One of the greatest concerts I ever attended was one of the then annual gigs Patti Smith did at the Village Underground, a small, one hundred seater off Bleecker street in Manhattan. Though no one sat and they could load the place far more than one hundred.
The Village Underground is actually Gerdes...yes, that place babyface Dylan played with John Lee Hooker and passed his cap. She played there regularly for the sound, the size of the one room and the history as much as for anything else. It was a gift.
It was the night Patti spat on me. She meant no intent, it is just her way of using her body as a messenger. A tool. A brief break from delivery which serves as well to make an impact, and Patti Smith intends to make an impact when she wants to. Patti spits to clear her thoughts, clear her mouth, clear her chest and create a space around her she controls, even as she chooses to make that impact.
But not always.
She moved to my home state for a few years, before the Wave time...to live with one of the MC-5, a revolutionary group who in retrospect sound better every damn year, though when I was a boy they sounded fine. When I count myself lucky, I count the times I saw the MC-5. Iggy sounds better every year too...another Michigander, and one particularly good at playing dumb when he is in fact brilliant. He was so good at playing dumb the MC-5 called him their younger retarded brother.
Patti lived with Freddy. In Detroit, she proved more than capable of family life and practiced clarinet. She visited Schoolkids records in Ann Arbor. Schoolkids drew their name from the some 40,000 students who live there. For a while, marijuana was virtually legal in Ann Arbor, the community being largely composed of seeking potheads who voted to make it a traffic ticket, and one could wander the student ghetto and see it sprouting near fences and next to gravel parking lots.
No one doubts Patti Smith is brilliant.
Her new album, yes album, as it comes in a small book with photographs, which is actually the true definition of album...in disc form.
It contains the greatest song ever written about a dog. It is "Old Shep" from a far more literate Elvis and Elvis is no saint. Patti Smith is the only saint I have seen perform. Patti spat on me several times.
It also contains, as far as I know, the greatest song ever written about Maria Schneider, who passed on a year or so ago, unfortunately. She had a somewhat troubled life and the most beautiful breasts I have ever seen on the big screen.
Much was made of Patti Smith's breasts back when she was considered a punk-rocker, since the journalists who were looking for words to describe a female poet reverted to that, or those, as they were hormonal kids writing for Cream Magazine, another great Michigan thing.
The album is her best album in a while. So what. They are all good. One could do worse than to be a fan of Patti Smith. Take this review and remember it when you listen. The recommendation is thus: Read the lyrics when you listen, and the back catalog is available.
Jim Linderman Books and Ebooks are available HERE