How we fell
in love with the music
of patti smith
trigger idea - Fiona Webster
compilation - Mitch Gart
typesetting - Pattie Kleinke
binder - Gail Crossman-Moore
mailing list - babel-list
world wide web - babelogue
i was 8, and i was going to church with
my mother, and some kid put
on "girl can't help it" by Little Richard. i'd
never heard music like that,
and i remember being in my little dress,
my little brown shoes.
i felt electrified and thought if my
mother looked down she'd
see rays coming out of me. It was so
instantaneous, and that music
articulated energy i couldn't express.
- patti smith
What was your trigger for falling in love with Patti Smith?
And how long did it take?
For me, falling in love with Patti took about 30 seconds. I was
walking down a hallway in a dorm in college (in New Jersey),
and heard through an open door, "Gloria" playing. I'd missed the
opening but not much more. As she was singing "leaning on the parkin'
meter, humping on the parkin' meter" I stopped in my tracks in order
to stand and listen. Then I walked into the person's dorm room with
my eyes open wide, listening as though my ears were stretching wider
too, to hear the song better.
and then I hear this knockin' on my door
hear this knockin' on my door
and I look up into the big tower clock
and say, "oh my God here's midnight!"
and my baby is walkin' through the door
leanin' on my couch she whispers to me and I take the big plunge and
oh, she was so good and oh, she was so fine and I'm gonna tell the
world that I just ah-ah made her mine
That's all it took. It was her voice that blew me away. She wasn't
even to the first chorus, before I was in love. And I've never looked
> Don writes:
> > For some, musicians such as Patti are an acquired taste.
> This suggests an idea for a thread: what was your trigger event for
> falling in love with Patti? And how long did it take?
I'd been checking her out from time to time (once in New York at a
reading/musical performance in 1973 or early 1974 during my one year
in New York -- didn't know who she was but remembered her name and her
face and Hey Joe with the Patty Hearst/Tania stuff. When Horses came
out I fell in love - don't know if it was the picture on the cover or
the version of Gloria.....
Initially it was Patti's poetry books that turned me onto the goddess.
a friend of mine at college was debating an abortion and during our
discussions, pros & cons, she shared Patti's books of poems with me.
We'd sit around the apartment and read Patti to one another.
Shortly after Rosa delivered her red-haired daughter, Patti's HORSES
came out. Life and literature changed because Patti's writings
were/are so powerful. Her writings inspired me to research the life
and works of Arthur Rimbaud. They will always be linked as one for me,
Patti is Rimbaud. So, thanks to the goddess, the desire to research
and read great literature was formed.
Nothing was/is as real as hearing a great poet sing with a fine
rock'n'roll band. -- Phillip Ward
I was broke and too skinny to sell blood, leafing through bins of
records I could ill afford. And then, there she was, staring at me
from the cover of Horses. I had never heard of her, never even read
about her. But I was a young queer and I couldn't help it: I had
fallen in love. And, knowing full well I would have to scrounge up my
next meal because of it, I bought the record. What a treat! I laid
up all night listening to it and skipped all my classes the next day
doing the same. It wasnt long before it seemed it was playing at
every dyke house in Austin, such a relief from that insufferable music
Olivia Records was putting out!
Seeing pictures of Patti in Crawdaddy and other music magazines before
horses came out. Loved the look - Keith Richards in drag. I remember
how excited all the rock reviewers were about her. I didn't remember
ever reading such sincere raves from the rock press. I rushed to buy
Horses when it came out. I loved it. Played it over and over (for
years!). Especially Land (sea of possibilities . . . seize the
possibilities). The multi-tracked vocals. I could listen to it over
and over and never hear the same song twice. I still hear different
lyrics (thank god there was no lyric sheet - it would have ruined the
fun!). And Free Money. And Kimberly. Whew.
The first time I saw them live was in college in 77 right before Radio
Ethiopia came out. They opened AND closed with the song. And
learning what Redondo Beach was about ("a beach where women love other
women") and her dedication of Pale Blue Eyes (Lou Reed writ this for a
Swedish boy he once knew...). Time is on My Side ("tick tock, fuck
the clock!"). And that trance she seemed to go into...She was
possessed. I never saw anyone like her before, and never since. And
(sigh), she's back.
How I discovered Ms.Pee??
I was this 14 year awld club-kid, surfer kid from Long Beach, CA. I
took the "Freeway Flyer" RTD bus every weekend to Rodney's English
Disco on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. I'd rat my long hair up in the
back of the bus like Johnny Thunders. I was a huge Dolls Fan. I
loved The Doors, T.Rex, Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Stooges, Alice Cooper,
The Stones, Roxy Music etc.
That summer, I left home and went to live in Huntington Beach with 3
teenage roomates. One guy was 19. We called him "Dad." The two
girls were from Boston and Toni (from Boston) had a copy of a tape of
Patti doing a reading somewhere. I think it was Boston. I thought,
who **is** this chick? She's filthy, like us! We loved to be "bad"
...good bad, but we're not evil!
'Horses' came out soon after and I played that record endlessly. It
was the only LP that all 4 roomates absolutely loved and those songs
were our teenage anthems.
When Ms.Pee toured, my friend and I saw her at the Roxy and then we
were desperate to see her again, so we stole a VW fastback from Sunset
Beach and drove to San Diego. Ok ok, so I was a dirt-bag! She danced
in the aisles with us in San Diego!!
Prior to my 'Rodney's' days ...I loved The Doors and had a huge crush
on Jim. Yoko Ono was another of my favorites! In 6th grade I thought
she was better and more radical than The Stones and Beatles put
> > This suggests an idea for a thread: what was your trigger event
> > for falling in love with Patti? And how long did it take?
