I was under-whelmed by Patti Smith’s landmark debut album Horses (1975), mostly because her voice was a mess and because I thought punk rock, stylistically, was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing musical. But Smith wasn’t a punk rocker at heart. Her heroes included Dylan and the Stones, Robert Blake and Allen Ginsberg, and she deserves credit for remaining a genuine oddball poet/rocker long after the punk craze ran its course.
A recent radio interview of Smith cracked me up. She recalled living dirt-poor in NYC with Robert Mapplethorpe, making her mark at CBGB, getting married to MC5 alumnus Fred Smith, having and raising kids with him, getting back into music and activism.
Near the end of the interview, Smith was asked what advice she would give to young, aspiring artists. I think the radio host was inviting her to say something grand that would suit her shamanistic, godmother-of-punk image.
“Take care of your teeth,” she said.
The interviewer seemed disappointed, but my friend Swamp Rabbit and I knew from bitter experience that Smith had spoken words of wisdom.
After hearing the interview, we found this, from a commencement speech Smith gave a few years ago:
…You want at night to be pacing the floor because your muse is burning inside of you, because you want to do your work, because you want to finish that canvas, because you want to help your fellow man — you don’t want to be pacing because you need a damn root canal.
“That does it, I’m going to the dental clinic tomorrow,” Swamp Rabbit said, making his New Year’s resolution. “Gotta get my singing career back on track.”
Although she gives good, sound advice, musically, I’ve always found her to be a triple threat: can’t sing, can’t write, can’t play…and don’t even mention Because the Night, Springsteen wrote it.
No argument from me. I like Dancing Barefoot, but she had a co-writer for that one, too. Give her this: She made a lot of very cool friends. Or how about “She has remained true to her vision.” That’s a compliment, I think.
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