Music History

SmithsBusters: Did a Smiths fan really hold a Denver radio station hostage in 1987?

Update, 2/22/13: So this story of the Smiths fan who held a station here hostage in the '80s? It's true...well, sort of. We caught up with former station employees and found the news coverage. Everyone has a different recollection it seems.

"In 1987 a distressed young man in Denver, Colorado, held his local radio station hostage insisting, at gunpoint, demanding they play nothing but Smiths records. This they did -- for four hours," writes Mark Simpson in the biography Saint Morrissey. "Eventually, the police besieging the building persuaded the unhappy young man to give himself up."

See also: - The story of Smiths fan who held a station here hostage in the '80s? It's true...sort of - The Smiths '80s radio station takeover: What really happened according to the police report - Morrissey's quiet desparation and romantic worldview continues to connect and inspire fans

It's a really great story, and would be even better if it's true. The biographer believes it happened, and he's not alone. Reportedly, there are plans for a movie to be made about the whole ordeal, and outlets like The Believer and IndieWire have all reported this supposedly true story as historical fact.

We have to admit that when we first came across it in Saint Morrissey, we were thrilled by the notion that something so incredible had even occurred in the first place, let alone here in Denver. But then we wondered why we had never heard the story before. If the story were true, you'd think that it would have become a well-known piece of Denver history, like the tale of DIA's Blue Mustang killing its creator, or of the Stanley Hotel inspiring Stephen King to write The Shining.

After finding no evidence of the overzealous Smiths fan incident in our archives, we spoke with a few veterans of 1980s Denver, all of whom pretty much reacted the same way we did: That's a great story, but I've never heard it. The story does have some presence on the internet, but never does any reporter detail the name of the gunman or the radio station. Fearing it to be another bloated tabloid hoax -- on par with Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull's "Mars Bar" fetish, or Marilyn Manson's auto-fellatio rib removal -- we contacted Saint Morrissey author Mark Simpson.

"I can't remember now what my sources were, except for some online bits and pieces back in the late '90s, early noughties," he says. "It seems rather unlikely the event did actually happen if your paper didn't report it. As you say, it may all be apocryphal. But obviously, it was such a great story for my purposes that I didn't really want to know if it didn't actually happen. Though I will keep on pretending it did, probably because I could easily have done something similar myself back in the day."

"This may be one of those apocryphal tales," agrees Gil Asakawa, Westword's first music editor, who covered the scene at that time. "I never wrote about that, and I hopefully would have been all over it -- because I hated the Smiths so much. The only radio station that I can imagine would have had enough Smiths music to play for any extended amount of time would have been KTCL, which, at the time, was based in Fort Collins, not Denver."

Continue reading for more on the story.

After going through a handful of detail-free references to the kidnapping online (many commenters in the articles insist that the 1994 Adam Sandler vehicle Airheads was based on the story, extending the myth's web ever further), we discovered that the tale is possibly being adapted into a film: Shoplifters of the World. While still in the pre-production/casting stage (with Morrissey sycophant Russell Brand rumored to be considered for the DJ role), the film has been touted in blogs over the last year as "based on a true story."

Director Stephen Kijak (30th Century Man, Stones In Exile) is slated to work on the film, which has yet to do any formal promotion of its own and cannot be held accountable for the "true story" assertions made by all the eager beavers on the Internet. We reached out to Kijack's website and heard back from a source working on the film, who wishes not to be quoted, but reassured us that in all the research they've done, they've found no evidence that any Smiths-evangelizing gunman ever held up a Denver radio station, and that when publicity for the film begins, they will set the record straight.

They did, however, refer us to this 1994 Details Magazine interview with Morrissey, where the story of the most heavily armed Smiths fan in history (we are talking about a band with an album titled Meat Is Murder) is brought up by the journalist, much to the Mozzer's characteristic indignation and self-loathing.

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."

After handing us this fun little gem, the source working on the film proposed the most likely of scenarios for the germination of our mysterious legend: Perhaps Morrissey just made it up. Guess we'll never know if it happened or not -- well, unless you lived here in the latter part of the Reagan era and you know something we don't. Feel free to weigh in below. In the meantime, we'll keep chasing this one down and let you know if we dig anything up.

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse