Morrissey sits pensively in a bathtub, a poster of James Dean and Richard Davalos rising above him and the accoutrements of a writer—a typewriter, a fountain pen, a volume of Byron—about him. Lest there be any doubt about the subject of Moz’s contemplation, shots of a handwritten note signed “Jim {Brando Clift} Dean” and a 1955 copy of
The Fairmount News bearing a report of Dean’s death flash by. All of this set the scene for Morrissey’s video for “Suedehead,” his 1988 debut solo single; and fitting for a song about obsessive love, it offers a portrait of the singer-songwriter in his element as a devoted, unqualified fan.

Moz’s existence as a fan began early, and ran deep and unabashed. His adolescence, when not spent in thrall to the transformative music and magic of T.Rex and David Bowie, and presiding over the England chapter of the New York Dolls fan club, saw him firing off letters to editors of music magazines, praising and defending his favorites from Sparks (“Today I bought the album of the year”) to The Cramps (“Back to the Cramps or perish”). His 2013 Autobiography, recounting his teenage fandom, contained swooning passages on Andy Warhol and Patti Smith, and unleashed rapturous homages to pop culture. “Loudly and wildly the music played,” went one, “always pointing to the light, to the way out, or the way in, to individualism, and to the remarkable if unsettling notion that life could possibly be lived as you might wish it to be lived.”

All that was writ larger in The Smiths’ array of album and single sleeves from the mid ‘80s, which re-contextualized scenes and images culled from the film, TV, music, and cultural circles of the 1950s and ‘60s. Morrissey’s aim, he said, was to “take images that were the opposite of glamour and to pump enough heart and desire into them to show ordinariness as an instrument of power—or, possibly glamour.” That worked out, but put together, these covers also constructed a veritable lexicon of his screen idols and pop heroes.

“Bigmouth Strikes Again” by The Smiths, 1986.

Of course, James Dean was there. Moz’s fixation on Dean, which began at age six when he saw Rebel Without A Cause “quite by accident,” had already resulted in a 1983 paperback work, James Dean is Not Dead (or “a dreadful heap of 70s juvenilia,” according to an adult Morrissey), in which he lovingly detailed the movie star’s brief life. “Nobody had a passion for him as I did,” he’s insisted. Which explains Dean’s pride of place on the cover of The Smith’s 1986 single “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and two years on, the tribute that was the “Suedehead” video.

Video for “Suedehead” by Morrissey, 1988, directed by Tom Broad.

Appropriately, since he professed to be “more impressed with [Dean’s] life off the screen,” the video, directed by Tom Broad, sees Morrissey making a pilgrimage to his hero’s birthplace, Fairmount, Indiana. There, the singer walks the town’s snow-blown streets, snaps pictures, and visits Dean’s old hangouts from a cafe to a drugstore to his now-abandoned high school. “To [the town’s] locals, I must seem like a bit of nonsense from Montague Square,” he later wrote in Autobiography. He calls on the farm owned by Dean’s surviving relatives, Marcus and Ortense Winslow, and in the barn, does a bit of light reading—as a young Jimmy Dean used to do—before surveying the handprint and initials his idol left in the cement floor. (The film crew later departed the farm under some awkwardness, after Dean’s cousin Markie discovers Morrissey’s hand in James Dean is Not Dead.)

The film culminates with a beautifully shot segment at Park Cemetery, where Moz visits—and apparently, wept at—the graves of the fictitious Cal Dean (Dean played Cal Trask in East of Eden) and the real James Dean. As the video fades out, an image of Dean appears, floating above the proceedings, handsomely brooding over Moz’s vigil by his grave.

Video for “Suedehead” by Morrissey, 1988, directed by Tom Broad.

The subject of the “Suedehead” video, though, seems less James Dean than the act of homage itself. Note all the meditative gazes, for one. Here, Morrissey doesn’t just underscore his obsession with the actor right down to the minutest detail (Byron is Dean’s middle name; The Little Prince, which Morrissey brandishes, is Dean’s favorite book), but literally walks in his hero’s footsteps, reliving his “magnificently perfect” life. At one point, he’s pictured astride a motorbike, in a pose not at all different from Dean’s stance as depicted on the cover of “Bigmouth Strikes Again.”

Video for “Suedehead” by Morrissey, 1988, directed by Tom Broad.

In fact, like any Smiths sleeve, Morrissey’s visit to Fairmount may look ordinary on the surface, but undergirding that is indeed “heart and desire,” reverence and adulation. Note, too, the opening scene’s bath mat bearing the line, “There is a light that never goes out,” which was gifted to him by a Smiths fan. By commemorating the idol as much as the idolization, Morrissey, along with director Broad, instill fandom with a certain amount of romantic and poetic power. Stars are made on the backs of fans, after all. And what greater homage is there to James Dean than to cast him as the object and recipient of such a fan’s affection?