You’ve just blushed again in front of that boy or girl you fancy, and you feel like giving up on the possibility of talking to another human being ever again, let alone dating one. So how can The Smiths possibly help??
Whether you are a young person currently struggling with, ‘shyness’, or you are a parent supporting one, I believe The Smiths have something truly valuable to offer.
The above scenario was my experience in the late 1980s, when I was in my young teens and, to be perfectly honest, right through most of my teens in the early ‘90s, as well. I’m not sure these feelings of social awkwardness ever fully go away, but the good news is that things do improve and we learn to cope better with the social situations that life throws at us.
It would be a bit of a stretch to give all the credit to Morrissey and Johnny Marr, of The Smiths, but ‘credit where credit’s due’, as they say. Let me explain…
‘Shyness is nice but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to.’ (Morrissey and Johnny Marr, 1986).
Well that might be an obvious, and not particularly inspiring statement. But, could listening to these lyrics from The Smiths song, ‘Ask,’ actually help you?
Afterall, those crushing feelings of social awkwardness never seem to ease up when you’re in the throes of teenage, so what’s the point? Might as well get back under your duvet and stare into the darkness of your tortured soul, right? Not necessarily so! ‘There is a light and it never goes out!’ (Morrissey and Johnny Marr, 1986).
My older sister, who was my inspiration during my teens and still is, introduced me to The Smiths (not literally, sadly), in the late 1980s, with a self-made compilation mix tape, as we did, back in the day. This cassette included songs from a bunch of other equally tortured bands, including James, The Cure, The Pixies and The Stone Roses….And my world opened up!
I was the original ‘shy’ child. In fact, I hate that word, even to this day. I hate how I was labelled that way from the age of five, when I was terrified of adults. Literally terrified. I don’t know why I was terrified. I just found myself very nervous in the company of, pretty much, any adults who weren’t my parents. My best explanation is that I have a ‘sensitive nature’. I don’t need to jump out of planes to feel fulfilled or stimulated. I do love doing new and fun stuff, just not being centre stage. I’m quite happy in the wings, thank you very much. That’s just my nature.
As a young teen, I was doing alright in most things, but social confidence wasn’t my strongest point, and I felt especially self-conscious when all eyes were on me. It’s still not my comfort zone now but I’ve largely learnt to cope with it, so it doesn’t bother me too much anymore.
BUT one of the biggest challenges facing me in my teens was managing being around a crush, i.e., someone I fancied.
Why, oh why was I soooo painfully incompetent at dealing with these situations?
You’ve just turned the corner in the corridor and, there s/he is…your heart skips a beat, you’re stomach somersaults, you’ve got it all planned out….then…oh no, your cheeks are getting hot, your arm pits are starting to sweat. Holy s**t, did you actually put any deodorant on?
In your sweat and panic, s/he’s already passed you by, possibly with a little nod, if you’re really lucky. And there was no way you were going to attempt that cool phrase you had planned. You roll your eyes and sigh, Molly Ringwald-style, at your own incompetence. How could you be so bad at this?
It felt so unfair to have such a barrier stopping me from interacting ‘normally’ with people I wanted to get to know……i.e., I was obsessively dreaming about. Er, who me?
But then one dismal day, my sister played ‘Ask’ by The Smiths!
‘…Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to…’
I’m listening, Morrissey! Is it me you’re talking to?
And then I heard,
‘…If there’s something you’d like to try. Ask me, I won’t say “no”. How could I?’
This man was talking directly to me and showing me kindness, even with my awkward and painful ‘shyness’. Wait, so it’s okay to be ‘shy’ and awkward? And I’m not a complete and utter relational disaster destined for eternal loneliness?
I no longer felt alone in my social panic. The Smiths had given me a sense of acceptance and self-worth, all within a couple of lines of a simple song. I had to hear more from this band. I listened and gave forth they did.
Lashings of self-loathing, sadness in spades, depression in digger-loads. I lapped it up…in my low moments, especially in the lowest ones, but also in happy times and even when I did finally meet and have the courage to talk to that someone I’d been dreaming about. Yes, it did happen!!! More than once!!!
What I love about The Smiths, is their candour in voicing painful feelings, such as those of ‘shyness’ and social awkwardness. In the song ‘Half a Person’, Morrissey sings:
‘Sixteen, clumsy and shy, I went to London and I, I booked myself in at the Y.W.C.A, I said “I like it here, can I stay? I like it here, can I stay? And do you have a vacancy for a back-scrubber?” …That’s the story of my life’
~ Johnny Marr and Morrissey, 1987
I love that this song makes unequivocal reference to the states of being ‘clumsy’ and ‘shy’. Whether or not, he was referring to himself or whether this was a positive or negative reference, was not important to me.
The fact that Morrissey was singing about them at all, meant that it was okay for me to feel this way. And, that he was a successful, talented performer just added value to my improved sense of self-acceptance and worth. It was dawning on me that it was okay to be imperfect me!
The third Smiths song that helped me cope with my ‘shyness’, for want of a better word, is ‘Never Had No-one Ever’. Depressing title or what! But thank you Morrissey and Johnny Marr for reflecting-back the experience of not having been in a relationship, and painfully longing to be in one. That staring hopelessly at the front door of your crush’s house, as you pass by, having no idea how to approach them, due to your paralysing social anxiety. Yes, The Smiths told me this was okay too.
Now, I am aware that not everyone is a fan of The Smiths. Philistines! But seriously, I’m aware of the minority of people (surely, it must be), who might repulse at the ‘pathetic’, ‘woe-is-me’ Smiths aesthetic. ‘Stand up and be a [man/woman/…!],’ they might say.
There’s a lot of talk about ‘resilience’ these days. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying young people, or any people, should wallow in their own social inadequacy woes forever and a day. I don’t think that ever helped anyone. As a parent of teens, myself, I’m a big believer in a bit of practical self-talk.
However, my take is that the metaphorical pulling of oneself together might be best placed after an initial period of acknowledgment of the current emotional state. And dare I say it, possibly even a degree of indulgence in it, whilst listening to The Smiths! Their empathic tones can emulate love, affection and acceptance towards the tortured soul, whether that person is yourself, your child, a friend, whoever. Who doesn’t need a good Smiths hug to help them feel they’re not the only one floundering around the social scene?
In case you’re under any illusions, these songs didn’t fixed my social sensitivities on the spot, nor did they hurry along my social confidence in leaps and bounds. I still blushed, I still stumbled on my words and I still had my dreams puffed out in disappointing moments of panic. But it was okay, because The Smiths had shared in those moments too. They had lived it and experienced my pain. I felt accepted by them and soon it became apparent to me that it wasn’t only me living this awkward life. Many other Smiths fans loved them for the same reason. And we found each other and knew we were okay and that it was going to get better. It just might take a little time.
The song, ‘Never Had No-one Ever’ can be found on the album, The Queen is Dead, originally released in 1986.
Find out more about my ’90s Teen life.
Find out more about my life as an ’80s Kid.