While candidates debate and pundits recap what is the measure of a man, the rest of us with shallower gene pools hear that phrase and wonder if Clay Aiken still hasn’t gotten laid. Even his name sounds like some Dutch translation for “the sex eludes me still.” God bless that spiky-haired nerd from Raleigh with the Anacin-inducing voice for entering the “American Idol” sweepstakes just when we needed a new virginal pop star. By the spring of 2003, Britney’s broken promise to save it for her wedding night was only a harbinger of worse to come. Who could foresee America’s sweetheart’s record-breaking 55-hour marriage or her second white trash wedding, this one catered by Cheetos? In a word, sheesh!
Luckily Clay Aiken came along to snatch that virginal crown, although maybe the words Clay Aiken and snatch shouldn’t be in the same sentence. By keeping everyone guessing about his sexuality (by feigning he hasn’t got one), Clay stumbled onto a great marketing tool — that abstinence makes the fans grow fonder. Note how his loyal legion of “Claymates” risk scorn by wearing “I wanna play with Clay” T-shirts yet won’t even try to kiss him at a meet-and-greet because, as Claymaniac Gloria Dietz (who won a contest to meet the man) actually told The Baltimore Sun, “He doesn’t like that stuff.”
But as Britney fans prove daily, devotees will quickly turn on an idol who breaks a “no fornication” pledge. Remember, “A pop star who isn’t chaste won’t be chased for very long.” I think Sister Janet Mead said that shortly after maxing out her one-hit-wonderdom with “The Lord’s Prayer.” No, if Clay is going to learn from anyone how to make this celibacy thing work for decades at a stretch, he should study Morrissey, the Manchesterian candidate who parlayed pity for sleeping single into an indispensable marketing tool. So how soon is now for examining pop’s greatest stalled stalwarts and their most recent pent-up releases, Morrissey’s You are the Quarry and Clay’s Measure of a Man, side by side? Does Clay have the staying power to just say “no” as long as The Miserable One? What is the measure of a celibate man? Is it the guy who sits home alone reading Oscar Wilde or the guy who belts the hell outta Neil Sedaka songs? The more you ignore this race, the closer it gets.
Who’s more down with Jesus?
Since fornication without the proper legal papers is a Catholic deal-breaker, it would probably be a good idea not to cross our Savior, as it were. Of the two singers, Clay clearly has the better rapport with the Holy Trinity — on the sleeve notes he thanks “God the Alpha,” “Jesus Christ the Omega” and music biz mogul Clive Davis somewhere in-between. Clay even name-checks the Almighty in a song about a potential one-night stand so you know the kettle won’t be brought to boil anytime soon.
Impressive as that is, on “I Have Forgiven Jesus” Morrissey blames the Virgin Mary’s boy for sticking him in “self deprecating bones and skin,” the root cause for so many dateless Saturday nights at chez Morrissey. To His credit, Jesus, whose own virginal status was threatened by rumored shag with Mary Magdalene, has not avenged ol’ Moz with unsightly boils or visits from televangelist Reverend Schuller. No corporal punishment could be worse than being the living embodiment of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”
Who’s the lonelier-looking “Cover Star”?
The cover and foldout insert of Measure of a Man feature shots of Clay hugging a chair. You’re wondering if it’s a German chair or a Spanish one, thereby determining whether that noun is masculine or feminine, aren’t cha? Why don’t you people leave poor Clay alone?
The cover and foldout insert of You are the Quarry feature shots of Morrissey in pinstripes brandishing a machine gun. If he were a black man, this OG pose would get him lots of easy action from both sides of the fence, but being white just gets him mistaken for a member of Paper Lace of “The Night Chicago Died” fame, which won’t even win him a warm handshake. Way ta go, Moz.
Who’s more controversial on record?
As any eunuch will tell you, celibacy without controversy equals Sir Cliff Richard, who means zero on this side o’ the pond. So it’s no shock that Morrissey opens his album with anti-nationalist blasts at his native land (“Irish Blood, English Heart”) and his adopted country (“America is Not the World”). And as we Yanks know, even thinking “America, you know where you can shove your hamburger” is grounds for deportation under this administration.
Clay clearly needs help generating some controversy on record. About the most scandalous thing he does on this CD is program a bonus cut in the middle of the album, instead of just making “This is the Night (Bonus Cut)” plain ol’ Track 9 or burying it at the end. Someone, please — explain.
