Madeline Bocaro | | 5 min read
Jeez . . .
"Do you know how to pony?"
We are here at the famous Beacon Theater in New York City, Patti Smith's adopted homeplace to find out. And the ghosts are all here too . . .
"White shining silver studs with their nose in flames . . .
horses horses horses horses . . ."
We knew this was greatness, before it could even be defined.
There was nothing else like it, and there never has been since.
Patti Smith’s now classic debut album, Horses of '75, is an extended poem which rides a rock'n’roll wave . . . and a sea of possibilities.
Words surged and swelled amidst timeless three-chord rock'n'roll, jazz passages and punky reggae beats. Images and auras of dead French poets and rock stars came alive.
The ghosts of her heroes all sing through Patti’s voice and howl through Lenny Kaye’s screaming guitar.
The songs of Horses were written in New York City in the midst of an emerging new scene called “punk rock”, and into this came an androgynous young woman in a man’s white shirt, who blew our minds.
She turned us on to her rock'n’roll idols, to poetry and books.
Patti was literally a Beat Poet.
The Horses album, produced by John Cale of the Velvet Underground, was recorded in New York City at Electric Lady (with the ghost of the studio’s creator Jimi Hendrix close by). It was due to be released on the birthday of Patti’s 19th century poet-idol, the French poet Rimbaud.
However, because of a vinyl shortage, it was delayed until November 10th – coincidentally the date of Rimbaud’s passing.
On this November 10th, 2015 Patti was elated to be performing the entire Horses album on its 40th anniversary, in its birthplace.
It’s unbelievable that 40 years have passed.
Patti’s dear friend and partner, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, shot the iconic black and white cover portrait for Horses. (Robert was lovingly immortalized in Patti’s book about their amazing relationship Just Kids).
Today, Mapplethorpe’s print is part of the Tate Collection in the UK, and justly regarded as a classic portrait.
It was a lifetime ago, but Horses still resonates.
Patti performs it without one iota less of conviction, passion, energy and abandon. The only evidence of time passing is her long silvery gray hair.
The spectacular show features Patti’s impeccable band, Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty (who both played on the album), Jack Petruzzelli, and Tony Shanahan. Monochromatic video graphics and clothing set the evening’s ambiance.
After a reading of her poem Compacted Awareness right from the album’s back cover, Patti’s version of Gloria by Them (Van Morrison’s 1964 band) begins with the most unapologetic phrase ever uttered, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” (based upon her earlier poem, Oath).
Her electrifying performance lives up to the song’s legend.
The playful reggae romp of Redondo Beach is joyful, contrasting the despair of a gay lover’s suicide.
Patti goes into her own zone on Birdland, spewing words and poetry like wildfire, truly giving the song wings. This is her ode to Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich via his son Peter’s 1973 memoir (later interpreted by Kate Bush in her song Cloudbusting).
Free Money levitates us all.
Patti illustrates how to flip the album over, put the arm down and insert the needle into the groove for Side Two.
The sweet Kimberly, written for her sister, charms everyone. Patti tells the story of how Break It Up, came from a dream she had about Jim Morrison breaking free from within a marble statue of an angel bound with chains. Lenny’s guitar soars.
The epic Land morphs from the narrative rape of Johnny, into a dance song, a suicide, and then ascension with Chris Kenner’s Land of A Thousand Dances. Tonight, Patti goes free form lyrically, then morphs it back into another rousing version of Gloria.
Patti’s somber Elegie, which she wrote with the late Allen Lanier, was originally about Jimi Hendrix. Tonight, it is also about Allen, and a litany of our beloved icons who have passed over the last 40 years.
Patti names “names” for several minutes, which is heart wrenching, as we all knew and loved them. She has us in tears, especially when naming all four Ramones, Lou Reed, Jackie Curtis, Candy Darling and her husband Fred Sonic Smith.
Another hour of classics rolls on.
The band takes over for a Velvet Underground tribute (it's the band’s 50th anniversary). With her son Jackson joining in on guitar they play the VU's Rock n’ Roll’, I'm Waiting for the Man, and White Light/White Heat.
Patti returns onstage for the uplifting Privilege (Set Me Free), something so British and obscure it shows the depth her of her rock'n'roll scholarship. Next comes Beneath the Southern Cross, Dancing Barefoot, the Springsteen-penned Because the Night with her daughter Jesse on keyboards who was in her belly when the song was recorded.
A rousing People Have the Power is completed by her fervent rallying cries for us all to rise up and take control!
The scorching encore is her shredding of The Who’s My Generation. Breaking every single string, and holding up her guitar triumphantly, she displays it as “the weapon of our generation!”
She reminds us (screaming) that we are still free, to keep fighting and rebelling against corruption, injustice, big business, hunger and war. She encourages us to keep dreaming, as her generation had done.
The line “I hope I die before I get old” is given a whole new twist, “I am fucking old, and I’m going to get older – I’m going to live until I’m 120!”.
Well Patti, let’s hope so!
After thanking everyone involved, Patti declares her extreme fondness for Horses, “... recorded by a young girl who is still in my heart.”
The Horses 40th Anniversary world tour continues with shows in Brussels, Paris, London, Italy, Germany and in the USA.
New York native Madeline Bocaro has written for Elsewhere previously (see here for her archived articles) and has consulted for Dazed & Confused and Mojo magazines, and for biographies including Stardust: The David Bowie Story (McGraw Hill, 1986), Yoko Ono (MacMillan & Co., 1987), The Wild One – The Story of Iggy Pop (Omnibus, 1988) and Mick Ronson – The Spider With The Platinum Hair (Independent Music Press, London, 2003).
She was a research assistant on the Klaus Nomi documentary film The Nomi Song in 2005. Madeline was a staff writer for CMJ from 1976 to 1981. She has contributed articles to Discoveries, Goldmine and Chicago’s Roctober magazine.
You can read a collection of her writings at:www.madelinex.comOther Voices Other Rooms is an opportunity for Elsewhere readers to contribute their ideas, passions, interests and opinions about whatever takes their fancy. Elsewhere welcomes travel stories, think pieces, essays about readers' research or hobbies etc etc. Nail it in 1000 words of fewer and contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
See here for previous contributors' work. It is wide-ranging.