As usual, the old rock mags from the 70s--I discovered so much
that way. There were all these pictures of Patti, a wild-haired,
bright-eyed, rough-looking girl looking sometimes like a boy and
sometimes so much like a girl, and they said she did poetry too
and that she thought poetry WAS rock and roll and vice versa, I
thought MUST FIND HER RECORDS.
On a trip to some mall in North Carolina with my folks I found a
copy of *Easter.* I was ecstatic to find it. I was entranced and
repulsed by her armpits (I was about 14, I guess, just started
shaving my legs and pits after getting beaten up at a slumber
party for not doing it and having shame reinforced by my mom who
at the time was convinced that body hair was unclean). I was
almost afraid to buy the record because I was afraid the girl at
the counter would think it was dirty and say so, maybe I wouldn't
be allowed to buy it, maybe somebody would make a scene...(I was
a juvenile delinquent but a very shy one.) But I had that still
small voice telling me that I MUST buy this record and if I let
being chickenshit stop me I could never call myself a
Needless to say, the girl at the counter did not in any way
acknowledge Patti's scary armpits or my shaking hands.
and once I got it home...I had that feeling of EVENT. My hands
were still shaking when I put the needle on the vinyl. "Til
Victory"....BLASTOFF! I took it all very literally, of course,
knowing even at the time that I wasn't getting everything, that
this was the kind of record that I would keep listening to the
rest of my life and keep hearing new things in it that I had
never understood before because there was SO MUCH going on in it.
But man, her victory was my victory, and that's what it felt
like. And "Rock and Roll Nigger," my goddess. In my early
adolescent lexicon, 'nigger' was a very bad word--not a GOOD
naughty word that felt good to say, like "fuck"--it was a really
foul one that people used to describe people they didn't like for
no reason;like me) and the kids in my school used it in a really
ugly way, but this was the first time I'd ever heard somebody
take that word and so completely turn it around. To say: "yeah,
I'm a nigger too, we're all niggers and--NIGGERS RULE!!!" All the
racial issues didn't really register with me because I grew up in
a place that was almost totally all poor whites--what registered
was: MISFIT LIBERATION.
So I think I listened to that album every day for at least six
months, until I found copies of her other ones. At night, down in
my little "studio" room in the basement I would jump around and
dance and play air guitar and pretend to be her and try to write
stuff like her and...you get the idea. Like Fiona said, I never
So chronogically it probably took me a few months between when I
first heard of her and when I actually got to hear her.
Once I got the record, it took about the first few bars of "Til
Victory" until her voice comes in.
I can't remember where I first heard Patti. I do know that I went
out and bought horses-maybe I read about it, I've always read
record reveiws, and as soon as I heard it I was off and running,
yep. Mostly I thought, my god, she's got brains....AND she's
tough and sexy. Oof. Anyhow, in the OCtober issue of Alternative
Press, they give Gone Again the highest rating. Mary
Senior year in Msgr. Farrel HS. The senior lounge was outside one of
the priests' office (Fr. Aldo Toss, FWIW) , we'd break into his office
to play his stereo...he had a copy of HORSES and naturally it blew me
away!!! The sound of Patti blaring out of that office singing,
"Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine..." will forever be
etched in my memory. Most of the other guys didn't get it...
How quickly does one fall in love when it's love at first sight? I
can't even say 30 seconds. It wasn't a "moment" in a temporal sense,
but a Zen moment, which is still happening.
I don't remember where I was, but that "knockin on my door"
excerpt from "Gloria" captures the moment for me too.
I bought the album, listened to it on headphones about 100
times (it seemed) and was hooked on every song. Her second album
didn't diminish the attraction one bit. But when she said in her
I haven't fucked much with the past, but I've fucked plenty with
the future... I am lying peacefully and my knees are open to the
sun. I desire him, and he is absolutely ready to seize me...In
heart I'm an American artist, and I have no guilt. I seek pleasure.
I seek the nerves under your skin....I have not sold myself to God.
...outside of society is where I want to be.
Boy, that was "the trigger" that cemented what I already knew and felt
about her. I always get chills and tears reading that!
As I said, it's a Zen moment that's still happening.
But there's this incredible sexual attraction too. Patti and I are
almost the same age, and in 1975 my hormones were raging (they're
still way too turbulent - like you need to know that). She was
physically so sexual and attractive, I fell in love in a more profane
sense, back in 1975. Patti's moral/artistic sensibility and her
physical body were exactly the combination I wanted in a woman!
[Parenthetically, I noticed from last week's chat log: "kaos3: so none
of you would stand in my way?" to kaos3's future plan to marry Patti
-- well, I'll stand in your way! :-)]
As pathetic as it may sound, I met my girlfriend around 1978 and was
attracted to her partly because of her physical resemblance to Patti!
She was thin, with long dark hair, and cursed and loved poetry and
music. When she told me she loved Patti Smith, I was hooked on her
too, in a Zen moment.
Unfortunately, Patti went away for a long time and I lost track of
her. Lucky Fred.
Question to the female babelers: is there a sexual element here in
your "love" of Patti, as there is with me? (I know there is with
kaos3!) Just curious (in a sincerely lecherous way) :-) (or is this a
totally tacky subject? ... Hey, this is cyberspace! Let go of your
> > This suggests an idea for a thread: what was your trigger event
> > for falling in love with Patti? And how long did it take?
listening to Birdland on 10 hits of acid........
didnt take long
This suggests an idea for a thread: what was your trigger event
for falling in love with Patti? And how long did it take?
My brother turned me on to Patti. One night when I came home from
work, he played me a tape of Patti from the radio. I was heavily into
folk music at the time and regarded the song with distaste. "Big deal.
