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The Sons and Heirs: Filling That Void

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On March 30, 2006, a seemingly pissed-off Morrissey told Uncut Magazine, “I would rather eat my own testicles than reform The Smiths, and that’s saying something for a vegetarian.”

The blunt remark came after years of rumors The Smiths would get back together, including an unsuccessful attempt by the VH1 reality show “Bands Reunited” to court Morrissey in 2005. Morrissey has even stated, regarding the 40 million British pounds they were offered for a reunion tour, but rejected: “Money doesn’t come into it.” He told Uncut that the other Smiths members don’t deserve to share a stage with him.

Clearly, it’s not happening. So what are fans to do?

Well, there’s Morrissey’s successful solo career – but he doesn’t play Smiths songs. There’s guitarist Johnny Marr’s numerous musical Sons and Heirscollaborations, but you’ve got the same downside there. Then, there’s the plethora of groups that’ve covered them (often badly). And then there’s The Sons and Heirs: A New York City-based tribute band dedicated to bringing fans the complete Smiths experience.

Like, really dedicated.

It all began three years ago with a Craigslist ad, the lineup currently consists of four faux-Smiths-named musicians: singer Ronnissey, guitarist Revi Marr, bassist Johnny Rourke, and drummer Kevin Joyce. Not long after their Friday show at the North Star Bar, I talked with Ronnissey over the phone about the trials and tribulations that go into being a tribute band, and a Smiths tribute band at that.

“When we got the project up and running,” he says, “we knew that The Smiths’ fans were going to be one of the most critical groups of people because they hold Morrissey in such high esteem. So we really focused on not only sounding like them, but looking and acting the part. We wanted to get the look, the vibe and the feel as close as possible.”

Sporting a rockabilly haircut (Ronnissey keeps two pictures of Morrissey on his iPhone and shows it to his barber before taking the stage, telling the tonsorial artist: “Do this”), he dresses in loose button-down dotted shirts and has mastered the Morrissey-esque art of putting his open palm over his face during emotional songs. They even keep gladioli flowers on stage (of which Morrissey was obsessed) and toss them into the crowd during and in-between songs, making sure a single stem and flower is left over when the set is complete – also a Smiths tradition.

So, why The Smiths? “[Morrissey] can express emotions in a format unlike anyone else,” Ronnissey says. “He talks about things and says things that everyone feels but no one knows how to put into words. He can take an emotion that everyone feels and literally put it into another format. He can sing about something sad in a song that makes you feel happy. He has an expressive way that I’ve never heard or seen from any other artist.”

Ronnissey, on the spot, believes one of the greatest examples of this is the song “I Want The One I Can’t Have” on their 1985 sophomore album “Meat Is Murder” in which Morrissey sings of a subject denying himself another person of importance because of “biology” – a song that many fans believe, is a story of homosexuality.

His favorite album is “Rank”, though he admits, “People are going to hate me for [saying that’s my favorite album]…That’s their live record and, for me, it captures something very electric and alive. Something I’m always trying to emulate.”

The band has been up and down the east coast, and even played the House of Blues in Anaheim, California, last year. While Philly fans, he says, “rank up there,” the California fans bring the show to another level (as has been documented in SPIN writer Chuck Klosterman’s 2002 essay “Viva Morrissey”). In fact, Hollywood fans feel it’s their duty to play dress up. “A lot of those fans seem to make it more of an event,” Ronnissey says. “I remember I looked out into the crowd and I thought I saw 50 Morrisseys out there. Just people that really tried to look – they had the glasses, some even had hearing aids, just like Morrissey.”

While The Sons and Heirs are doing their best to fill that void The Smiths won’t, he admits sometimes he’s a little too good at playing Morrissey. “A couple of [fans] were surprised once when I didn’t have an English accent,” he says. “They said, ‘Hey! Where’s your accent?’ And I said, ‘This is my real voice.’ I hate to disappoint, but, you know.” Another fan was once convinced Ronnissey had the inside track to getting in touch with Morrissey. She believed he could get her very specific bootleg videos of The Smiths she’d been looking for. Unfortunately, The Sons and Heirs have never been in contact with anyone associated with The Smiths.

But that’s not what they’re about. The Sons and Heirs exist to create an experience missing from our lives. Something none of us will get to experience again. That’s why Ronnissey is into being as Morrissey as he can, along with the rest of The Sons and Heirs, filling the role of re-animator. “We pull out the studio versions, bootleg shows, and every live version we can,” says Ronnissey, explaining the learning of songs. “We say, ‘How is this one performed live compared to the studio version? How did it sound different in ’83 than in ’85 when it was performed live?’ We kind of went through and put everything under a microscope to get a perfect feel about what these guys were trying to capture. We owe it to the fans to get it right.”