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People are the Same Everywhere (Morrissey)

This song is about authenticity and the futility of searching for love. 

The most useful literary reference to understand these lyrics would be the German existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger. 

It would appear that Morrissey makes explicit references to Heidegger’s work in the lyrics and uses his theories as a general context for the song.

The tradition of romanticism, and the idea that romantic love is a Holy Grail worth pursuing, comes under attack in People are the Same Everywhere.

And finally the song is also threaded with a belief in a “creator”, which most likely falls into the Judaeo-Christian tradition. 

German existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger pictured by Willy Pragher in 1960 (courtesy of the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg)

Firstly we will start with Heidegger.

Heidegger is all about being an “authentic” person who faces up to the truth that death is completely inevitable - and it could happen at any time.

He says that you, the person reading this, could literally die in two minutes time from a random heart attack.

And only if you constantly accept this truth and make your choices accordingly are you living “authentically”. 

During the same period as People are the Same Everywhere, Morrissey penned a song entitled Action is my Middle Name, in which he claims to inhabit the very same death-facing attitude as Heidegger, singing:

Action is my middle name

I can’t waste time anymore

Everybody has a date with an undertaker – a date that they cannot break

But interestingly Heidegger has something particular to say about conformity and the way that we all blend into one, homogeneous mass, or to use his word: a “herd”.

One interpretation is that to be truly individual is basically an unwinnable fight and ultimately we are resigned to a life of feeling like we are unique, when in fact each of us is just another uniform, uninteresting cow in the field.

But in People are the Same Everywhere, Morrissey claims to have escaped this fate.

He says he is the only exception in the “herd”, and that he has achieved the greatness of true, existential authenticity:

Set me aside, you’ll find people are the same everywhere

Hoist me from the herd and people are the same everywhere 

Interestingly he also reflects Heidegger’s arguments that groups, or tribes or subcultures, offer an empty facsimile of individualism:

Set me aside and find people are the same everywhere

Scoop me from the group and groups are the same everywhere

Heidegger was an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazi movement in Germany.

This is noteworthy considering Morrissey’s recent declarations of support for English political sentiments considered by some to be on the far-right. 

Secondly we move on to the idea that the pursuit of romantic love is a futile exercise that is ultimately disappointing, as expressed here:

 Here in our loveless nation, we’re all in a rush

To find a lover’s touch - and when it’s found you wonder why it meant so much 

The romantic tradition and the modern concept of “love” may have found its roots in the High Middle Ages (1,000 AD to 1,300 AD).

Somewhere amongst the story-telling “troubadours” and their tales of the Holy Grail our modern concept of love – as something that can be searched for, discovered, and won – was born.

But in People are the Same Everywhere Morrissey uses the USA’s national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner (video above), to paint the pursuit of love as an idealistic quest that is as silly as someone believing there is actually a “home of the brave” to be found in the United States of America.

He says, in a nutshell, that the capture is never as good as the chase.

Once he finds a lover, he wonders why it meant so much, as the feeling is not what he was promised by hundreds of years of Western culture.

Just like the Holy Grail, romantic love does not exist.

And even if an adventurer were to discover that much-coveted artefact, would it really give him the satisfaction he believes it would?

French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus pictured by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Finally, it is worth noting that the song makes reference to a supreme creator who was responsible for Morrissey’s authentic individuality:

Then our creator had to stumble and stall

And our creator had to make the biggest mistake of all 

It is possible that the creator is a supreme, omnipotent God in the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

This is the most likely explanation considering the context of Morrissey’s other work which makes many obvious references to Christianity and particularly Catholicism.

Although, it is important to understand that if Morrissey is saying that God created him, and is responsible for his authenticity, then some existentialists would argue that Morrissey has lost the right to call himself authentic.

It is also possible that Morrissey’s use of the word “creator” refers to society as a whole, and the myriad combinations of forces that work together to form each individual.

Morrissey may be saying that, in some way, this process went wrong, and created a freak with the capacity for existential authenticity.

This would be a more sympathetic reading, and may appeal to cigarette-smoking and pompadoured existentialists, but it is less likely. 

The lyric that sums up this song is…

Hoist me from the herd and people are the same everywhere

Further reading

Watch the video for People are the Same Everywhere by Morrissey

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