Like most Smiths fans under 30, I think I heard about Morrissey being pissed off for some reason or another before I'd heard him croon over a single perfect Johnny Marr riff. He's a self-consciously difficult figure to ignore once he's wedged himself into the news, a stout British guy with a voluminous haircut and one name, and he's been getting pissed off and pissing other people off about things for so long that he drags an important-sounding history into the news cycle behind him every time it happens. Now he's called Paul McCartney "Paul McCartload," canceled a Jimmy Kimmel appearance because of an inexplicably real reality show about duck hunters, and gotten Staples Center to go meatless (eventually.) (Here's some incredibly Morrissey quotes about it.)
And I'd talk about it tarnishing his legacy, but is it really tarnishing his legacy if it's kept his legacy in the news the whole time?
I don't want to say that most Smiths fans under 30 also share this with me, but some must--I probably wouldn't even have heard the Smiths, at least not when I did, if it weren't for Morrissey constantly making news for things other than his music.
And when I did, it didn't much matter that the guy singing was the same guy who said things like "Tune in [to Jimmy Kimmel Live] and relive the intellectual fog of the 1950s."
It could be that Morrissey is--in this way as in so many others--an edge case. Even in his early days he presided over an album called Meat Is Murder and sang a fusillade of Oscar Wilde-isms designed to get under the skin of listeners who were just in it for the euphony. In life, then, as in music, it makes sense for Morrissey to be the same weird combination of theatrically principled and theatrically noisome.
But I don't think it's just that.