Please note that this is all my own personal interpretation, take it with a grain a salt.
Half a person is a song title by The Smiths. It’s only three words long (The Smiths can have a tendency for sentence long song names) but the meanings that one can grasp from it are so varied that it seems almost infinite. Not only is it significant in its bitter connotations of inadequacy but more importantly it makes me think of detachment. When I say detachment, I’m referring to the sensation of being physically present but mentally astray. When this feeling of disconnect from the real world around you becomes chronic then feeling like half a person is quite accurate. You’re only half a person because you live with one foot on the cold, hard ground of reality and the other is pulling you into fantasy land. I blame my absent mindedness on this affliction of only really being half there. When it comes to the extent of my carelessness, it has so far seemed unrivaled. I once travelled by plane to fetch my car from my student residence, only to realise that I had forgotten the keys in a different city. I know that my wandering mind is becoming increasingly problematic, yet I can’t bring myself to exist mentally in a life so comparatively bland. Where would we be without our fantasies? Writers build entire careers out of worlds that they are able to bring to life. The most miraculous thing about this is how others are able to be absorbed into these worlds. Even though these creations are from the mind of another, they belong to everyone. They exist simultaneously in their original state, in the mind of the creator, as well as in the imagination of others. They are subject to various interpretations and diverge into new worlds of their own.
When we look into the world of living as “Half a person”, this world seems to be filled with regret. It is hard to live life to the fullest when one is consumed with inner conflict. You’re living half a life; therefore you are half a person. The sting of inadequacy resounds. Life is inadequate.
Through the lyrics of this song, I insert myself into this world. The sensation of not being completely alive is familiar. My body is merely a vessel. My mind is what keeps me alive. Through its ever-expanding nature, I travel into non-existent worlds.
The song itself is one of longing and ambivalence. Morrissey is examining his life, now in the wake of success and fame, and retreating back into his youth. He is consumed by nostalgia. The “she” he is referring to could perhaps be a past lover but if not, she is nevertheless important to him. A particularly jarring part of this verse is his recollection of her telling him that “In the days when you were hopelessly poor, I just liked you more”. It’s interesting to examine the loss of self he experiences. On the surface, he is an accomplished man. However, he has reached the ultimate contradiction of life. He has obtained his dream, only to feel limited. The void remains, perhaps becoming increasingly more hollow as ambition is stifled by the knowledge that some goals are never meant to be reached. They are more rich and fulfilling in dreams.
Perhaps this retreat into nostalgia is creating an entirely new world of its own. In his reminiscing, he is viewing his life from a place of wisdom. He is no longer sixteen years old as he is a newer, more defined person. He has been shaped by his experiences. When he views his youth he is looking at it through a veil of subjectivity. He sees the parts he wants to see. He cannot experience it with the same naivety and fresh anticipation of the unknown.
Despite their short career (or arguably because of it), The Smiths are a widely successful and celebrated band. My introduction to their music was through pop culture (most notably one of my all-time favourite movies 500 days of Summer). Since my familiarity with them, I have become more aware of their mention in TV shows and other movies. They are the voice of the common man, hence the name “The Smiths”. Their reach into the souls of others is vast and ever-growing. The band broke up a good seven years before I was born yet here I am examining the impact their song has on me. There are many more of their songs that have also affected me.
The most profound and glaring set of lyrics in Half a Person are:
“And if you have five seconds to spare,
Then I’ll tell you the story of my life:
Sixteen, clumsy and shy
That’s the story of my life”
Through its repetition its significance is highlighted. When Morrissey’s smooth and decadent voice croons out these words, I know that I am not alone. I share his life story.