Wednesday, June 3, 2015


I've got no idea how the recent generation of scrappers view Patti Smith, or if they even know who she is. They should. When she first appeared, or at least when most people outside of New York became cognizant of her, she was an indication the things were about to change. It was 1976, and the Ramones already had an album out, but outside of that there wasn't really much that was different from the arena rock that dominated the first half of the seventies, much less punk rock; nothing widely available anyway. So her first LP, Horses, was a welcome change. She already had one 45 out, "Hey Joe" b/w "Piss Factory" released in 1974, but it was on the independent Mer Records, and few people had access to it, or had even heard of it.

Consider this, the A side her first major label 45, "Gloria" was produced by John Cale. The flip, a live cover of "My Generation", had Cale on bass, doing a respectable job of reinterpreting John Entwistle's bass clusterfuck from the Who's original, Smith adding some guitar noise with a Fender Duo Sonic, allegedly once owned by Jimi Hendrix, and was produced by Allen Lanier from Blue Öyster Cult. Those are some pretty impressive factoids for a major label debut. In 1976, if you were bored with all of the rock star shit, Patti Smith instantly became your cool older sister. You can bet there are plenty of people who still think of her as that. I know I do.

Patti Smith - Gloria mp3 at Synthesis Radio (?) 1976
Patti Smith - My Generation (live) mp3 at (?) 1976
Patti Smith - Hey Joe mp3 at Rose Burlingham (?) 1974
Patti Smith - Piss Factory mp3 at Now Hear This (?) 1974, Tom Verlaine on guitar
Patti Smith Group - Horses/Hey Joe at YouTube 1976 Old Grey Whistle Test
Patti Reads. Patti Sings - Old post with a bunch of good stuff


Anonymous said...

Actually, Horses was released about four months before the Ramones' first album.

Tom G. said...

Thanks fact checker!

espen E. said...

Probably more of a cool aunt than a sister to me, Tom :)… First time I came across Patti Smith was on BÖC's (shoot me; I was – and still am – a fan… of their early stuff) Agents Of Fortune (and according to a BÖC re-release liner, she was actually considered as the lead singer for the group before soundguy Eric Bloom picked up the mike one day). I knew she wrote some lyrics for the band, but didn't know she and Allen Lanier were a couple (for a number of years) till i read her "Just Kids" last year. (a worthwhile read by the way – a bit heavy on flowering poetic pretensiousness here and there, but hey, it's NY, and overall good stuff, touching on not only her relationship with Mapplethorpe, but also large parts of the seventies NYC art/rock crowd). Anyway, not being overly fond of female vocals (for rockandroll) myself, in my ears she sticks out as a prime example of how it can be done right – beating most of the boys at their own game too. And another thing; she pretty much rewrote the rule book on how to be a girl in a band… Who says you need model looks? Who says you need makeup, high heels and a short skirt? Who says hairy armpits can't be part of sexy? Check out the cover of Easter. Respect. Debbie Harry can go suck on a sweet.

She'll be in town for the BergenFest music festival this summer, playing the Horses album live. Would have gone to see her, but first of all I'm not keen on large open air concerts, especially when half the "adult" crowd have had their tickets sponsored through work, and are there mainly for the beer and the "event" of it all. Secondly I'd have to shell out around 100 bucks for a (festival) day pass, which frankly makes my wallet wince.


Tom G. said...

E, you'd appreciate this. I live in a beach town small enough that the main drag is only three blocks long. A year and a half ago, Patti Smith was in town for two nights and she mentione at night one that when planning the trip, she had asked for advice about some quiet beach area to stay at, and someone mentioned a particular hotel, but failed to mention that there would be a massive Oktoberfest thing going on right across the street. Hmmm, I thought, there was just such an event happimimg just a few blocks from my apartment. Then the next morning, a friend posted on Facebook that she thought she saw Patti Smith in a local coffee shop. So, I was pretty certain that she was somewhere nearby. Later that day, I'm laying on the beach after a swim when I heard two women approaching behind me. One of the voices sounded really familiar. Then the stopped about five feet away to take off their shoes. I looked up to see if it was someone I knew, and one of the women was Patti Smith. After mustering all the casualness I could, I said "Hi Patti". She said "hi" back, and I watched as the two waded and walked the entire length of the beach without a single person recognizing her. I love my town.

espen E. said...

Hey Tom! Now that's pretty cool, and in hindsight (aka. the world's most exact science) – knowing she was in the neighborhood – you should of course have had your autographed '78 copy of «Babel» coincidentally at hand ("Uh, Yo, Patti – by the way…"), and asked her what the hell that "Tongue Of Love" line was all about.

I can tell you she's not gonna be Dancing Barefoot in the sand around here though – not counting the fact that beaches are scarce (mostly, mountain meets sea – period), summer seems to have gone AWOL this year… OK, so it hasn't rained for a couple of days, but with temperatures down to 10-13C (50-55F), I'm still popping logs in the fucking fireplace. Not kidding. I actually am. But to be honest, the logs are long gone, and any surplus furniture is now fair game. Chopped up the frame of our recently deceased double bed the other day, and it's burning like a dream right now. Sweet.


Tom G. said...

e, you crack me up, the shit you come up with. Yeah, I'd be all, "So yeah, love your work and all that jazz, but you got some splainin' to do. What's up with this? You thought you could run but here I am, 37 years later..."

Summer hasn't totally arrived here, but the beach is still do-able. Today I got a swim in with thousands of tuna crabs, which are basically small crabs that swim. Happens only when an El Nino is coming (warmer water, followed by a very rainy winter). So, if that's any indication, the summer should be nice, followed by a crap winter, by San Diego standards anyway.

espen e said...

