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Song of the day – 51: Patti Smith

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To celebrate the fact that someone from Patti Smith’s record company pretending to be Patti Smith herself befriended me on Facebook the other day, here’s this…

A song.

And a review, taken from Plan B #8.

Patti Smith
The Dome, Brighton

How cool is this intoxication?

She struts on stage dressed like a goddamn old-fashioned rock’n’roll star in her man’s jacket and dirty boots.

She pirouettes a few times, bows, laughs, checks in her pocket for a pair of spectacles, starts to read poetry from a printed book. Hers. The band stands silent behind her, respectful. She reads ‘Piss Factory’ (1974), adapted and still changing, given extra vitriol, circumstance. Fever builds – words are relished, spat out and discarded. Girls reach out feverishly to touch her boots. Boys’ mouths slavishly every improvised sentence. Fever grows, grows, and grows. It grows. Sweat forms; real, and imagined: beads coagulate on the edge of reason as we wallow in distaste. We’re there, back once more amid the scum-struck sweatshops and bitterly won cigarettes. We’re there. Patti Smith, back in Brighton. Patti Smith, astride the beautiful stage like Elvis if only he hadn’t stopped believing, like Johnny if only he’d refused that bittersweet black candy; like no one; like herself. She is herself. Triumphant.

“Andy, get me a job in Brighton,” she pleads. “Get me a space opposite the pal-ace, where I can watch the horses running, running around the Dome…”

Fever builds. ‘Redondo Beach’ (1975) flashes by with its beatnik charisma. ‘Beneath The Southern Cross’ (1996) spirals downwards, fuelled by the twin guitars of Richard Lloyd (ex-Television, seated, reclusive) and Lenny Kaye (ex-Patti Smith Band, lanky, smiling). ‘Free Money’ (1975) starts…and suddenly I’m lost wow like Jesus like fuck like someone hug me like this isn’t real like my head’s going to come loose like how symbiotic is the relationship between my favourite females of the Nineties (Courtney, Polly, Kim D, Kim G) and this staggering swaggering charged poetess howling red emotion, wrapping her arms around Lenny’s guitar, like…where did the last four minutes go? What happened?

A girl shouts out something in Japanese. “Send her to the Royal Pavilion,” Patti drawls insouciantly. “Send her to the correction room. The correction room is for bad girls. I’m already there…”

Fever ebbs. Patti blows avant-garde fervour down a clarinet as Lenny trickles cool magic from the occasional note, as Richard defines the sound of NYC 1976 again. Two songs from Easter (1978) – ‘Privilege (Set Me Free)’ and ‘25th Floor’ – follow: light and shade and all the pent-up, fermented emotion between. She’s 60? Does she notice? Is that what informs her droll, mannish humour? She jokes for English breakfasts and their effect on her constitution. It jars, slightly.

“Don’t you see when you’re looking at me that I’ll never end,” she sings on ‘Ain’t It Strange’ (1976). “Transcend, transcend…” Transcend.

How cool is this infatuation?

How cool.

She dances, like she’s making love to Lenny’s guitar. Graceful, a supple priestess charged with earthly desire. She dances, like people never lost faith in her beloved rock music, like it’s still possible to change a life with a few scattered chords and a bellyful of passion. She dances, alone and awkward and so mesmerising. She dances, the way a sorceress dances. She crouches down the front, resting on her haunches listening to Lenny Kaye proudly belt out a verse of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ (introduced as “a classic American folk song”) and I’m so close I could reach out and touch the hem of her garment, her boots…but I don’t. I’m not a spell-breaker.

“How does it feel?” the crowd roar as one. “To be on your own?”

She meditates on seagulls and chocolate. She prevaricates on her ancestry, slyly mocking her crowd’s desire to cheer anything.

“I just needed some time to breathe,” she explains coyly. She introduces two songs (‘Dancing Barefoot’, the rambling ‘Seven Ways Of Going’) from my least favourite album, 1979’s overproduced Wave, with ruminations regarding the possible discovery of a 14th planet. Her babelogue is riveting. The music sadly doesn’t delight, although I do start understanding where The Go-Betweens drew much of their inspiration from: Richard Lloyd, dude. Riffs are manna. She sings the unashamedly sacred love song ‘Because The Night’ (1978) with such fervour it could ignite a revolution.

How cool is this sensation?

How cool.

Not everyone gives up. Rock’n’roll still holds meaning. Not everyone succumbs to the lure of…wait, what the fuck is this? ‘People Have The Power’ my arse – this testosterone-pumping hippie singalong (taken from 1988’s ‘comeback’ album Dream Of Life) isn’t worthy of you, Patti. Haven’t you seen the news from Iraq or New Orleans recently? People most certainly don’t have the power.

The encores are a mostly throwaway version of Elvis Presley’s ‘One Night’ – vocal duties mostly handled by the bassist – and…oh Jesus. Oh sweet mother of God. Patti. ‘Land’ segued into ‘Gloria’.

Thirty days later, I’m still starstruck, dreaming my own secret dreams. Dreaming my own secret desire.

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