There's nothing special about her." I had read about her in the
*Voice* and was expecting more I guess. He finally bought Horses and I
sat down with him to listen to it to show him how openminded I could
be. By the middle of Side 1, I was in love. When he finished playing
it, I took it in my room, put the headphones on and listened to it for
the rest of the weekend. When Monday came around, I rushed out to get
my very own copy. I'll tell you this, after seeing Patti live the next
time she played I never went to another folk concert. I was a bonafide
punk rocker. I had my black jeans, white shirt, tie and shredded
material wrapped around my wrists like my Goddess. I think now that
I'm older, I love her even more because I understand her work more.
> From: Fiona
> This suggests an idea for a thread: what was your trigger event for
> falling in love with Patti? And how long did it take?
"re: trigger, silver bullets, and masked women"
-- alternative title
I heard PHTP when it came out, but no sparks flew.
Then a few years later,a coworker (Hey Monica - Wasn't it Bob?)
brought in a tape of Horses for me to listen to. Again, no real
sparks flew. It wasn't until a few months later, after I'd had this
dream involving a horse, that I tracked down a used copy for some odd
reason and got hooked on "Land". I loved the lines:
"horses, horses, horses,
coming in all directions,
white, shining, silver, studded
with their nose
horses, horses, horses...."
At the same time I was listening to Nirvana, Hole, Soundgarden, Big
Star, Smashing Pumpkins, L7, Kristen Hersh, X-ray Spex ("Oh bondage,
up yours!"), and the Breeders. She fit right in. Seeing her in
concert "cemented" the relationship, "about a boy" (Live) confirmed
it, and this list, such a great list, keeps my patti RDA warm and
happy (to quote the Beatles, "happiness is...").
and did I mention that Patti Smith is fucking hot! oh my god... kaos,
get in line....
Re: what was your trigger?
Too far bck (maybe) to remember. I was very involved in the Cleveland
underground scene back then, doing 2 weekly radio shows on WRUW-FM &
trying to stay on some sort of a cutting edge. I'd ben seeing bands
like The Dolls, Heartbreakers, etc, whenever they came to town, which
was pretty often - the Velvets had long ago established CLE to have
willing ears! One show that was a turning point w in '75, with Rocket
From the Tombs opening up for Television. I'd been a long time Roxy
music fan & an even longer 13th floor elevators fan, & here was a band
that had Eno producing a version of Fire Engine - I had to go. From
there, I'd made enough connections to get news as it happened, & the
news was Patti. My best friend since I was 14 had moved to berkeley &
worked at a place called Rather Ripped Records, where Patti made her
W.Coast Debut playing in their loft! Well, patti played the Agora in
Clevo 1/76 & I wa up front - that was the night they brought John cale
to play bass on the encore of My Generation & hit him in the face with
a cake afterwards - John was as drunk as a skunk ( not my only
encounter with John in that condition!) I wrote to her upcoming label
Arista & got a test pressing of Horses, along with a cover slick (long
moved to berkeley in '78, turns out that my GF (now wife) also
Patti - saw her every time she was anywhere near the Bay area. And
yes, anytime I saw her I tried to do windowpane!!
I discovered Patti while I was music director at my college radio
(WBSU, Brockport State, Brockport, NY) in 1975. Horses came across my
deck amid a pile of hype from Arista, they didn't need to hype it
though, as soon as I heard it I was hooked. That and the Ramones 1st
album were like an oasis among the desert of musical crap that was
happening all around (Kansas, Peter Frampton, disco, etc.) Up until
that point I was living on a constant dose of Stones, Neil Young, Mott
There were a few other musically adventurous souls at the station
Horses really brought us together. A few months later, Patti was
playing a gig at Brockport and I got the opportunity to interview her
live on the air. It almost didn't happen because several of the
"powers that be" (students, not faculty) were afraid she was too
radical and also, that she might curse on-air. (A ridiculous worry
considering we were a carrier-current station, basically a glorified
intercom that could only be heard on campus). I was amazed at how
conservative my fellow students could be. It proved to be an
appropriate lesson for "real life". The interview did happen and
Patti was great. I can't remember much of it now, but I do remember
asking her how she felt during the photo session for the cover, her
answer was "proud".
The show that night took place in the "ballroom", a room that held
500 people sitting down. They were great, of course, opening with the
Velvets' "Real Good Time" and finishing with a killer version of "Time
Is On My Side". Three days later they were on Saturday Night Live and
I was in front of my TV cheering for them to take it to the masses.
like mary, like a couple of others, i can't put my finger on any
defining moment or discovery moment; at some point, she was just
there, on my turntable, in my head, under my skin. but i can recall a
few things that made me know beyond any doubt that this was not just
some ordinary interest in some ordinary artist.
i was born in nyc, but a little too late to be seeing psg in the
clubs, etc; too much grief from mom trying to get out or sneak out to
cb's in '77 when i was 13 and starting to NEED to get up close and
personal with rock and roll. when i was in high school, i was a
"hippie," or what passed for one 10 years after there was no such
thing anymore, meaning i got high, chose my clothes based on the level
of retina burn and general popular discontent they would cause to
school authorities, parents, and random passersby. i was this way in
a very conservative middle class neighborhood, in a high school for
eggheads, because i knew in some way i couldn't articulate, even to
myself, that i didn't fit there, didn't WANT to fit, that i was
outside that society. the music i was mostly into was "hippie" stuff
-- pink floyd, this type of drop-acid-and-gaze-blankly stuff. punk
and new wave were happening, and there was a punk/nw camp in the
school, as small and disaffected as my hippie camp, but the two
steadfastly refused to mix. i was one of the few who crossed over,
probably refusing unconsciously even to be wholly part of the little
rebel society i ELECTED to join. it was in those "cross-over"
excursions that i began to hear patti, and she seemed so outside of
EVERYTHING, her voice was so distinctive and "wrong," the music so
distinctive, not even internally consistent from song to song on any
given album; she seemed so ferociously her own that i was drawn in,
inexorably; here was somebody i could relate to in my unwillingness to
relate to anyone or anything.