(Rewind to summer of 2015.)

You know what? I, Cheapskate, did shell out 200$ for two tickets, that's what. Long story short: Annette comes home from work – tumbling through the door with a wild look in her eyes and an excited flush on her face; "GRACE JONES!" she yells… "HERE!"… "NEXT WEEK!"… "AND IF I DON'T GET A TICKET – I'LL KILL MYSELF!!"…. «Ooh, Ms. Jones, you say? Checking it out now m’darlin'. Billed on the same day as Ol’ Ma Smith I see. Hmm…"

(Yes. Apparently, some juvenile pretender sprained his hitmaking vocal cords and pulled out, so the Ancient Amazon Maneater from Jamaica pulled up, to the Bumper, Baby, in her Long Black Limousine.)

Now, to me, back in the eighties, Grace Jones was little more than a name supermodel (not that I actually had any awareness of such a breed back then, but she was pitched as being one, so…) branching off into (/dabbling in) music. Music of some distance to what I was listening to, at that. But still; she was unconventional enough to merit some acknowledgement – an outlandish gladiator amongst the current sleepinducers in the anemic arena of pop. Freakflag waver? I would say so. At least in hindsight.

Annette, on the other hand, has been a fan since she was twelve – from around Nightclubbing, probably. So in 2008 I got her the newly released Hurricane album, which we brought with us on a vacation, and – driving around a lot – heard through it practically every day. Although (still) not really my bag, it turned out to be sufficiently dark, niftily sewn together, and expertly played (she had Sly and Robbie on there) and produced… What can I say – it sounded good on the car stereo, and crept under my skin, sort of… And three years later, when a remixed version – Hurricane Dub – came out, I bought that for myself. No apologies. I've learned to appreciate her work.

^ So much for a long story cut short. Well. Couldn't run the risk of Ms. A killing herself, leaving me on my own with the little 'uns (and the mortgage). This is what we saw:

Onstage, Grace (67) is covered with broad zigzagging strokes of white bodypaint – like she’s been grafittied by Keith Haring (which, I’ve later found, she actually was in the mid-eighties); an African warship in tribal camouflage. Towering above us in skin-toned high heels. Wearing a see-thru corset. And; a G-string. And; No top… As in topless… Did I mention she’s 67? What about that it’s freezing cold? No? Well, it was. And; she looked great.

We’re just a few meters from the stage, it’s daylight, and the whole spectacle hovers between club intimacy and stadium event – respectively upscaled or downscaled, I’m not sure which, but I'd probably peg it as the latter. Between every song, she goes backstage to don a new piece of clothing/accessory (she is an ex-super model after all), and while doing so, keeps us adequately entertained, fluently bantering away via her wireless mike. She’s a pro. A likeable one. And listen; a few numbers in, she stops mid-song, to blow her nose – into the air, thumb-on-nostril style (is there a designated name for that?) – spouting mucus on the stage floor… Whoa! A Raw Blues Moment, right there on the Cottonpickin' Catwalk. There’s a dirty blue (factory-made) collar 'neath all that (handstitched) fashionista glam. I see Punk Rock shining through. I’m sold.

espen e said...

Four hours later:

Lenny Kaye’s skeleton walks on, and following in his (supposedly slight) slipstream, Patti (69). She looks better than in recent photos on the net. Good thing. Band starts playing. Patti spits – a solid gob… then smiles, giving the act a meta-like spin… as if it’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the snotty bird-flippin' attitude of the seventies punk scene. Maybe. But maybe not; 'cause actually she spits a whole lot – all through the set. A set which mostly just trots along. It is «Horses» (the album… from start to finish) after all.

Have to confess I remember less of that record than I thought I would. Sound really sucks too – kick drum is annoyingly loud. There’s a way bigger crowd now, and more people equals added aggravation. Assholes are trying to squeeze past every other minute. Having to shake my head and give them the «Fuck if I’m budging, Buster!» stare, wears down my patience. And while I’m usually pretty well stocked in that department, Annette was born with somewhat less of it. Towards the end of the show, there’s a beat-down brewing for a young hippie girl in front of us, who keeps bouncing her frizzy pony tail in A’s face. I pull my snarling cavewoman out of there and we head for home. Pending post-Horse encores be damned.

Anyway, to conclude; Patti and Grace… Smith & Jones… Red corner / Blue corner? Rock vs. Disco? Not really, no. They’re both the Real McCoys. Of the same cloth. At least that’s how I see it.


PS. And, fun fact of the day: both had their sons with them on stage, Grace’s dreadlocked boy playing percussion, and Patti’s bearded (and balding) kid doing duty on bass. Heartwarming.

Tom G. said...

Dude, you need to start sending stuff to the music rags. Seriously, your writing sucks me in every time. The longer the better. I can't believe English isn't your first language.

"so the Ancient Amazon Maneater from Jamaica pulled up, to the Bumper, Baby, in her Long Black Limousine." That's a Lester Bangs level line right there. I trust you've read his stuff at some point. If not, I think you'd dig it.

espen e. said...

:) Thanks a lot Tom! Am (of course) familiar with Bangs’ scribblings, yes. Have a couple paperbacks of his selected/collected works somewhere – been some years since I ploughed through them. Awe-inspiring stuff. Top notch & first rate. A reread is in order.

And; a tip of the hat back at you, sir – wouldn’t be following your blog if it wasn’t well up to snuff!.. Me digs!


Tom G. said...

Bangs actually grew up twenty miles from me and although older we had friends in common. At one point I was given his copy of the Stooges "Funhouse" LP that he had given to one of said friends, and that friend owed me money, so he paid me in records. This was, supposedly, the same copy of Funhouse he had written that long, long, LONG review of back in the day: