So that story of the Smiths fan who held a station here hostage in the '80s? It's true...well, sort of

Categories: Untold Stories

Details, Details: The origin of this particular urban Smith and how it's been perpetuated over the years:

From William Shaw's 1994 Details Magazine interview:

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"Once, in 1987, a young man in Denver held the local radio station at gunpoint, demanding that they play only Smiths songs. For four hours they complied and the Colorado airwaves were filled with the then-unfamiliar sound of Morrissey, until the police persuaded the gunman to back down. When Morrissey heard what had happened he felt, of course, extreme pleasure. 'But how did you know about it?' he demands. 'I've never come across anybody who knew about it.' The fact that the siege has never been properly reported anywhere outrages Morrissey. 'If it was any other artist, it would have been world news. But because it was poor old tatty Smiths it was of no consequence whatsoever.'"

From Mark Simpson's 2005 biography:

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"In 1987 a distressed young man in Denver, Colorado held his local radio station hostage insisting, at gun point, they play nothing but Smiths records. This they did -- for four hours -- inflicting Morrissey on the good Christian people of Colorado, who up until that point had been for the most part blissfully unaware of his existence. Eventually, the police besieging the building persuaded the unhappy young man to give himself up.

This was both an unhinged, impotent romantic gesture and a dangerous, revolutionary act. If any music ever had a chance of changing the world, or at least giving it some seriously bad dreams, it was the music of The Smiths. The fervent zeal of this mad lad who forced the Denver radio station to saturate the airwaves of his hometown with records by this obscure, depraved British band was, in its own casualty-free way more 'murderous' and ambitious than the rage of the two young shallow nihilists who went on a shooting spree many years later in their High School in Littleton, also in Colorado."

Keep reading for more on the story, including Gil Asakawa's piece in Westword, along with quotes from people who actually worked at the station at the time.

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9 comments
Will_
Will_

It doesn't surprise me that the media coverage from the time was spotty, the mainstream media was getting burned from reporting on anything with an alternative bent, of which they knew nothing about.

Case in point: Around the same time as the events in this story, one of the TV stations did a report proclaiming that there was a religious war brewing in Denver, and all of it based upon the fact that Christian Death was being sprayed on walls all over town. They quickly buried the story once someone alerted them that Christian Death was a band's name.

myvillainy
myvillainy

Nice piece of reporting.  Still, it would be nice to acknowledge that you researched a "myth" that was clearly and accurately reported on by Simon Goddard.  The color you've added is nice, but there is nothing here that adds to the basic facts as reported in "Mozipedia".  It's slightly annoying this story was brought up as an urban legend when in reality it was already adequately documented in an accessible, easy to find, mainstream resource. 

myvillainy
myvillainy

@Will_

Looked at from another perspective, the anecdote about Christian Death and the story about the (non-)siege at KRXY both illustrate the state of the underground in the late 80s. Fans of "alternative music" were convinced the media ignored anything that wasn't part of the mainstream and adopted various approaches to publicizing their favorite artists. The Internet today is much fairer to artists of all stripes, whether they're popular or obscure. Yesterday's would-be criminal would, today, simply start a Tumblr. And yet only lightning-in-a-bottle web memes generate any significant publicity. Everything else vanishes into the cybersoup. The irony is that Christian Death and The Smiths have a higher profile than ever before-- no spray-paint or rifles necessary-- but it's nearly impossible for them to capture anyone's sustained attention. The guy in '87 wanted to hold up a radio station because radio stations were bottlenecks, so to speak. Now the bottlenecks are gone. Everything is networked, open, free, and accessible. Leaving the criminality out of it, which situation is really better for musicians and fans? In a small but interesting way, revisiting these stories presents a revealing contrast between old and new media. As a case in point, the plot of "Airheads" is totally anachronistic now-- it's like watching a movie about a Civil War stagecoach robbery.

dave.herrera
dave.herrera moderator editor

@myvillainyFirst of all, thanks for reading and for taking the time out of your day to offer feedback. I do appreciate it. So, yeah, thanks.

Okay, regarding Mozipedia: We honestly weren't aware of the passage in the book -- or even the book itself -- until you mentioned it in your previous comment, which inspired us to seek out a copy at our local bookstore, to no avail. We couldn't actually find a copy in stock. 

Nonetheless, while props are clearly due to you for being an astute Morrissey/Smiths fan and more so to Mr Goddard, who, from the sounds of it, indeed accurately reported the incident, seemingly adding even more insight it seems than the initial coverage did. It may be "an accessible, easy to find, mainstream resource," as you put it, again, we didn't even know to look for it until you pointed it out.

All that said, for what it's worth, though, I should note that had we had known about this section in Goddard's book, we probably wouldn't have been as driven to do as much reporting as we have, since it would ultimately seemed like a closed file.

As for the urban myth and your pronounced annoyance: You have to know that as far as we were concerned, this was very much an urban myth. As, we initially noted, we couldn't get anybody we spoke with -- until after we found the original article and tracked down the former station employees -- to verify that A), this event actually happened, or B) to cite a credible source. So we were merely operating on the premise that it was an urban myth until proven otherwise. Heck, we lived here at the and the time and have no recollection of this happening.

Besides that, your assessment of both pieces is pretty spot on, actually. We knew it we didn't have the definitive story. As we've been researching and gathering information, we were simply sharing what we've found, and as you've rightfully observed: the additional quotes from the station employees really does just add color.

But the story doesn't end here. Rest assured, even since we posted this this morning, in the course of our reporting, we have come across some new information that's hasn't been reported that will definitely advance the story. This is a fascinating story, and there's more to it. All of what we've found since is forthcoming, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, thanks again for weighing in. Hope you return for the rest of the story.

-- dh

dave.herrera
dave.herrera moderator editor

@myvillainy @Will_ "...watching a movie about a Civil War stagecoach robbery" -- what an absolutely great parallel to draw. Totally true.

myvillainy
myvillainy

@dave.herrera @myvillainy 

Fair enough, thanks for the reply.  I'm just trying to uphold Smiths' fans well-earned reputation as cranky, easily-provoked sourpusses.  I'm sure I succeeded.  Carry on.

dave.herrera
dave.herrera moderator editor

@myvillainy  Not at all. I really do appreciate the feedback and the dialogue. Cheers!

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