i never actually saw psg live, officially; the closest i ever got was
that show in central park in summer '79; i couldn't get a ticket
(don't remember if they were sold out or if i was broke), but i HAD to
see her, so i climbed a tree outside the wollman rink, hung in the
branches despite the rain, despite the cops who would try to knock you
out of the tree on your ass if they saw you, and i was just (trite
phrase!) blown away; if there was a "defining" moment, that
show-i-almost-sort-of-saw was it.
when i was in college, santa cruz california, granola hippie
deadhead capital of the world, i was in my element, i loved it, loved
to listen to live grateful dead tapes all day long. but i was also
far from nyc, which was and remains in my blood, and i was too close
for comfort to being one of the crowd. so damn near every day or
night, at some point before i went to sleep, bitterly complaining
room-mates be damned, i had to listen to "radio ethiopia," both sides,
as loud as i could get away with. i knew then, too, that this was no
ordinary love, so to speak...
sorry to blather on so long,
Celebrating a winter solstice with a friend, dancing to Poppies and
listening to Pissing in a River in a dark room. Dancing to Poppies, the
dark seemed laced with invisible ultraviolet and white lights, ripped and
molded, centered chaos. A few days later I got Radio Ethiopia, probably
one of the last vinyl copies. I felt such palpable magnetism from the
photograph on the sleeve, a real stab, but didn't sense any personal
significance to me in that, or had too much on my plate at the time to
want to. Just seemed like a force that would affect anyone.
Some time later, watching a video, I think of a performance in
Germany-- This time, hard to describe, I felt no infatuated attraction,
not in love, but had a kind of bare bones recognition of a more personal
affinity. I sensed something about her past, a mixture of strict
religiosity and great mental freedom in her family, similar in ways to my
own background. I was also intrigued by the way when light shone on her
face from different angles, flickering moment to moment, it would seem by
turns porcelain-pure and then ravaged. I found this beautiful, a more
than physical reflection of her core honesty and expressive power revealed
by the lights. It was late at night and I fell asleep for a few seconds
and dreamed I was a mixture of a vampire or snake and a healer, biting
someone and sucking poison out of their blood.
Sometime over the following month I realized that I was getting
obsessed. Soon after, I saw Patti performing live in Ann Arbor, and loved
her from the moment she walked onto the stage smiling at Fred.
For me it happened in '75, I was a student at Berkeley and there was a
picture of Patti in Rolling Stone hugging Bob Dylan, who had been
backstage after Patti's concert in NYC. I didn't know who Patti was
but a couple of weeks later the Patti Smith Group was playing at a
bar called the Longbranch across town on a Friday night and I went
to check it out. The show was great and I went out and got "Horses"
the next day and have been a fan ever since.
I was a big fan of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones at the time, and
Patti was this little woman with big intense eyes whose words were as
strong as Dylan's and whose music was as powerful and sexy as the
From that first show I remember three things most strongly: how intense
Patti's eyes were, how great her version of "Gloria" was, and the way she
sang "Break It Up". Patti had a cold and her voice was hoarse and she
was having a hard time singing at the beginning, and during "Break It Up"
she was pounding on her chest trying to get the words to come out
through her hoarse throat, pounding in time to the music: I saw the
boy (bang) break out of his skin (bang) My heart (bang) turned over
(bang) and I crawled in (bang). It was like the words were so
important to her that she was willing to hurt her body to get the
words to come out. Unforgettable.
Catholic all-boys high school. Boston. Two weeks into freshman year,
1979. Suspended for smoking pot under the statue of Mary! For
punishment I had to go into school and rake leaves! Out in the smoking
area I met a guy name Bill McIntyre. When he found out what I was
suspended for, he immediately lit up a joint and played "Jesus
died......" Feeling the out of place rebel in a catholic, repressed
all boys h.s., those lyrics came on like a mack truck (so did the
smoke). We met after school to get stoned again and he played the
whole tape of Horses. By the time we got to Birdland, I felt like
someone had spread butter on all the fine points of my preconceived
notions of the world. In one day, I met my best friend-- and the woman
who became and still is the single most important musical influence on
my life. Perhaps the biggest influence, period. (As an angst ridden
teenager, Nico found a quick spot in my heart as well).
Yea, it was the strong, outspoken lyrics, and the rhythm....the hard
beat of Free Money and Land and the ethereal quality of Birdland and
Elegie. But more than anything, it was simply Patti's voice. I'd
never, ever heard anything like it. I felt its power to emote and
communicate beyond lyrics.
Patti Smith gave me courage, hope (to carry on....) She charmed me,
that sweet angel... and made me no longer afraid "to live."
The first time I heard Patti I was sitting at my kitchen table
listening to WABX in Detroit and doing my high school homework. Gloria
came on and was like, what the fuck is this, it sounds cool! Bought
the record and used to get stoned as hell, put on the headphones and
float away to birdland.
The first time I saw Patti was in Detroit, 1976 at the Ford
It was March 9th. The show was both exhilarating and frightening.
There were times that Patti seemed to let go of the fine tether that
binds most of us to this world. I was inside her head as she seemed to
fall over the line struggling to get back as she humped the marshall
amps and writhed on the stage floor rolling and twisted. She did a
long intro to either Gloria or Birdland where she compared the
shifting sounds of the audience to a flying pack of golden scarbs
circling and would then slap another tape into her head for a new
She ended with her bone-crushing version of "my Generation" that The
Who circa '66 probably couldnt have matched. I walked out dazed from
the spectacle and the changes that I had just been dragged through.
