In June of 1986, The Smiths released their third studio album The Queen Is Dead. Thirty years later, the record, and the band, inspire as much, if not more, besotted fascination than when it first came out for fans around the world. One such fan in Boston has taken the anniversary of the album as an opportunity to showcase his obsession with the band, for a pop up exhibition of The Smiths Museum, showing today at Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge, Mass.
Among the items on display include 50 original artifacts; t-shirts, rare photos, posters, and other memorabilia, including jackets worn by the band on their 1986 tour of the States. The showcase of the exhibit, however, is the backdrop to the tour, which fans haven’t had the opportunity to see until now.
I asked Daniel, a 26-year-old mechanical engineer who lives in Boston about some of the items on display, how he came across them, and what he thinks about the enduring legacy of the greatest rock and roll band of the past few decades.
Attached are some more photos of a few things I think are interesting. The jackets are really special as they only made a rumored 50 of the dark blue, and 5 of the white. The white jackets went to each of the band members, if you remember Craig Gannon was the 5th Smith at the time, and the one we have once belonged to Mike Joyce. If you have any questions on the memorabilia please feel free to ask me ask me ask me…sorry couldn’t resist!
Tell me about yourself, how did you start amassing this collection?
I started collecting The Smiths artifacts about 4-5 years ago while finishing up school at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It began really slow, going into record stores and asking if they had any The Smiths albums. Often the answer was “No,” or “I did but it was only on the shelf for 5 minutes,” but one day they had Hatful of Hollow, The Queen Is Dead, and Louder Than Bombs. Quite a lucky find looking back on it. Hatful turned out to be my favorite The Smiths release, and the other two are brilliant as well.
After that I started researching the band more and found websites like Passions Just Like Mine and Vulgar Picture, which offered inspiration for things to collect. Most of it was unobtainable in stores, so eventually I moved to collecting via eBay, Discogs, etc. In February of 2012 I met a man named Paul who would inspire the idea for a Smiths Museum. He was selling a few things I was interested in so we started talking and I found out he had been collecting since 1983, and had travelled the world to see The Smiths live on over 40 occasions. Being the novice that I was I asked an infinite amount of questions, and was fascinated by his stories and experiences. It really felt like something special, that was inevitably going to be lost with time, and I thought it needed to be preserved for future The Smiths apostles to enjoy. From there the idea was born.
I guess one really important question I have is why aren’t you called The Smithsonian?
Paul and I continued talking and officially founded a non-profit called THE SMITHS(onian) Museum and Theatre in March of 2013. Fast forward real quick to September of 2015, the real Smithsonian found out, they weren’t happy, we got a cease and desist letter, and that joke wasn’t funny anymore. Thus we now go by The Smiths Museum.
Why do you think the band is still so appealing to people all these years later?
I think by nature the topics that they touch upon and the way they present them scratch a particular part of your soul and brain that’s fundamental to who you are. There’s no fluff or surface level bullshit, it’s honest, pure, vulnerable and, I’ve read that Johnny Marr doesn’t like the word “authentic” but, it feels authentic to me. I think of The Smiths’ music as a thought provoking social protest on life and the human condition, and because of that, people in future generations are going to relate to it in the same ways that you and I do. It’s a cycle, and I love that it brings people together from all demographics.
Tell me more about what’s going on at the showing.
As for the Queen Is Dead 30th Anniversary Exhibition, it is our very first, as we previously existed solely on the internet. It will take place for 5 hours only at my favorite place in the city, the Middlesex Lounge in Central Square, Cambridge. I think the appeal of something like this to fans is that they have the opportunity to see things in person that they’d only read about in magazines, or perhaps didn’t know existed. As a fan myself, I know how much joy it brings me to see other people’s collections and discover new things, so I hope it will do the same for others. I also think there’s an appeal in feeling connected to the times. I’m a bit young to have seen them live, but for Paul’s generation I can only imagine the wave of memories that come rushing back upon seeing something like the tour backdrop. It really is an iconic and memorable piece of their history, and to think at one point in time it was almost thrown away! But that’s another story…As for the younger generations and some of the folks who may have discovered them after they disbanded, there’s an appeal in imagining you’re a part of the old, while creating the new.
The backdrop is the big reveal, right? Hardcore fans think it was lost?
I talked to John Featherstone, the lighting director from that tour, and here’s what he said about it:
“In the late spring of 1986 Morrissey and I were chatting about the design and aesthetic for the upcoming tour. Morrissey expressed a desire to have the image of Alain Delon from L’Insoumis ‘magically appear and disappear’ on the backdrop. He didn’t want a traditional painted drop with the image always there, and this was years before the use of affordable large projection on tours. So I promised Moz I’d come up with something. Gulp.”
“After a lot of thought, pondering and tests, it occurred to me we needed something that could be backlit like a stained glass window, with a reversed image on the back of a translucent drop that would become visible when lit. I experimented with paint, and even plastic stuck to the back of test pieces with tape but nothing really worked. Then one day I was watching a billboard (or as we call them in the UK a ‘hoarding’) being covered with a new technique: giant panels of plastic were ink jet printed then heat welded together to create a giant image. I wondered if that might work? So I approached a billboard printer and asked them for samples, and low and behold when I lit the piece from behind the image magically appeared, and when I lit it from the front, the image disappeared and it was a flat white cyclorama. I had a solution!”
“So I went back to the printer and explained what I wanted to do, several times, as it had them confused printing the image backwards on the back! ‘A billboard printed on the back? What the….’. In fact the first one they made for us had the image the right way round, or the wrong way for us! This caused a bit of a panic but a few days before we loaded in the first show at Barrowlands we got the final piece you see on display, and it worked like a charm! The rest as they say, is history.”
Go here for details on the exhibit.