The man whose ringing guitars and melodies inspired obsessive fandom and countless imitators as one of the founding members of the Smiths gets back to his roots on his first solo album, "The Messenger," out Feb. 26, some 26 years after parting ways with Morrissey and company. Here, the self-described eternal "teenybopper" shares the seminal firsts that shaped his expansive career.
First record I bought with my own money: "Ride a White Swan" by T. Rex. It was a budget album. I had already bought the 45, almost on a whim without hearing it. I was 9 or 10. Luckily, I loved that first single. It was quite a strange and somewhat esoteric record. Marc Bolan was on television a lot and having hits in a big way, and it was quite weird music he was making. I can see now how it was harking back to some elements of '50s rock'n'roll, but updated in a brand-new way. I hadn't heard anything like it before. He was very alluring to me. I hadn't seen anyone look like that before. I was already a fan of anybody wearing a guitar, regardless of what they were doing with it. So to have somebody come along that was actually cool and making music for young kids in a very knowing and hip way was lucky for me. He was making music for teenyboppers and I was very much a teenybopper. Still am.
First album I knew all of the words to: "Radio Ethiopia" by Patti Smith. It was the first album that I looked at as a lifestyle in a sort of way. I would play that record very loudly before school in the morning and almost try to keep it spinning in my ears all day long, like I was still listening to it. That kind of obsession is an amazing thing.
First concert that changed my life: Patti Smith at the Manchester Apollo on the Easter tour. I was 14. I had a paper route the next day, and I remember looking up to the sky and feeling like my life was different because I'd been to it. I was right up front and it was like witnessing an incantation, like a window into a way of life that I wanted to climb into and be part of for the rest of my life. So I did.
First song I ever wrote: Lucky for me, I can't remember the title, but it was about hating school and it went from B major to B minor to an F to a G, which is not a chord change I've ever used again. I think they were the only four chords I knew and I learned them in that order. I wish it had been a good one-how nice it would be to revisit that and rework it into some philosophical homage to my younger self. But no, I can remember it, and it did suck.