Sunday, March 5, 2017

"Patti Smith Looks Back on the Album Where It All Came Together"

From The Shepherd Express: 

Punk's poet laureate speaks of 'Horses,' creative control and Milwaukee memories

By David Luhrssen  Feb. 28, 2017

Patti Smith changed plans for her Milwaukee concert when I reminded her of the date. “March 9—that’s the day I met Fred!” she says excitedly. “Oh my gosh.” And as a result, at her Thursday, March 9 show—her first in town in 38 years—Smith promised to perform a “Fred trilogy,” as she calls it, comprised of the three songs she wrote in the ’70s about her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith: “Because the Night,” “Dancing Barefoot” and a number rarely performed in recent years, “Frederick.”

Milwaukee was one of the first cities outside Smith’s New York home base where her music was widely embraced. Much of that attention resulted from the single-minded efforts of DJ Bob Reitman, who was already talking Smith up even before her debut album, Horses. On the night of Horses’ release in the winter of 1975, Reitman played the LP on the air in its entirety. Most of us had never heard anything like it. Raw as an open wound and yet broad in human sympathy, Horses was a head-on collision of high-octane rock with modernist poetry. Not unlike William Carlos Williams and other early 20th-century poets, Smith melded literary and colloquial influences. Arthur Rimbaud inhabited the lyrics of “Land” alongside ’60s dance crazes such as the Watusi and the Mashed Potato. 

In the years since Horses, Smith accepted the Nobel Prize for Bob Dylan, sang at the Vatican for Pope Francis, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won the National Book Award for her memoir, Just Kids, and saw her photography exhibited in museums. But Horses was what lifted her from the pre-gentrified Bowery into the international spotlight. Caught up in the scene that gathered in the tiny bar called CBGB’s, Smith endowed punk rock with a dimension beyond simple assertions and three chords.

“I didn’t start as a musician and I’m not a musician, really. I started as a poet,” Smith says about the origin of Horses songs. “Birdland” and “Horses” began as poems. The line that famously opened the album and framed her radical reinvention of Van Morrison’s “Gloria”—“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”—came from a poem she’d written in 1970. “Horses was a culmination of my evolution from poetry to performance; it all coalesced on that album,” she continues.

The Patti Smith Band performs Thursday, March 9 at 8 p.m. at the Milwaukee Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave. Tickets are available from or by calling 1-800-745-3000.

I was first introduced to Patti Smith's work as a poet, by a fellow poet, Jeff DeMark.  He said to me, "You gotta read this stuff," and gave me one of her books.

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