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Monday, August 20, 2007

Why Patti Smith Matters

Patti, Dark & Light

The article below my rabid opinion is a straight lift from the Los Angeles Times. You can read it and see a 2007 photo of Patti Smith by clicking on the title of this post.

I think unless you were around when punk rock broke, in the mid-70s, you can't really understand the importance of someone like Patti Smith. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent debating her importance with people who don't get it. I don't hold it against them - they're too young to have been there the first time to feel it...Patti Smith was one of the ladies who made it safe to be a ferocious punk rock lady. I never had a female hero in music until I heard Patti Smith. Sure, I loved listening to the girl groups - but what made Patti different was that she did what she wanted to do, no holds barred... and she was a remarkable poet. Her artistry has only grown since then.

Richard Cromelin, easily the best of the newspaper music writers in LA ever since I started reading about pop music (in the early 70s) presents this review of Patti Smith's free show at Santa Monica Pier last Thursday. Alas...logistics prevented my attendance, but I had planned on it, and was looking forward to seeing her...

Patti Smith rocks the pier
Patti Smith has fun on the Santa Monica Pier as she offers up two hours of classics by herself and others.
By Richard Cromelin
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 18, 2007

Patti Smith is enshrined as a poet of cultural upheaval and social rebellion, but on Thursday, in the unlikely setting of a seaside stage facing an amusement park, she reminded her audience of something else poets can do: describe and transfigure their immediate surroundings into something new and magical.

The New Jersey-raised, New York-based singer and her four-member band were the attraction at this week's edition of the Santa Monica Pier's Twilight Dance Series, now in its 23rd year of presenting free concerts with an emphasis on roots-rock and world music with a dance beat.

If the booking of a singer-songwriter-poet from the tradition of underground rock was unusual for the pier programmers, it appeared to be unreal for Smith, who wore a helpless grin as she walked onto the stage and surveyed the setting.

"This is great," she said, before opening with a song with a local connection, "Redondo Beach," from her landmark 1975 debut album, "Horses." After that rousing bit of reggae-flavored, girl-group rock, the grin returned. "It's great to see you, and the sea, and the Ferris wheel."

As a precursor of punk and a standard-bearer for rock's primal power, Smith is always attuned to the moment, and in this unusual environment, and on the final date of her four-month tour, she was more comedian than shaman, more playful than political.

She kept returning to the Ferris wheel as if it were a wonder of the world, and she reminded the Southern Californians that for people such as her, the commonplace palm tree signifies the exotic and romantic.

She ordained the event a festival and acted accordingly, joking with her band members, waving to her fans like a guerrilla Rose Parade princess and welcoming drop-ins from Lucinda Williams' guitarist, Doug Pettibone; veteran producer-musician Andy Paley; and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, who pretty much took over the bass and added plaintive trumpet to "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

After all this time, Smith remains the rock fan who became a rock star through sheer guts and desire and a raging determination to be heard, and that side of her was at the forefront in the wake of her latest album, "Twelve," which features her takes on songs by other artists.

She saluted the seabirds with her keening soprano saxophone on an epic version of Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced," and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" erupted into a fierce affirmation of solidarity with Kurt Cobain and his bleak view of the world. Smith and the singing audience aimed the "hello hello" refrain toward the departed songwriter.

The L.A. connection was also strong in such selections as the Doors' "Soul Kitchen" and the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard," sung by her longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye, who had included the record in the influential "Nuggets" collection of garage-rock songs that he compiled in 1972.

Smith's two-hour set included some of her own classics as well, including her reinvention of Them's "Gloria," her hit Springsteen collaboration "Because the Night" and the idealistic closer "People Have the Power."

When she had trouble finding her note on "White Rabbit," she told the story of playing the Jefferson Airplane's record for the first time as a young woman, drinking some wine and singing along at the top of her voice. She was out of tune, she remembered -- and it didn't matter because it was rock 'n' roll. She's 60 now, but Smith remains the embodiment of that essence.

1 comment:

Sku said...

Oh my god.
I'm reading Please Kill Me, right now and the chapters lately have been riddled with Patti Smith. I came across your site while cruising blogs to see if I could maybe find a download or two of some New York Dolls or even MC5 just for kicks. I'm glad I found this!
I agree so much! She is important! I love her personality and I admire her so much. I read about her before I read any of her poetry and being a poet I admire her style as well. She was so influential and is so important. It's a shame more people don't appreciate her.
Reading this made my day better.