Andy Rourke was a longtime hero, the bassist in my all-time favorite band, The Smiths. Then he was a friend, who loved showing me videos of his cat, put on my novelty Manchester United yarmulke for a laugh, and DJ’d my birthday party.
I last texted him a week-and-a-half before he ascended, sending a New York Times story about an experimental treatment for pancreatic cancer and wondering if he could get into a clinical trial.
I met Andy eight years back during a Talkhouse Podcast taping with him and The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan. They’d started a rad new band called D.A.R.K., and the interview took place at their rehearsal space in New Jersey. Before the taping, I got to sit, breathless with awe, watching these great artists rehearse together. I clocked that Andy was rocking the bass he’d played in The Smiths. As a decades-long obsessive fan of the group, I was floored to be in his presence, though played it cool.
The conversation between him and Dolores ended up being the sort of talk musicians often won’t have except with each other: an honest on-air connection superseding the natural human embarrassment that so often precludes sharing one’s deepest feelings.
I was hosting Pitchfork Radio during Coachella a few weeks later, and invited Andy and his manager Melissa to come out to the pool party we were throwing. He came through, drank margaritas, and hopped on air to talk D.A.R.K. I introduced him to DJ Premier, who was spinning, and watched as Preemo fanned out to Andy. The hip hop super-producer knew loads of Smiths bass lines by heart, and considers the group one of his biggest influences.
But it was always like that with Andy. Over the years, I introduced him to Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, Vince Clarke from Depeche Mode/Yaz/Erasure, and members of LCD Soundsystem. Every time, the respect that these brilliant music legends gave him for his artistry made me secretly glow with happiness. In that first Talkhouse taping, Dolores O’Riordan shared that as a teen she’d been obsessed with The Smiths and that Andy had always been her fave; in a later pairing with Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order, Hooky told me privately how much he cared for Andy and wanted all the best for him.
Andy was a bit shy, and unlike his old bandmate and best friend Johnny Marr, he wasn’t a born raconteur. Whenever I’d thank him for coming on one of my shows, he’d respond with a Beatles-esque flipped phrase, always jokingly replying, “It was a pressure!” With a quiet pride, he once played me an unreleased track where he sang lead. He sang! Turns out Andy had a beautiful, deep singing voice. But you’d never have known.
Andy was very sweet, always asking about my family when we’d catch up after a while. He loved my daughter Conwy’s name, having spent happy holidays in her namesake town of Conwy, North Wales as a boy. When he discovered an old chord organ in my home studio, he joyously sat down and improvised a tune, recalling lessons on the instrument he’d had as a schoolboy in Manchester.
He had a classic Mancunian dark wit and sentimentality, too. We were DJing together one night when Andy spun “Panic,” a classic Smiths single. As the chorus thundered in and Morrissey sang “Hang the DJ! Hang the DJ! Hang the deejaaaay!”, Andy looked at me with a devilish grin and pretended to put a noose around his neck, cracking up. That same night, I gave Andy a vinyl bootleg of The Pablo Cuckoo Tape, a collection of rare early Smiths rehearsal room demos. He teared up with gratitude, sharing that people had taken so many of his relics of the band over the years that he had very little left. As we stood on the curb and talked about the vicissitudes of the legendary group and his own life, it was obvious that he still felt sharp pain over the dissolution and discord of The Smiths. But he clutched the LP and told me with tears in his eyes, “I love my wife! I love my life!” He really did.
Andy’s music with The Smiths arguably changed the world; it certainly changed my world. Their music was foundational to my first group, The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir (who regularly covered the group’s song “Ask” in concert), and remains so for my current collaborative project, Fashion Brigade. Despite the ugliness that would come later for the group (not to mention its frontman’s 180-degree turn toward despicable beliefs), The Smiths taught me so many important life lessons. They showed me that it takes guts to be gentle and kind. That loving a person of any gender is a truly beautiful thing. That both the monarchy and politicians who are out of touch with the basic needs of the people need to be abolished. They were an example that one could work hard and open one’s heart and just maybe put some artistic beauty into this incredibly difficult world.
Andy — love you, man. Thank you for the laughs, the tears, and the joy you shared with me. Thank you for showing me what a life in music can look like. As I sit writing this the morning Johnny shared the tragic news, I’m wearing an old Smiths tee in your honor, wiping away a fresh round of hot tears, and thinking of your wife Francesca, your children, your manager Melissa, and your millions and millions of fans the world over, all deep in grief. In my capacity as a songwriter and producer, you will forever inspire me. And in my role as a DJ and curator, I will always share your work with the world in whatever ways I can. Not like people could ever forget you and your unparalleled musical legacy. You are — and I mean this from the bottom of my heart — a light that never goes out.