The Museum of the City Of New York just put out a compendium of the 400 most essential people in NYC's 400 year history. It's quite an inspiring list and one of the names on it is Patti Smith, someone I first met long before she had recorded anything. I was visiting NYC for the first time since having moved abroad in 1969 and she was living in a loft on 23rd Street with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Sandy Pearlman, an old college chum, brought me over to meet her and later to see her and Lenny Kaye do a beat poetry session in the basement of a church. I was floored by the performance, which I told Sandy was probably too spectacular to ever capture on vinyl. I was wrong. Last Thursday Patti gave a talk on the poet William Blake at the Morgan Library. Sandy, who now teaches music at McGill University agreed to help put Patti into some kind of context for readers who might not be familiar with her work.
Of the Matter of Patti Smith's Horses, Horses
-by Sandy Pearlman
15 November, 2009
(1) Sing Goddess. Of things now past but not forgotten. It's 1975 OK. Avery Fisher Hall, home of the NY Philharmonic, sanctified space under Bernstein & Boulez, about to be re-energized as the 1st Big-Box Venue for Patti, in honor of release of Horses. A full house is in the house. Two Goddesses have converged. The ancient antagonists, Aphrodite and Athena back at it for one more fall that's all. Taking a back seat for once, though seated in the front row, the world's de facto reigning sex goddess, Marilyn Chambers, the Queen of Porn herself, is perched for good view of the stage. As above so below, Aphrodite for a Day, know your competition. Above her, was the Girl with the Tie, Patti Smith, commanding the stage with full panoply of Athena's playbook. From onset of Patti Smith's project way back with Jesse James, live in 1971 w/Lenny Kaye (one time only and ever only so) at St Mark's in the Bowery, the Athenoid parallelisms have been too dense for mere coincidence: Wisdom, Fury, Poetry, Guardian of Heroes, the Merciless Heart, Tamer of Horses. Athena was the archetypal Tamer of Horses. Incarnation or possession, perhaps, but, mere coincidence, never. As above so below, the dance of the archetypes begins. Needles and Pins. Two Goddesses on the track, but one of them will sing. "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine." (2) That there's no such thing as coincidence. That Patti Smith often hung w/the alien that ran the Saucer News Book Store over at 45th Street on the West Side of Manhattan. That he was not human. That Patti would wind up 30 years later, totally by coincidence, with the sign that hung outside that store, when she discovered it on a wall of the house she was about to buy. That Birdland was written with crop circles in mind and UFOs on the brain when no one even knew what crop circles were. That Wilhelm Reich, who's at the controls, in, and whose son is inhabitant, of, Birdland, wrote The Mass Psychology of Fascism. That what Patti Smith stands for, now and forever issues a challenge to the very existence of essentially pessimistic Mass Cult Fascist Art, and, by extension, to insidious propagation of those industrial music objects, which, deploy entrainment by repetition and commodity fetish compulsion as compliance mechanisms first to captivate, with exclusionary repetition like airplay, then to capture, their captive audiences. That the Cult Patti simultaneously embodies and serves is of the truth that music is born of invention, adventure, of paradoxical limitless individuation: Love Minus Zero/No Limit. That the truth is music is neither wallpaper, nor means of entrainment; neither vehicle of domination, nor of its mass psychology; neither an industry, nor industrial. That when music is treated as if it is of that kind, then what we get is more of what we've got now and no more Horses. That for exposing The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Wilhelm Reich got run out by the 3rd Reich. That as a function of insights developed earlier around his Mass Psychology, in the late 1940's thru mid 1950's, Wilhelm Reich went on to dream up a comprehensive theory of the great world systems, even accounting for UFOs, the age of which was at first dawning. That this theory anticipates and encompasses the X-Filing Corpus Mulder/Sculley.,That this theory got him run off the Planet (i.e. he died in prison) by his next government, the same US government that brought leading lights of the 3rd Reich home to build Space Ships in Area 51,White Sands and Huntsville, Alabama. That Moon of Alabama written by Kurt Weill (also run out by 3rd Reich), not Steven Foster, was covered by the Doors and eventually recovered by Patti's Crew on Brecht/Weill Night at her London Meltdown performance in 2005. That Horses as recorded at the Meltdown now closes, or, better, recapitulates with a 3rd cover (...beyond Van Morrison and Cannibal and the Headhunters...) and that cover is the Who's My Generation. That on the night of her Meltdown, the night when Patti's Band played all of Horses from cover to cover, for the first time, live, in the order it was recorded, Patti revealed the corrosive irony that dare not speak its name: That Our Generation had given the world George Bush. (3) There is a geography of Horses. Its territory is divided into two parts: Birdland and The Land of a Thousand Dances. They are the same but different. Twins again, since we've seen this before. Twin states of mind, of matter...? As above so below. Upper and Lower Egypt, The Twin Towers, Places Charmed and Ordinary, the State of Maine and New Orleans... Twins again, but not identical. Perhaps "twinned" would be better. Each twin influences the other, but, their differential "gravities" disruptively interact to produce unpredictable dynamical outcomes. With chaotic perturbations in the orbits of their spheres of influence and dialectical chaos at their structural core. The center will not hold. Actually there is no center. This territory has no capitol city. When systems collapse like this, for better or worse, liberation attends. Not just of, and, from things. But of, and, from process itself. Including the process of language. Within the concept logic