Before going ahead, readers should know that this song deals with the topic of suicide as a prominent theme. Should the reader find this theme upsetting or triggering they should be advised not to read on as this may cause unintentional upset.
The Smiths, with their Manchester origins, bucket-loads of angst and Cold War influence, burst onto the scene in 1982 and are widely credited with starting what is now known as the Indie genre. With hits such as ‘This Charming Man’, and ‘Panic’, the band defined themselves as the alternative to the sugar coated pop music and provided a welcome commentary on the politics of the time. Despite these often rowdy and untamed hits, however, it is their B-side track ‘Asleep’, released in 1986, that is undoubtedly my personal favourite and holds a place in my heart.
To those like myself who grew have grown up through the mid-2000s, the song would have been introduced to us through the controversial coming of age film The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the mixtape of Ponytail Derek. The film, with themes of abuse, homosexuality and rape, is strangely complimented by this morbid song and encompasses its message of how we accept what we think we deserve and calmly accept our own ends. From the first time Morrissey asks his partner to sing him to sleep to the last, there is an overwhelming sense of sureness for the listener that is almost impossible to escape and perhaps this is why I have felt so compelled to review it. The repeating melody and words lull its listeners into a hypnosis of calm despite the haunting blend of fatigue, desperation and nonchalance within. It is the lullaby of death, wrapping up our mortality in soft words and music boxes until we, like the voice speaking, understand his point of view. Though not explicitly making us contemplate committing the act, it still triggers questioning of our positions in life, our roles in society and what the effect of our disappearance would be.
Amongst its peers, ‘Asleep’ stands alone as a song of lost hope and lost fight that greatly contradicts the rebellious nature that the band was known for. This song has seen me through both my highs and my lows, reminding me of the importance of staying grounded and the importance of staying alive (which here means really living through experience and not through a screen). I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and each time I’ve had this song as a reminder that “there is a better world/ there must be”. I’m sure when Morrissey originally wrote the song, his better world was something unreachable but for me a better world is the world I create for myself and the people around me. A world where the desperation for ‘sleep’ in this song is shared in a safe place with people who care and despite all protests do not want to sing others out of their lives. I will forever be indebted to this song and its singer for changing the way I see music forever.
Music doesn’t always have to be a sugarcoated mask: it can be honest, even when that honesty isn’t what we want to hear. It can rip at our heart strings and pull at our souls and will continue to do so until we begin to understand its true power.