Hooked ever since.
My first encounter with Patti Smith's work was also in the context of
college radio, though much more recent. Several years back I became
involved with the radio station at my school. As a timid freshman, I
was terrified of the older students who ran the station. They seemed
so powerful then. Almost godlike. One of them in particular,
commonly refered to as Betch (an accidental corruption of Becky and
bitch) would call my show from work every week to request songs. One
week she called in for "Dancing Barefoot" and although my partner and
I had never heard the song, we didn't dare to disobey her. The song
became a staple of our show, but it was the song I knew and not the
artist. The only other album we had was Dream of Life which did
little for me and still doesn't; it seems almost too easy. So that
was the end of Patti - for then. My sophomore year I studied in
France. Following the advice of the program that we should try to
avoid all contact with the English language, I left my tapes behind
and planned on discovering some interesting francophone music. Big
mistake. It took several months before I realized that my feelings of
isolation were due at least partly to the loss of contact with the
musical world. A Scottish classmate took pity on me and offered to
share her stash of evil contraband English-language music with me.
Very little of it interested me, but my heart leapt when I saw a tape
marked "The The" and I immediately ran off to the hills to listen to
my new treasure. The tape, however, was at the beginning of the
b-side, and what I found instead was Horses. Oh, happy mistake! Last
year, as station manager of the same college station where my love of
Patti began, it was my turn to call the unsuspecting dj's and make
My love affair begain as an accident. In 1976, when I was 18 and home
on break from SUNY at Buffalo, I went to a PS show at "My Fathers
Place" in Roslyn, LI, NY. A brother of one of my friends had extra
tickets and said we must go. We sat at the table directly in front of
the stage and after the third or fourth song, Patti threw her drink on
me and most of the table. It was love at first drench !
flashes of images: me listening to 70s glam rock in my room. alone. of
course. fiddling with the radio knob. finding my first taste of
college radio (philadelphia style.) hearing bits of land through the
static. weirded out by the sounds. storing it for later digestion.
seeing pictures of patti!/ramones/blondie in rock scene. reading about
patti all the time in creem/crawdaddy/circus. didn't buy horses yet,
bought ramones instead. tacked pictures of patti on my lime green
bedroom wall. didn't buy radio ethiopia. worried about her neck.
bought the single of because the night. got stoned with a friend and
played it forty times in a row. went to see her at my dinky community
college. me and 150 freaks. cried and swelled. got an autograph. saw
her on mothers day in philly when she sang tomorrow to her mom. cried
alot. somewhere in the midst of all this i got hooked. now i make my
kids listen to her almost constantly. she makes me so happy to be
my trigger? i guess you could say it was purely by fate. i always
had a guitar in my hand and a pen in the other. i was always trading
records at this resale shop. 2 bucks a pop. i came across this
record called horses.
unreal. i mean she wasn't a knock out blond or some other kind sex
with a guitar in her hands that she could not play PATTI represented
being a woman in a man's rock world is really hard. It is especially
when your 15 and not popular in dress and looks. PATTI helped me see
who i could be. I still rock with the best of them and I don't need a
skimpy leather outfit to do it. Laura, rockin' in
Well, I guess it's my turn.
My brother kind of turned me on to Patti's music. I hadn't heard any
of it, just heard of it, so I decided to start at the beginning. I
found a copy of Horses at my favorite used cd shop and got it for
eight bucks. It was the best eight bucks I ever spent.
Just like Stipe, and all of the other's who were drawn in by her
voice and lyrics and music, those first few words grabbed me and
pulled me into her art. I guess that's what has really struck a chord
with me, her unrelenting artistry and her belief in the power of rock
music. These were ideas that I had started to form myself, and then
to find a person who was doing it changed my life.
She is one of the reasons that I am interested in being in the
so I can continue along the path that she has marked. Too much of
today's music is centered around sales and not art, and while this is
a fundemental that will probably never change, the ratio can certainly
So, Bravo to you Patti. Thank you for all that you have given to me
and to us. I can only hope that I will be able to follow your lead.
The first time I heard about Patti was from an article in the New York Times
by John Rockwell (I used to wonder if this was a fictitious name). He
wrote a series of glowing articles pre and post Horses. Then I heard
a great NY DJ named Meg Griffin - I forget the station - playing
Gloria and Piss Factory, along with Ramones, Television, Talking
Heads, and import singles by the Sex Pistols, Clash, etc. At about
this time my faith in rock 'n roll was wavering. The 60's were over,
the War was over, Nixon was out. The music on the radio generally
sucked. I didn't know if it was the lousy music that was the problem,
or if I had outgrown rock n' roll...a terrifying thought! But then
came Patti to revive me - and rock n' roll. Of course after listening
to Horses I was hooked, but the clincher was seeing Patti live for the
first time. I lived in Stamford CT at the time, and for some reason
was in a part of town I rarely visited. In the front window of a
little pizza shop was a poster of Patti's upcoming concert in
Westport.(this was March of '76) It was the only mention of that
concert I ever saw. By pure luck I stumbled upon that poster, ended
up with third row tickets, and was enthralled by Patti from the moment
she took the stage to do Real Good Time Together. Of the ten times I
saw her in the mid to late 70's, that is still my favorite
performance. Shortly thereafter I got Teenage Perversity & Ship In
The Night, which closely matched the set list from her Westport
concert, including my favorite song from that night - Ain't It Strange
- which I prefer on Teenage...to the version on Radio Ethiopia. Patti
put her finger on my trigger then, and things haven't been the same
Okay, here's my Patti trigger.
