Living with…Patti Smith…for a week
“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”
(Gloria, opening lines to Patti Smith’s Horses album)
The birth of punk?
From the way that Radio 6 reacted the other week when they had Patti Smith in the studio for an interview, you would have thought they had the Pope with them. Actually, forget the Pope, they would have shown far less reverence to him. Ironically she confessed to wanting to be a nun when she was younger, but instead became an angry musician and poet. Clearly the folk from Radio 6 all felt they were in the presence of a genius who changed music and for that reason should be worshipped as such.
But why? I have to admit that my only previous knowledge of Patti Smith was she wrote Because The Night with Bruce Springsteen. And I think I’ve seen the photo above somewhere. I found out this week that Redondo Beach, a Morrissey regular that I know and love well, is a classic track from Horses but that is it.
So what makes Patti Smith special? Apart from the fact that she is clearly an incredibly talented musician and poet, she is also credited with birthing punk with her album Horses, released in 1975. So I’ve spent my week with Horses.
So is Horses all cussing and thrashing guitars? Far from it. It’s not a comfortable listen at times when she is in howling poems above discordant guitar. But the beautifully written lyrics are delivered over a variety of styles. The simple reggae of Redondo Beach, sometimes the straightforward rock of Kimberley at others you could almost accuse her of progressive rock with 9 minute classics in different parts and styles such as Land.
So why is she supposed to have birthed punk? Mainly because of it’s influence. It is easy to hear an album over 30 years later and not realize that this was a pioneering sound. Hers was also a pioneering attitude, message and look. The kick back against society. The androgynous pose that she developed was to reappear so often in punk. In short, it was so different to anything going on at the time. Generations of musicians will claim influence whether it was Siouxie Sioux within a few years or Micheal Stipe of REM and Morrissey of The Smiths later on.
I haven’t found Horses a comfortable album to spend a week with, but then that was never Patti Smith’s intention. I can now connect some of my music taste back to this album – now I know it, you can feel The Smiths evolving this sound to make it their own and add a British flavour. I’m glad I spent a week but maybe also relieved it doesn’t have to be much longer than that.
But it didn’t end quite there. The inevitable trawl through Youtube discovered a brilliant but disturbing cover by Patti Smith that clearly has to be the video of the week. In 2007 Patti Smith produced a version of covers (called Twelve, which of course had 13 tracks) covering everything from Paul Simon to REM to the Rolling Stones. But it’s the cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit that I’ve featured – if the original Kurt Cobain didn’t depress you this certainly will!
I’ll use the d word again. Brilliant but disturbing.
Twotes of the week
@jacques_aih: “Ferryman to sue Chris de Burgh for loss of earnings” @madeupstats: Almost half of all stats are a bit vague.
@stephencgrant: Adele’s ex: don’t feel bad about leaving her. Yes, she’s worth £21m now, but if you hadn’t left her, she’d have had nothing to sing about.