Suedehead is a song about the haunting ghost of Morrissey’s hero James Dean.
It is not, primarily, a love song about a break-up.
Morrissey has, since the days of his former band the Smiths, claimed a strong and mystical connection with the dead movie star James Dean.
Suedehead is more of a sketch than a straight-forward story but it centres around the following idea:
A ghost is making visits to Morrissey’s home (“You had to sneak into my room”) and is causing supernatural events - to which the singer asks: “Why do you come here? And why do you hang around?”
Morrissey also thinks the ghost is determined to read the material that has been written about James Dean (“It was just to see all the things you knew I’d written about you”).
There is nothing Morrissey can do to help the ghost, which is why we have the repeated line: “I’m so sorry”.
We presume the ghost in question to be that of James Dean because of the Suedehead music video (see below).
The video documents Morrissey’s pilgrimage to Dean’s gravestone.
It starts with Morrissey receiving delivery of a book emblazoned with the name James Whitcomb Riley - an author associated with James Dean.
This appears to be a reference to the question that Morrissey asks of the ghost: “Why do you telephone? And why send me silly notes?”
This suggests that the ghost of James Dean is a poltergeist or at least a spectre which can exert physical influence onto Morrissey’s material world.
The song ends with what this author believes is a reference to Treasure Island, and tells the ghost: “It was a good lay”.
In this song the word “lay” does not mean sex but instead means “a find”.
That is to say, Morrissey is congratulating the ghost of James Dean for finding him and managing to sneak into his home.
It should be noted that the traditional, romantic interpretation of the song, in which Morrissey is singing to an obsessive ex-lover, is perfectly valid and possibly even correct.
This author, however, stands by the ghostly interpretation.
Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments 👇
The lyric that sums up this song is…
“You had to sneak into my room just to read my diary”
Rudolf Otto’s concept of the “numinous” - https://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln101/Otto.htm