So I am this really wild, weird kid growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s.
Obsessed with Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Alice Cooper, Dolls, Stones, Lou Reed,
etc. Then by the middle of the decade music becomes pretty dead. A lot of
the glitter bands turn sort of lame (from what I remember) and I snoop around
for something new and interesting while taking abuse from a school full of
deadheads and jocks. In 1975, while browsing around this strange
comic-book/porn-shop (I was really into underground comix) on 42nd Street, I
stumble upon the first issue of Punk with Lou Reed as Frankenstein on the
cover. I buy it of course--I mean, at the time, I actually think I _am_ Lou
Reed. Read and dig this hilarious interview with him, then see stories on the
Ramones and Television. I think it's a joke--sort of like Mad magazine or the
Lampoon. I call Punk and they told me it isn't. I go to the Gotham Book Mart
and buy the Little Johnny Jewel single. See a Patti poetry book, look at it
but don't buy it--the Punk guys hadn't mentioned her. So I'm hanging out,
getting the magazine, reading the second issue with Patti on the cover and
pretty much wig out. I think she looks incredibly cool, sounds outrageous,
etc. I check out some of her articles in old Creems. Sort of forget about
her. Then during the latter part of the year, I'm out with my
friends--playing pinball at Willowbrook Mall, getting spurned by girls--get
home and turn on the little FM radio near my bed. WNEW is broadcasting Patti
Smith live from the Bottom Line. I've missed most of the concert, but I catch
the last few songs along with an amazing My Generation with John Cale sitting
in. I totally connect with her, go to Grand Way the next morning and buy
Horses. It is, of course, incedible. Totally life altering. See her for the
first time at the Meadowbrook Dinner Theater in NJ in late '75. Many concerts
follow. Things really crytalize for me--largely Patti-inspired--and I realize
that I can do whatever I want with my life. And I do...
Of course there's more but I won't indulge yoyr patience any further.
My love for Patti came to me like a stigmata, an imprint of something
intensely real but intangible. It was kind of like the feelings I wrote
about in my "Pissing in a River" response awhile ago--a merging of
spitirual, intellectual, and sexual, a submersion into the
indecipherable, a giving forth of something creative as a sort of purging
and transforming. When I first realized my love for Patti, several years
ago, I was listening to Radio Ethiopia, the first Patti album I bought.
Before this, I had felt ashamed at being female and had never experienced
any real desire, having lackluster, superficial relationships with men in an
attempt to be "normal." I was getting involved in goddess religions, but
it wasn't until I started listening to Patti that I actually felt good
about being a woman. "Pissing in a River" and "Poppies" immediately
stirred me as no other music or work of art had done. I began to
realize something which was hard for me to accept and understand,
something which became even more apparent and harder to deny the more
Patti records, articles, and pictures I collected--I realized that until
that encounter with Patti's music I had never really known what it was
like to be in love or feel a passion to create something out of the
energy of this love. With her inspiration I felt a renewed commitment to
write from the viscera and not be so afraid to reveal my vulnerability.
As Fiona and others have said, once I fell in love with Patti, I have
felt this way ever since.
I was a college student in the early 1970's. A friend told me about an
article in a music magazine about "some punkette" who tries to look like Keith
Richards. I was intrigued since the Rolling Stones were the GREATEST ROCK AND
ROLL BAND IN THE WORLD (my opinion at the time). I got tickets to see The
Patti Smith Group at the Bottom Line and I was knocked down, bowled over and
instantly consumed by this goddess. I fell in love with her voice INSTANTLY.
I bought every album I could afford (especially great is the bootleg, Teenage
Perversity and Ships in the Night). I tried to see every show I could as
well. My Father's Place, CBGB's 2nd Avenue Theater (anybody remember the
Fire Department closing the place), Palladium (I still kinda expect to spend
New Year's Eve with Patti-maybe this year), The Elgin Theater and of course
CBGB-OMFUG were just some of the venues. My appreciation for Patti's poetry
actually came after consuming all of her albums and accidentally finding a
copy of WIT. What luck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Like the rest of the "babel-listers" I never stopped loving Patti's music,
lyrics, vocals and especially her ________________. (fill in the blank as you
wish - or just leave it at I LOVE HER).
Jeffrey (I hope you can read this) Stromberg
I've been thinking about this thread and I can't really come up with any
defining moment when I can say "here is where Patti's music/words came to
mean so much for me." But that may be good: It's often true that the things
that take the longest to take hold in my mind are those things that take root
the strongest and hold longest. My appreciation for patti's work probably was
the result of several very slow bullets to my brain that finally coalesced
into an active awareness.
No exposure to Patti while growing up. Here on the mid-Connecticut shore
there was almost no influence from anywhere other than the three main radio
stations that were beaming our predetermined tastes to us from Hartford and
New Haven. In high school from '74-'78 it seems most of my friends had
similar record collections, and I can't recall anyone that had any knowledge
of Patti, Television, Ramones, Velvets, Iggy, or anything else out of the
mainstream--how can you appreciate what you've never been exposed to? My
record collection was a little different, since I listened to C&W until my
senior year, when the commercial sort of country that was being played
(remember all those CB songs?) finally drove me nuts. But I do remember
seeing one news report on television showing the Sex Pistols and thinking
there was no way it could last.
College from '78-'82 on the east end of Long Island was nearly as
insulated as Connecticut was. By that time I was firmly into an
ELP/Yes/Genesis/Tull sort of rut and my four years on the college radio
station generally ran along those lines. Another one of the DJs, though,
always ended her show by playing Wave and dedicating it to a friend of hers
that had committed suicide.
