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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Patti Smith - She Punk'd Me!

Patti, Dark & Light

Poet, punk rocker, Mother... that's Patti Smith, who has always been each of those ever since I first heard "Horses" oh so many years ago.

In the winter of 1975, I was a French symbolist poetry-loving student when my friend Bill, who worked at the cool indie record store in town, thrust a copy of "Horses" at me. He said I'd love it and there was nothing to lose, as it was produced by John Cale, former Velvet Underground member, and producer of the Stooges and solo artist of great acclaim himself. That was enough for me. John Cale was already a genius in my book.

John Cale, Starwood 77

One listen was all it took. Patti's version of "Gloria," the song made famous by Van Morrison and Them began with her own poetic interpretation ideologies embraced by existentialists and gnostics alike and reminded me of Jean Genet. That it rocked hard and chaotically was a big bonus.

Further...looking at the album cover, seeing her band...she had conscripted for her drummer, a local boy from my part of the world, Mumps drummer extraordinaire, Jay Dee Daugherty. She was cool in every way I could imagine.

So, two months later, when she performed at the Roxy in Los Angeles, I was there. And I was mesmerized. Patti Smith is who punk'd me. I didn't know she was the role model I was looking for, since I wasn't really looking for a role model (although at that point in my life, Francis Coppolla and Nestor Almendros were certainly inspirational...but they were men). Patti was a strong woman, a poet, a singer/songwriter, rocker, critical writer - a Renaissance woman who seemed to do what she wanted to do without regret. Like... yeah!

In each and every time I've had a conversation with Patti, she was always warm, like your really cool aunt. She had a mothering instinct for the boys in her band, too. And for her fans. I can remember her telling both me and Kid Congo to keep warm (we were standing in line on a cold night in front of a club she was playing). In more recent years, I started going to Detroit on a monthly basis, and frequently saw her son Jackson Smith perform in various bands, including Back In Spades and the Paybacks. If by chance I'd see Patti back in New York, her first question would be about how her son was doing. I just admire that she can be a full 100% artist and a mother at the same time.

Patti did disappear from public life, however. She married Fred Sonic Smith of the MC5 and his own Sonic's Rendezvous Band, moved to suburban Detroit, had two kids and did the mom thing. But when she came back, it was with renewed energy and anthems like "People Have the Power."

A woman for all seasons. Just this year, Patti Smith was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Don't know if that means anything to her, but well... congratulations Patti. Punk rock has the power too.

Jackson Smith
Jackson Smith

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