It’s a simple enough album cover: Morrissey in profile, holding a microphone in one hand, a taunting, silly expression on his face. His shirt is open, the lights of the stage casting strategic shadows across his bare chest.
Morrissey doesn’t have an Adonis physique, not like that show-off Sting on the back cover of the “Love is the Seventh Wave” 7-inch. Rather, he is lanky in a way that defies conventional appeal. He’s someone’s type, and it just so happens to be me.
But I wouldn’t have said as much in 1992, when Your Arsenal was first released.
For two semesters from fall 1992 to spring 1993, I lived in New York City. Tower Records was at its height, and the location on Broadway and W. 4th St. in the East Village was a regular destination for me on pretty much any day of the week.
Entire rows of endcaps in Tower brimmed with longboxes of Your Arsenal. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
Which sucked because I was deep in the closet, nursing a broken heart.
Morrissey’s physique reminded me of a high school friend, on whom I developed the harshest of crushes. The disapproval of my family would have been withering had I revealed my attraction to either Morrissey or my friend.
So I would gaze at those endcaps, “browsing” as it were, but also compelled by the sight of Morrissey’s revealing shirt. His pose was both seductive and stand-offish.
A few months later, New York City would be bombarded by large billboards of Mark Wahlberg, a burgeoning actor transitioning from a failed rap career. His modeling of Calvin Klein underwear marked the turning point. Many young gay men ensconced with those bus stop posters to put Mr. Wahlberg on their walls.
And still at the time I didn’t have the bravery to be one of them.
But Morrissey, Mark Wahlberg, the diversity of New York City … they started to chip away at the Catholic upbringing against which I only started to rebel.
My turning point happened three years later when I met a guy who I thought was cute. He turned out to be gay, and while dating was never in the cards, I found comfort in the thought a guy for whom I felt attraction could very well feel it as well.
It was not the paradigm I encountered when I fell for my high school friend.
Morrissey was a distant memory by that point. My attention had turned to avant-garde and international music, minimalist composers and jazz improvisers inspired by John Cage. Oh, and Duran Duran was having a pretty good resurgence at that point as well.
I would go on to explore more music and not think about Morrissey or Your Arsenal unless I just happened to encounter the album while seeking something else.
And it never fails to draw my eyes. And it never fails to transport me back to New York City, 1992.
I didn’t get on board with Morrissey in earnest till the mid-2000s. I finally sated my curiosity about the Smiths and understood. I even checked out Morrissey’s latter-day solo work, but Your Arsenal still wasn’t a priority.
I knew I would only want to get it for the cover.
Streaming services have been a great boon for making informed purchasing decisions, and when the “Definitive Master” of Your Arsenal was announced, I did my research. Yes, it is indeed a good album, and yes, I determined I would indeed own it.