[Here's the Photograph which originally appeared with
this Review: Patti Smith, circa 1070-78.]
Dear Patti, Start the Revolution Without Me
I hate Patti Smith. She's a pretentious wretch. But then I hate the Village Voice, which originally assigned me this piece, and which can be pretty pretentious itself. I hate all the magazines I write for, don't you hate yourself for buying their dead formula hackwork?
In a recent suckup sheet sent out by Arista devoted to Clive Davis, Patti Smith contributed a poem that started out, "C(live)." She went on therein to write something about how "all art comes out of filth."
Life sure is complicated.
Reason I bring all this up is it seems to me we're all implicated. It's kinda like why put down embargos on South Africa when they're torturing people in Brazil, y'know what I mean? Maybe that's why there's not really any justice in this world, although Patti believes there is. She's got this song on her new album Easter (talk about justice! I could even accept that Jesus was a woman, but from New Jersey?), called "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger," wherein her and co-conspirator/cabalist Lenny Kaye (who used to be a real fun guy) go on about living "outside of society " (One Fifth Ave., to be precise), and cite "Jackson Pollock was a nigger, Jimi Hendrix was a nigger," etc.
Well, guess I'll have to admit it: I am not a nigger. I'm a pawn of the imperialist power structure, which I guess puts me more in the line of sucker. I'd like to see a justice in this world, but Clive Davis has this disconcerting habit of buying me lunches when I don't even work for him. (I think.) So I am literally biting the hand that feeds, but then Patti's got this rap on the other side of the album about "transformation of waste (Liyo, Norman O. Brown!)," and I sure can't see any better transformation of corporate expense account waste than keeping me stuffed and healthy so I can create all my own revolutionary masterpieces.
I can't put Patti down for doing the same thing; what I am saying is that she looks kinda silly yelling about how we should all "take arms/take aim," when we've almost got passage of a gun control bill in sight. I mean I sympathize with her intentions, it's her methods that bother me. I thought what the Sex Pistols didbreak up in the throes of commercial ascension, just 'cause they looked at each other one day and said "Hey, this is no fun anymore, screw it"was one of the most admirable things I've ever heard of. I don't expect Patti to make with the same tactics, I think it's real nice she got Bruce Springsteen to help her write a single that even I hope will be a hit, but if you really wanna buck the system, there are alternative monkey wrenches you can throw in. Maybe what I'm trying to say is I think she should make her Metal Machine Music, and Radio Ethiopia didn't even come close.
Easter is a very nice album. Too damn nice if you think about it, but why bother really. Patti doesn't think much herself, and anyway records are to listen to. You can throw this one on anytime and it sounds just fine, Kiss-riffs in "Till Victory" and all. Patti is better than Kiss so why shouldn't she and Lenny steal from them, especially since they're revolutionaries.
Did you know Patti has this little factotum whose job it was to pick away at the typewriter while the Poet lay back and blabbered out her recent book Babel? I guess that's what she means by "Radio Ethiopia Field Marshall," [NB: REFM]; all field marshalls needing adjutants and such. I don't even hold it against her that Babel was just a bunch of self-indulgent crap. I hope it's a big success, 'cause I got a whole bunch of self-indulgent crap of my own I'd like to sell to Random House or whoever, and even if I didn't I'd rather see tons of self-indulgent crap on the market than fifty more books of running. Just like I'd like to see this album sell a billion copies and Patti become a superstar, even though I know that eventuality will turn her into even more of a monster than she's already become. Better her than Styx, or that guy who wants to hold you till the fear in him subsides.
Horses was one of the greatest records I've ever heard. Like all true art, it drew you into recognizable situations and illuminated, poetically heightened them (as "We Three" does here), rather than just preaching at you and ranting that its creator was an Artist. (The late rock critic/musician Peter Laughner once said that all Patti's best songs were written to or about other people. Over the past couple of years she has become so narcissistic that she's solipsistic, which doesn't exactly make her part of the solution.)
Horses changed my life, but I've recognized that there was something almost supernatural about the powers it tapped, that no artist or audience can expect that kind of baptism in the firmamental flames every time. So I don't even feel bad about having to say that Easter is just a very good album, and now I even like Radio Ethiopia in a High Times slumming sorta sense. But something still sorta clutches at my heart when I hear Patti sing "Look around you ... do you like the world around you?" No, I loathe what I see emerging with every particle of my being, and baby yes, I certainly do feel there's a war on which almost nobody wants to recognize, and even as I can look into the hideous technocorporate heart murdering face of the enemy I'm stumped as to tactics. But while like with hippies looking better in retrospect than today's dutiful deadwood children 'cause at least they were rebelling I can't help but admire you whatever you do in the face of McCartney-disco-fusion, still I think I've finally found a word for your tactic. It's called diversionary.
Copyright © Phonograph Record Magazine 1978