masked bawl

     by patti smith

[from a review of Dylan's Planet Waves in CREEM, April 1974]

God-bye baby. See I was hoping this one would be the work that severed me off. I been following him like some good dog too long. Trying not to be ashamed, as it does not seem to please him -- this admiration. But you know I never looked on him as my messiah. I don't need no messiah. And no protest singer neither. To me he was always a sex symbol. Positive energy behind a negative mask. Like a full basket beneath straining pants. It wasn't the world he saved, in my dreams, it was me.

At school dances I was a perpetual wallflower. Not the kind that's lucky enough to blend with the walls. I stuck out like a boil on a bareback. I lurk about in limp taffeta and dream of him. My James Dean, my knight. He'd walk across the dance floor, take me in his arms and we'd do the strand to "A Million to One."

He articulated every unuttered cry. He played with such urgency. As if he had a stilted lifeline. As if he had a pain in the nerves. Him in his plaid jumpsuit. It hit me then. How a guitar rests so completely on a man's cock. I embraced every word. I walked his walk. I followed no parking meters. When he broke down I waited patiently for his return. I never waltzed in his garbage. I know he's human. He's simply human. I think of him often but I'd just as soon forget him. Let the planet have him.

Planet Waves. I like the cover. Mostly cause it's black and white. Like Baudelaire's dress suit. And his handwriting: ". . . space guys . . .big dicks and ducktails . . . searching thru the ruins for a glimpse of buddah . . . long insomnia." Two cuts (side 2) make it completely worth it. One black one white. One that swan dives and one that transcends. The death of friendship the birth of love.

It's a thin line between love and hate. Genet and Motown know all about it. "Dirge" is a love song Burroughs could get into. Amphetamine IBM. Masculine honor broken on low streets. Corrupt and beautiful. Man to man.

". . . can't recall a useful thing/ you ever done for me/ except to pat me on the back/ when I was on my knees/ we stared into each others eyes/ neither one of us would break/ no use to apologize/ what difference would it make."

Moth wings flapping. Very Lorca-esque guitar and the way he plays piano. A style second only to Oscar Levant's. Insistent plodding chords drenched in "ballad in plain-D" guilt. There's something so delicious about repentance; so seductive about shame. The maze you enter -- his brain and spleen. The dark alley where "angels play with sin." It's very moving. A man lost in the barracks of any city cold and dead as crystal.

"Wedding Song" is the white one. The hero is bleeding is tracked thru the snow. He sings it with the bitterness of one who's forced to tell the truth. His Hattie Carroll voice. He's such a handsome singer. And he sings like there's no where else. A wilderness arcade at 4 a.m. He sings to her "I love you more than madness." There's nothing more a man could say to a woman. To love her more than art, than himself. Peace coming from liquid fusion. Nothing more perfect than the perfect union.

I don't care for the rest of the album. There's no balance. The Band makes me nervous. Like a bumblebee in the face. But I'm no hipster putting down the prince. "Going, Going, Going" has fine lyrics and stand waiting to be covered by Mick Jagger or Chuck Jackson. And for me "Dirge" and "Wedding Song" are enough. Beyond any other. Relentless as one determined to walk very fast thru the faint night. Hard and manhead. Sex symbol songs. The ones that never let me down.

Oh I been sick see. Victim of a bandanna wrapped too tight. Lying in bed and my vision been bad. Playing "Dirge" over and over. Drawing a picture. I though it was Rimbaud but it was Dylan. I thought it was Dylan but it was me I was making. Sooner or later all of us must know. It comes on like a weeping revelation. It grips like a claw in the main. Everyman has got to do his own work. But when you get down to pure self portrait it's just the end of the line.

Copyright © Patti Smith 1974

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