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This Charming Man (The Smiths)

This Charming Man is a sketch about an older man flirting with a younger man.

It is also a profound tale about a young man weighing up his biggest worries and insecurities.

The story is as follows: the song’s main character finds himself with a broken bicycle on a quiet hillside in the country.

He has no means of fixing his bike and he is worried about what to do next.

At this point an older man in an expensive car turns up and offers our main character a lift. The car is fitted with luxurious leather seats and the younger man is tempted by the offer.

The older man then asks the younger man out on a date, to which our character replies: “I would go out tonight but I haven’t got a stitch to wear.”

It is at this point that the older, charming man delivers his killer chat-up line and says: “It’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care”. 

We do not know if the younger man actually accepted the offer and got in the car - but one imagines that he probably didn’t, and that is why the song is tinged with a sense of regret.

Picture: Charlie Llewellin from Austin, USA

Alongside that simple story we have three further elements which run throughout the song.

Firstly, there is the “jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place”. This character advises someone - who we presume to be the young man - to “return the ring” because “he (the pantry boy) knows so much about these things”.

This pantry boy character is a mystical figure who seems to know more about life, and its difficult decisions, than he really should - considering his lowly status. 

The main character sings about this pantry boy in order to suggest that marriage, or any kind of long-term commitment to the older, charming man, would be a mistake. The ring, of course, represents marriage.

Secondly, Morrissey’s primal screams, which appear twice in the song, suggest a subconscious or underlying desire for the main character to act on his sexual urges towards the older man.

It is almost as if the main character really, really wants to get in the older man’s car and have a ”dirty weekend in Hell’s Bells”, but the pantry boy’s advice and the character’s own shyness both put a stop to the idea.

Thirdly, there is the arresting question that the main character poses at the audience - or God - or maybe even to the older gentleman: ”Will nature make a man of me yet?

The character feels as if he is a boy in a man’s world, and desperately wants to be a “man”.

He asks if the forces of nature will make this so, simply by adding years to his life, or whether he must become a man himself via a journey of self-discovery and adventure.

By looking at Morrissey’s later career, with reference to albums such as Southpaw Grammar (particularly its eponymous song Southpaw) and You are the Quarry (particularly I’m Not Sorry), it would appear that self-discovery and adventure was the answer.

The lyric that sums up this song is…

“Why pamper life’s complexity when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat?”

Watch the video for This Charming Man by the Smiths

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