Don't Forget the Hooligans

Mozzer wouldn't talk to us, so we got the next best thing: The country's most successful Morrissey tribute act

Morrissey, England's most dapper downer, isn't quite as depressed as he used to be. In fact he seems to be almost enjoying what he does these days, touring the world in support of his latest album, Ringleader of the Tormentors (Sanctuary). Nevertheless the guy is still as press-shy as ever and chooses not to chat with most nosy reporters about his continued success and ever-increasing popularity. This is thanks, in no small part, to a legion of Hispanic fans here in the United States. So we decided to go to the next best thing: the Sweet and Tender Hooligans, a hugely successful Morrissey tribute band based in Los Angeles and fronted by José Maldonado. Maldonado has the unique perspective of being a lifelong Morrissey fan while being Morrissey too. Well, sort of.

Sweet and Tender Hooligans formed in 1992. But when did you discover the Smiths and Morrissey?

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Morrissey performs with Kristeenyoung on Saturday, July 14, at Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Doors open at 8:00 p.m. Tickets cost $45 to $75. Visit www.ticketmaster.com.

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That must be The Queen Is Dead. I was in a record store, just shopping around for cassettes, and the store had this brand-new album playing over the speakers. It was something I had never, ever heard before in my entire life. It was this unique voice and this amazing guitar, coupled together, playing these amazing songs with these crazy lyrics. Immediately I had to know what it was. From then on I was a fan. I didn't just have to have that album. I had to have every album, every single, and every B-side.

Did you have the experience of most Morrissey followers, who will swear he has changed their lives, or even saved them?

People do tend to speak very dramatically about how Morrissey changed their life, how the Smiths changed their life. I can understand it. For me, personally, I became even more interested in music than I already was. There was somebody singing about feelings of isolation and loneliness and all that crazy stuff. When you're feeling that different ... he struck a chord.

Why call yourselves Sweet and Tender Hooligans?

I came up with the name because, at the time, I thought, Hey, we should name ourselves after a Smiths song so everyone knows what school we come from. In retrospect I wish I had picked a shorter name than that because it never fits on the marquee.

Can you talk about Morrissey's ever-increasing popularity, which has a lot to do with the Hispanic community. In your opinion, what is it about Morrissey that appeals so much to the Mexican-American experience?

If you come to Southern California, and you come to these Morrissey shows, and you look out at the audience, you'll see they're 90 percent Latino. And they're not just they're. They are passionate; they know the lyrics to every song.

But why?

I like the theory that because we're a passionate people and Morrissey is a passionate guy, that's why we gravitate toward him. His lyrics are so melodramatic and over-the-top about the feeling you're experiencing at that very moment. A lot of Spanish-speaking music is the same way. You could cry a million tears and I would swim through them to get to you, that kind of thing. Then there's the loneliness and isolation feeling that we, as Latinos growing up in Southern California, can kind of identify with. There's that feeling of being an outsider in a place that really wasn't for you. It was somebody else's place, and then suddenly we all moved in. Morrissey's experience growing up Irish in Northern England was probably not unlike what Latinos experience growing up in Southern California. From my understanding, I know Irish immigrants in Northern England grow up Catholic and working-class, their families are closer and larger, they're as big a fans of soccer as we are. Even though Morrissey doesn't necessarily sing about that, maybe that's how we identify with him subconsciously.

How did you first meet Morrissey?

I always thought, when I finally got to meet Morrissey, it would be at a quick autograph-signing session. But the band, immediately following rehearsal every Thursday [used to go to this bar in Pasadena] and, this one Thursday, there he was. We were totally surprised. He wasn't being mobbed or asked for autographs either, so it was the perfect opportunity. Holding back as much emotion as I could, [I said to him], "I always thought of what I would say to you if I got to meet you, and now that I've met you, I just want you to know that every single day of my life is just that much better because your songs are part of it." He looked back at me and said, "The feeling is mutual. Every day of my life is that much better because there are people listening to my songs." I couldn't have imagined a better first meeting with Morrissey. I've met him a few times since then. He's larger than life, and I think his most distinguishing characteristic is that he looks like the epitome of the word gentleman. Well-dressed, well-mannered, just wonderful. A real class act.

When did you first realize Morrissey knew who the Sweet and Tender Hooligans were?

In 1999 he opened his tour by saying, "Hello, we're the Sweet and Tender Hooligans." That's when I realized, "Oh my God, he knows who we are." Later, as it turns out, at an autograph session, I was like the 127th person in line and, as soon as he made eye contact with me, he was like, "Oh, there you are." I gave him a look and said something to the effect of, "Oh, you know who I am?" And he said, very jokingly, "Of course I know you. It's as if I was looking in the mirror." Right after that, his words were "How was the show last week?" meaning he knew about a show we just did at the House of Blues. He asked what songs we played, and I mentioned "Lost," and he said, "You've done that song before, and you know how I know? I have a copy of one of your shows on VHS." To have him tell me that was incredible.

Has he ever seen you play live?

He has seen us playing, we think, twice. We're certain of one, but the second show has yet to be confirmed.

You've stated in the past that Sweet and Tender Hooligans is a hobby, not a livelihood. Yet very few musical artists have ever felt the need to acknowledge their tribute bands like Morrissey has. That's pretty impressive for a hobby, don't you think?

It sure beats bowling.

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