Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

What is MorrisseyOke? Exactly what it sounds like (Video)

KPCC (via Vimeo)

Several months ago, I saw a tweet that about made me jump out of my chair. I don't remember exactly what it said, only that it was from the Boyle Heights wine bar Eastside Luv and that it referred to something called "MorrisseyOke." Which could only mean one thing.

Now, it's no news flash that in places like Boyle Heights (and Huntington Park, South Gate, Downey, Pico Rivera, Norwalk, West Covina, Santa Ana...yes, places where Latinos live), there are some huge fans of Steven Patrick Morrissey, aka simply Morrissey, the pop icon and former lead singer of the 1980s British band The Smiths. Their music played an important role in the soundtrack of my Eastside upbringing, as it has for many others.

For years, writers and filmmakers - heck, there's even a forthcoming book - have documented the love we Latino types have for Morrissey, whose lyrics capture a sense of alienation that many a kid living between two cultures is bound to feel at some point. In L.A., even our local Smiths cover band is fronted by a Latino. Some, like the OC Weekly's Gustavo Arellano, have pointed out how Morrissey's songs of longing and angst echo the emotion of classic rancheras sung by old-time Mexican crooners (and to be fair, most of Morrissey's Latino fans in L.A. are Mexican American, though you'll catch the occasional stray Salvadoran or Cuban as well.) 

In an exploration of the Latino cult of Morrissey in The Believer, Chloe Veltman wrote: "More devoutly than any other pop icon, Morrissey embodies the outsider." Which makes perfect sense. When the rain falls hard on a humdrum town full of working-class families with kids who are American but not quite, living on the margins of a big city, it needn't be Manchester for those lyrics to resonate. It could just as well be South Gate or Maywood.

Now for the fun part: The latest manifestation of Latino Moz love has been taking shape in that little bar on First Street across from Mariachi Plaza, Eastside Luv, once every couple of months for about 8 months now. A DJ spins Smiths and solo Morrissey tunes while dubbing down the vocals so that the bar patrons can get onstage and sing along. It's not karaoke with the bouncing ball - you can still hear a bit of Morrissey's vocals - which makes it, well, MorrisseyOke.

What does it sound like? Check out this guy's rendition of "Barbarism Begins at Home."
MZ000051 by KPCC

Hey, it's a bar, okay? I recorded more audio during a MorrisseyOke event last month, so you can hear additional snippets on tomorrow's Madeleine Brand Show on 89.3 KPCC FM at 9 a.m.

Also accompanying me was KPCC's Mae Ryan, who shot the video above. We caught up with organizer Alexis De La Rocha (if you're watching the video, she's the woman in the skeleton suit). "It’s like a sing along night," De La Rocha told me. "People have their iPhones, their notepads, their lyrics and they are just singing their hearts out."

But mostly, the fans are so steeped in Morrissey that they have the lyrics indelibly etched on the brain, as I discovered I did, even the lyrics of songs I hadn't heard in years. (Anyone who knows what I look like might see me in the crowd, singing along as I hold up the microphone.)

It's not the only "oke" done at Eastside Luv, which among other things regularly brings back the mariachis who used to play in the same space for a different generation on "MariachiOke" nights, when patrons sing to their live music. For those who want to belt out Morrissey songs, though, there's another MorrisseyOke happening this Thursday, starting at at 8 p.m.