Monday, April 03, 2006


While cooking the dinner today, I listened to an album I hadn't heard in a while, Patti Smith's Easter, from 1978. It's an under-rated album, always in the shadow of her classic debut Horses.

There are a couple of weak tracks on Easter, but they are more than made up for by the strength of the rest. Songs like Till Victory, Privilege (Set Me Free), and of course, Because the Night are killer tracks, great songs performed by a band on top of their game.

Two things stood out today. One is the use of poetry, which she cuts into songs to great effect. Patti Smith's poetry isn't great on the page, but she is a terrific spoken-word performer, even hearing her in a kitchen from a CD player. Whether she's reciting Rimbaud, the 23rd Psalm, or her own words, she sounds out-of-control and electrifying.

The second thing that stood out for me was how dangerous it sounds. A song like Rock'n'Roll Nigger still sounds shocking today, and not just because of the n____r word (which works well in context). There aren't many songs of nearly 30 years ago that would raise an eyebrow these days. When she gets to the chorus - "Outside of society, that's where I want to be" - it sounds like she means it, whereas with most bands, it's no more than stylish affectation.

I saw Patti Smith play live a few years ago. Her hair was long and grey and she spoke calmly like an oracular earth-mother (with a touch of humour). Her band were astonishing and played both old and new material. I liked the way she had changed, that she hadn't tried to perform as if she was trying to recapture the old days. She is worthy of respect.


apprentice said...

My friend met her before a gig in NY. She said Smith was very decent and kind, and that she gave her daughter, who's 15 and plays in a band, her guitar plectrum and then name checked her from the stage later on. No big celeb stuff going on there, just great talent.

Rob Mackenzie said...

Yes, I'd say she cares much more about her art than about any celebrity, which is refreshing to see these days. At the gig I saw, she smiled a lot and had a very quick, deadpan sense of humour.

There was still the old intensity though the minute she started singing. She wasn't as wild and crazy as she was in the 1970s, but she still had the audience in the palm of her hand.