish. He returns to that soft scorn, careless cynicism, spluttering with delight at the wickedness of his own wit and wisdom. His laugh quite alters his face, makes something gentle happen, something childlike at last. It’s hard not to feel a tremendous affection for him and I wonder if I should stay and talk more. But it’s all somewhat sobering and in the end, as he says, what difference does it make ?

“For now, it was his wish no longer nor his aim to be alone and independent, but rather his lot and his sentence” – Hermann Hesse