I was learning to play bass by playing along with records, one of which
was the Times Square soundtrack. Pissing In a River, while not the most
challenging basswise, became one of my favorite songs on the record.
Early- to mid-80s I had gotten mightily sick of prog/art rock and most of
the mainstream stuff. Punk was starting to finally "make sense" and I began
to dig around to discover what I'd been missing.
Mid-80s I bought a compilation album called Rock at the Edge, which
includes Gloria and the live take of My Generation with Cale on bass.
Sometime in the mid-80s Rolling Stone ran one of their regular fluff
pieces about the 100 best albums of all time or some such thing. Among the
albums it caused me to buy was Horses.
Mid- to late-80s I took a part-time job at a local commercial radio
station because I missed doing radio. It quickly proved to suck big-time. I
began to realize just how much commercial radio attempts (and largely
succeeds) in trying to tailor listeners' tastes. I had *very* little freedom
in what I played, and when it got to the point where they color-coded the
clock (if it's the pink section of the hour, play the first song from the
pink index card file; if it's the blue section, play the first song from the
blue index card file . . .) I finally quit in disgust. I'm not sure how this
fits in with my Patti awareness, but it does, somehow.
Mid- to late-80s I had a job at a print shop doing proofreading and
paste-up (what else does one do with a biology degree?) and one of the
salesmen was a Patti fan. When Dream of Life came out he let me borrow his
copy. Sometime around here I also went back to college part-time to study
art, and the tastes of those around me were more wide-ranging than the first
time I went to school.
The bits were coming together and finally I bought Radio Ethiopia. It's
gotten to be the album that I can burrow inside of, pull the ladder in, and
shut the door behind me.
I bought the rest of her albums and had gotten some of her poetry books.
My Patti appreciation grew to the point that when I became aware of the
'93 Summerstage reading I was *very* excited and made plans to take the day
off from work and head down to NYC despite the worst heatwave in recent
If you can find a trigger in all that mess, you're doing better than I am
. . . I think it's more a case of Patti rising to the top during my attempts
to discover what sorts of music *really* appeal to me, as opposed to those
tastes that were somewhat dictated by mainstream radio.
[and the mid-Connecticut shore is *still* mostly clueless!]
first time around, patti was in my pantheon, but one of many...
i was more pseudo-punk, a huge clash fan (still am!), into mink
deville, the bush tetras, e.s.g., cocteau twins, the fall, gang o'
4, many others my fried cells can't recall right now...there was
so much good stuff all over da place then. (kinda like it's
getting to be now! i'm glad to say.)
patti was most definitely up there, but not a reason to live.
(though i was one of the few who bought & loved DOL when it first
came out.) i must say what fired me up to the level of flame i now
hold for the gal was...yes...babel-list! surfing around, looking
for music lists, saw babel and said, yeah, patti smith, she was
so fabu, let me check this out! and it was the perfect time, just
before gone again, the level of discourse was so excited, reminded
me of how GREAT she was. i got GA and the box set and listened
to it all for the first time at length. and i could not stop! and
i still can't! i swear she/they never did a bad piece! i saw them
at irving plaza (2nd show) & felt completely transformed, informed,
re-born. (the friend i went with saw her a few times in the early
days and said she was better than ever, and boy could i belee dat!)
maybe it's an age thing, i dunno. i appreciate depths in her work
that i just didn't as a callow youth. back then i maybe sorta a
little bought the image exemplified by gilda radner's impression.
(though totally wrong, still very funny!) And truth be told, i
was out of touch with my own fears and timidities, i think i was
too scared of the world and my place in it (not that i'm not
still, but a little less so...) and patti was just so bold in
making a place for herself on her very own terms and insisting
that everyone could do just that. i guess i was afraid to listen
too deeply to that challenge/offering. but now i'm ready! (better
late than never, eh?)
now, everything psg does speaks to me, inspires me with the
knowledge that the creative flow NEVER stops, as long as you're
willing to go with it and not get scared. (the last part is the
hardest, still, for me.) as a late-bloomer (i hope) who sometimes
loses faith, i heard the message just when i needed it most...
ain't life funny that way?
It all started back in '74 while working at a movie theatre in New Jersey.
I was always into music differant types ranging from Doors, Alice Cooper, Dylan,
Jethro Tull etc. I started talking w/the projectionist who was also into music
and he had been seeing some women perform in the city which was knocking his socks
off. Mentioned her to me and thought I'd like her stuff. I was too young yet for
CBGB's and the other clubs.
On to 1975 or 76 Seaside Heights, Boardwalk, Games, Patti Smith Album. Have to
win it and I did! Thats where it started. Played it as soon as I got home and
have been hooked ever since.
Well in 1979 I had the chance to talk w/Patti one on one. She performed at the
College I was attending Montclair State. I had written poetry for her and gave
it to a friend who was on Security to give her. He came out and said she would
like to talk to you. Who said dreams don't come true. Felt like a dream, maybe
it was. Patti was very cordial, offered me some ziti, picked up the poem smiled.
Then we talked about what she was reading, it was a book by one of the Popes. I
think it was the current one but not sure. She mentioned that she was dating Fred
Smith from the MC5, I remember how happy she was and I wished I could find someone
who could make me that happy. (I did!) The boys were all just hanging out I
remember Richard, Lenny and Jay Dee in the back of the room. Patti gave me a R
n R Nigger button and signed my Ticket stub Till Victory Patti Smith refm.
Still have it.