boundaries of Horses transit is possible without transition. Transformation is possible without process. To get anywhere it's not necessary to go through somewhere. Transformation Direct, that's the ticket. With Horses, truly the transformational generator's on interstellar overdrive and all wormholes fully activated. There are no loops but Mobius and Patti Smith is their prophet. And the radical, clearly counterintuitive leaps of lyrical faith that characterize the "texts" of Birdland, Land, Kimberly, Free Money, Redondo Beach... all pass for intuitively logical in the final analysis. Free Money/Free Language. If poetry like music is born of invention, adventure, of paradoxical limitless individuation, then the first principal of Patti's excellent adventure w/Horses was to bet the ranch on a poetic language that directly transforms itself by means of clearly counterintuitive unstaged leaps of word faith, that, wind up being perceived at the other end of the combinatorial wormhole as inevitable intuitive logic. As if creation of Horses somehow entailed the simultaneous running of an infinite number of data loops, and, where they stopped and started nobody knows, nor, cares, since, all their data are already mapped for previously unknown intuitive validity anyway. As if by coincidence. Or paradox of limitless individuation. Or by virtue of Patti Smith, Our Lady of Perpetual Intuition's Greater Magdalenic Cloud of Grace. Consider, for example, the dialectical orbit of Patti Smith and Chris Carter, the X Files/Millennium Creation God. That Chris Carter would cut Lara Means' awesomely creepy revelation overload sequence from "Time is Now," the 1998 Millennium season finale, to the full 9 minutes and 26 seconds entirety of Land, closes the Mobius Loop that Patti opened 25 earlier with Birdland, her comprehensive premonitory dream of Domaine Mulder/Sculley, dreamt up before anyone had ever dreamt of an X File. (4) Pulling out of Birdland. On the Glossolalia Moonlight Express. Riding the Trend Line. Somewhere near the end of the Line. Where Do Wop Shaman reveals mastery of autoexstatic trick of Singing In Tongues by singing own name to produce sax parts Charlie Parker would have played, if only not precluded by circumstances unforeseen (i.e. his death), this being Birdland after all. A function of access to the Exstatic Instruction Set, induced by consumption of Maine Blueberries under unique plasmatic moonlight environment. (Plasma being the 4th State of Matter.) The photoreactive bacterial noble rot (more noble than that of Sauternes even) on the surface of these blue berries being activated thru exposure to a one time per year manifestation of extremely limited edition light from the Harvest Moon. It was the last discovery by Wilhelm Reich, made on his farm in Maine, just before the US Government put him on ice, that blue was the color of the fundamental energy of the Universe. By 1957 he would be dead enough to discover nothing more. Speaking in Tongues was only 1st level of this Adventure. Singing in Tongues is actual bomb. Then there's the Tonguing in Tongues. The viscous, plasmatic eroticism of Birdland. Swimming the Thick Ocean. Singing in Tongues while you swim. Be bop Do wop Re bop Zo bop. Mostly of the Voodoo Lexicon. The Glossolalia Express embarking now for Haiti, ultimately bound for Guinee, the Old Country, all by way of New Orleans. The Mobius Loop is closing. In 1962 Chris Kenner is back in New Orleans. He's pretty much blown whatever he's made from his monster hit, I Like It Like That, way back in 1961. Please sir, may I have another is what he says to himself. Which is how "Land of a Thousand Dances" gets to be written. Nobody really knows who's recorded the song, or, how many times since Chris Kenner launched the trend back in 1962. Certainly its enough to be a trend, including Fats Domino, Rufus Thomas, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Little Willie and Thee Midnighters, Wilson Pickett, Tina Turner, Patti Smith, Tom Jones, Junior Walker... Notwithstanding the manifest greatness of the whole cover crew, the only versions that matter are Patti's and the Cannibal. Alone of all their kind they discovered the dark chaos ritual inhabiting the antic shell of the song. This was always there, but, an interpreter of genius was needed to bring down the night. The first such interpretive breakthrough was made by Cannibal and the Headhunters in 1965. In an Alternative Universe this band was actually a gang in East LA. But they wanted to become a band. They were looking for simple songs, since, that was all they could play and they landed on "Land of a Thousand Dances." That was their first mistake. Their 2nd mistake would make them immortal and is outlined by Cannibal (nee Frankie Garcia) below:
"Now the original of that song, if you've ever heard it, is lyrics from beginning to end. Dances all the way through. Lots of lyrics. And on stage, I blacked out and couldn't remember the words. So I started ad-libbing, 'Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na.' After the show, the other musicians went 'What were you doing?' and I said 'I don't know.' And they said 'Well do it again, it sounded real good. Could you do it again?' Finally we got to where I could remember it, but didn't care about the words anymore. I just wanted to get to that 'Na na na na na."
What Cannibal had done was to recover the sanctified incantorial stuff still latent from Chris Kenner's original inspiration for "Land," an old Spiritual (Are there any new ones?) called "Children Go Where I Send Thee." Once the latent sanctified incantorial got dressed down to preverbal reptile brain sex moans coupled to a very modern prepunk amphetamine anti-Disney fright park shred track. Well, the dark side of entrainment was in the house and on your phone. In 1975 Patti Smith's left handed re/sanctification of the Cannibal Worldview gets released upon an unsuspecting world. Recalling Cannibal's complaint about "Lots of Lyrics" from a piece in Hit Parader or a show at the Camden Armory, she reacts the way anyone other than Emily Dickinson would, with lots more. Somewhere a young Chris Carter takes note and we're back to where we started. Sing Goddess.