One Track Mind: Morrissey, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” from 25Live (2013)

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The decades have changed everything about this song. Once a paean, at least for me, of youth-bound angst — about dreams deferred for the drudgery (the tragedy!) of homework — it’s now shot through with real regret.

Getting older does that.

And so there’s Morrissey, singing “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” a Smiths song I must have listened to a thousand times in that period between being a kid and getting out in the world, and it’s all irrevocably different. Performing here as part of concert souvenir called 25Live from Eagle Vision (one that somehow marks a quarter century already gone as a solo artist), Morrissey wears a paisley shirt, only just covering the beginnings of a paunch. His shoes are scuffed at the toe, his hair is close cropped and increasingly gray, his face is lined not with a put-on grimace of cold war-era nihilism but with the years. With the many, many years. I recognize him. I recognize me.

Christ, how little we knew. Neither of us had any idea, for instance, the things we would try for and fail at, the things that would be lost (some of it in a blink of an eye, some of it so slowly as to be at first imperceptible), the things that we’d one day wish we’d paid closer attention to, the things we’d spent so much time trying to forget that now we can’t help but remember. Now, we didn’t know what would go right either, what we’d be thankful for, the good fortune that would shine down upon our unworthy lives — but this, alas, is not that kind of song. Still, all of that is in there. So, every one of those gray hairs, every verse of this new version, is another chance for perspective.

Morrissey sings each line with a painful slowness, like he’s tasting every missed opportunity all over again. And yet “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” (even borne anew here) remains far too short at under two minutes, coming and going like a thunderclap. Just like that, he’s gone — not with an accompanying rush of melancholy strings, the way it’s reflexively remembered from the b-side of the Smiths’ 1984 single “William, It Was Really Nothing,” but amid a torrent of reproachful guitar.

Morrissey quickly returns, wearing a fresh shirt and ready to continue what becomes a 116-minute overview of his career — all before an intimate crowd at Los Angeles’ Hollywood High back in March. But 25Live never reached any deeper into my chest. Seems, all of this time later, Morrissey keeps finding new corners to explore in “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” Me, too.

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