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This charming man

Page 2 of 3 -- "You can mythologize him and treat him as a hero, but Morrissey is the anti-rock star," says Luke O'Neil, the 26-year-old frontman of the Boston band the Good North, who organized and played a sold-out Smiths tribute show several months ago with another local band, the Information, at the Middle East. "He's not debaucherous and he's not an idiot, and that's what attracted a lot of kids to him when I was in college. I think the reason he's more popular than ever has to do with the nature of the modern `emo' teenager, which is one of constant navel gazing, reflection, solipsism. Morrissey perfected that, but he was such a wit, no doubt from obsessing over Oscar Wilde, that he learned how to make all of that come across as charming as opposed to boorish. Lots of young bands owe everything to Morrissey."

While the Smiths were staples on the UK charts, they never became a mainstream radio band stateside. The group peaked on the Billboard charts in 1985 with "How Soon Is Now?," which reached No. 36. People were turned on mainly through word of mouth, from record store clerks to curious young music fans to like-minded friends, with strong support from alternative and college radio. Today the Smiths' musical legacy is passed down in similar fashion, from older sisters and brothers to younger siblings, from bass player to drummer, from alt-rock radio host to new listener. WFNX (101.7 FM) DJ and assistant music director Julie Kramer still spins the Smiths on 'FNX's "Leftover Lunch" program. (Kramer was, she believes, the first DJ in the US to play the Smiths when she returned to her job at UMass-Dartmouth's radio station from a year abroad with a vinyl 45 of the band's second single, "This Charming Man.") But unlike other nostalgia groups, the Smiths are also included in the station's regular-rotation playlist.

"The Smiths are definitely an image artist for us," says WFNX music director Paul Driscoll. "They have such a big influence on the music being played today, on bands like Hot Hot Heat and the Libertines and Interpol. People still want to hear them."

Evan Kenney, the 23-year-old singer and lyricist for Read Yellow, first encountered the Smiths as a young teen, when he heard the song "Bigmouth Strikes Again" wafting out of his sister's bedroom at home. His band now covers the tune in their live shows. But it took a while for Kenney, a budding headbanger, to come around.

"I was really into loud, fast punk," says Kenney, whose band recently played the Reading Festival in England alongside Morrissey. "I thought the Smiths were complete [garbage]. I was into Black Flag and the Misfits. I didn't understand the crooning. But eventually I started to realize how unique the message was, how blunt and honest Morrissey is. That's what inspires me as a writer. I don't think he really cares if he impresses anyone, and that's the most punk you can get."   Continued...

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