Who’s more controversial in real life?
With his outspoken work for PETA, his calling for the guillotining of Margaret Thatcher and his recent wish that George Dubya pass away silently in the night instead of feeble Reagan, Morrissey is used to making foes in high places.
In pitiful contrast, Clay admitted to hating cats (he actually said “I think cats are Satan” on “The Tonight Show,” confusing viewers who thought Evil Jay had that assignment) and running over his kitten when he was 16. This angered PETA, which immediately started a “Get Neutered. It didn’t hurt Clay Aiken” campaign with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Virgin or not, you don’t want to get on a hand puppet’s bad side.
Who’s more candid with reporters?
Need we even ask? Morrissey declared himself an avowed celibate years ago, although by 1997 he softened somewhat, claiming to be celibate “only on Christmas and bank holidays.” Still, unauthorized biographers and former Smith members maintain that he continues to just say “no.” Recently Moz told an NME interviewer who hadn’t yet found his soul mate by age 29 that he ought to forget it. “Buy yourself a nice budgie. That’s my advice to you.”
Clay greets reporters’ queries of “Are you gay?” with the robotic “next question.” But if he’s in a good mood, he’ll say he “just hasn’t found the right girl,” an excuse Liberace took to the grave along with “I lost too much weight on the watermelon diet.”
Who gives the female fans more false hope?
From the beginning, Morrissey has been straight with his female fans, so to speak. On the new album he reiterates, “The woman of my dreams never came along/ the woman of my dreams/Well, there never was one.” Even on his “Let Me Kiss You” duet with Nancy Sinatra, she goes unbilled so no one gets the wrong idea.
Unlike Morrissey, whose constant use of the word “fat” probably frightens the most lard-hipped groupies away, Clay invites the Tracy Turnblatts of the world to come onstage and frug with him. Clay’s female fan base desperately believes that only a guy who doesn’t want to sleep with them can be trusted. Why else would they vote Clay above Justin, Usher and Enrique in an In Style magazine “Sexiest Singer” poll? They’re just throwing their votes away, like Naderites.
While Clay never consummates any relationships on his album he comes dangerously close to foreplay on “Touch,” going so far as saying all he wants to do is “drown in your body,” an offer that is changed to “drown in the moment” in later verses. That’s what’s known as “bait and switch.”
Who’s more pathetic?
Clay’s at his most vulnerable on the dorky “Invisible,” where the best he can hope for is being a fly on the wall so he can watch some girl in her room. That trumps Moz’s request to “think of someone you physically admire and let me kiss you,” but doesn’t quite come near blaming the Son of Man for the phone not ringing.
Who’s the inspiration?
It’s apparent that Aiken wants to exhume all those head-splitting notes that haven’t been in use since Peter Cetera was a threat to eyeglasses everywhere. Clay’s cadre of hack songwriters even steals the melody of “Shine” from “You’re the Inspiration.” That’s what’s known as irony, my friends.
Morrissey has been around long enough to be an original who steals from himself, but when he bellows, “Do you hate me? Do you hate me?” on “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” it sounds like a lift from the “do you have to, do you have to let it linger” badgering we used to get from the Cranberries. Hardly worth the wrist slap.
Who’s broken the law?
Due to passport problems, Morrissey was recently mistaken for a terrorist at LAX and kept in a police cell for three hours. Needless to say, no conjugal visits but two angry songs about people with smelly uniforms on the new LP. But according to Moz, the real terrorists are people on shows like “American Idol” and its UK counterpart “Pop Star.” “They are worse than terrorists. … You can only shudder at the working mind of the young people who enter the competition.”
Unlike most “American Idol” contestants, Clay hasn’t broken any criminal laws. Sure, like Sid Vicious, Clay killed a cat but didn’t follow it up with the triple celibate sweep — get addicted to heroin and lose your sex drive, stab your girlfriend, go to jail and off yourself while awaiting trial. But maybe Clay had the right idea, if you sing “Solitaire’s the only game in town” enough times, people just leave you alone.
Morrissey performs at the State Theatre (2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5450) on Sunday, Oct. 17.Serene Dominic is a freelance scribe. Contact him at email@example.com