So in 1986 I moved from New Jersey to Michigan. The move was so much easier
knowing Patti lived here. Saw Patti over the years at many benefits and with
her kids at Detroit Institute for Arts. Last spoke w/Patti at Hill Auditorium
and mentioned how good it was to see her and that I hadn't spoken w/her since
1979. Patti said "and we're still here". Yes we are!
We're going to miss her out here, but if we ever move back east it will make
that move a little easier.
for me it was always the words..........I was in junior high and my english
teacher gave me a copy of "Babel." It was my "Catcher in the Rye." It was
my "Less than Zero." I carried it everywhere. She had the words where I did
not and my life has never been the same. It was one of those defining
moments that take away the breath.
Later, it was Easter that got me pumpin' and lead me back to her earlier
works. The voice behind the words blew me even further.
My parents eventually confiscated my copy of "Babel" and the english teacher
took me to bed. aaahhhh, youth.
It began with the cover photo of HORSES.
It was 1975 -- I was 19, living in Berkeley in a notorious co-op house
nationally (if not world) renowned for drugs, parties, music, and punk
culture, and we spent a lot of time looking for cool stuff for the house
stereo. You actually had to go out and listen back then; there were
fewer FM rock radio stations and MTV hadn't been invented yet.
So there I was combing the record bins at Leopold's, and suddenly I came
upon HORSES. I was transfixed. Whoever this was, whatever her music
might be like, I was in love, and took it home on the spot. I didn't
really have much of a refined appreciation of fine arts photography
then, and I had never heard of Robert Mapplethorpe, but the photo was
like a lightning bolt to my 19-year-old ambisexuality, and combined with
the brash genderfuck of "Gloria", well, nothing has really affected me
in that particular way since. (And to think the cover photo almost
didn't get past Clive Davis of Arista!)
HORSES became an instant house favourite, and when I played it loud,
with my door open, it created instant converts (just like Fiona
wandering down her dorm hallway, no doubt). I think I played about 3
copies to death over the first couple of years, and ditto with RADIO
ETHIOPIA and EASTER.
Somehow I missed her on her first trip to the Bay Area -- she played the
Longbranch, I think, or maybe Freight & Salvage? I good friend of mine
at the time went, and came back and described it as almost a religious
The songs of the first three albums have imprinted themselves indelibly
on me over twenty-plus years -- I find myself humming, and then, almost
subvocally, singing "leaning on the parking meter/humping on the parking
meter" or "a... branch of coral flame" or "the little match/in the void
went 'flash'..." It was pretty amazing. It still is.
Michael C. Berch
Late 1991: I was fifteen. At my aunt's house, rocking her baby to sleep.
She suggested playing music to wind him down. I looked through her CDs;
I didn't want to play Springsteen or Grateful Dead, I'd already heard Tracy
Chapman and Talking Heads, and I wanted something new. Then I saw Horses
and Dream of Life. I'd read interviews with Michael Stipe that namechecked
Patti Smith, and here was my chance to listen to her without shelling out
for an album sight unseen. My aunt warned against Dream of Life, so I put
on Horses. The first line floored me; by the middle of Gloria, I was
dancing around and my cousin was wide awake. Kimberly put into words what
I felt for the little boy in my arms.
Within weeks, I bought all five albums on vinyl. I whispered the liner notes
to Radio Ethiopia every night after my brother (with whom I was sharing a
room) fell asleep. Then we moved, and I didn't have the chance to listen to
my records so often. I didn't think about Patti much, but reading the poetry
I wrote then, I see her sneaking into so much of my writing. It took a few
years before I realized that I started writing poetry within days of hearing
Horses of the first time.
Late 1993: I was visiting my aunt again. Reading _From the Velvets to the
Voidoids_. I learned that Patti was born the day before my mother, and grew
up not too far away from her. (This was a few years after my mom died, and
I was looking for her in everything.) I was so confused; Patti could have
been my mother, but she looked just like me! That weekend, my uncle dragged
out an old box of 7" singles from his college days in Cleveland. All these
bands I had been reading about turned real as I flipped through the stack.
Then, in the back of the box, I found Because the Night. God, she was
beautiful. When my uncle wasn't looking, I slipped that gem under my shirt.
I stared at that picture sleeve until I was sure everyone had gone to bed,
and then I played Godspeed. And I played it again. For maybe an hour, I
just let that song seduce me, snapping back to real life only when I had to
drop the needle again. A quiet song that refused to be mellow. More
intensity than anything I'd heard since Country Feedback. That's when I knew.
When I hold you in my arms
and I feel my finger on your trigger
I know nobody can do me no harm
- John Lennon
(Michael Bracewell, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
interview May 31, 1996)
Famously you're a great fan/devotte of Arthur Rimbaud.
How did his work find its way into your life?
It's sometimes quite difficult to find.
When I was 16 I really wanted a boyfriend but I didn't like
the way the boys looked in my neighborhood. They didn't really
appeal to me and so, I mean I don't have any other excuse, I found
a copy of Illuminations and he was on the cover and he was just my
kind of guy. And I liked the word "illuminations", it is a
beautiful word. But I looked at him and it was love at first sight,
so I got the book, and I opened it up and I read it, and I have to
admit I really didn't comprehend or couldn't decode what he wrote but
my instinct and whatever abilities I had to comprehend knew that
the writing was beautiful, even in translation. I could feel, or
I was seduced by the language.
I really think great art is seductive on various levels. You don't
have to be able to understand art. I mean if you're touched by it,
if you feel any kind of sensual or cerebral response, it's done its
work. I couldn't tell you what Bird In Space means, or what
Pollock meant in Blue Poles, it's not necessary. I don't really know
what Bob Dylan was talking about in Desolation Row, but it doesn't
really matter, it just brings out a certain abstract response that's
That was my first meeting with Rimbaud. I spent years reading and
re-reading him until his work became, was, now I read it and it's just
like reading the newspaper. I've finally been able to get it.
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