In honor of the this month’s Wild Detectives’ Women Galore initiative, the album of the month belongs to a goddesses that has mastered her craft performing, writing, and creating uncompromising art.
Horses. Live at Electric Lady Studios
by Patti Smith
Electric Lady Studios (2015)
Forty years ago Patti Smith delivered a debut that altered the rock and roll landscape: Horses. To celebrate the fortieth anniversary Patti re-recorded it live. Song for song is retold with the same conviction, the passion and fury remains intact. Live records are rare now a days. This one recalls the glory years when live records were an essential part of the discography.
Patti Smith moved out to New York to get lost in the mecca of art, literature, and music. Immersing herself, she forged meals just to be able to attend museums or purchase a book or art supplies. She absorbed it all, and luckily for us she started a band. In the mid-70s Stadium rock, Prog rock, and ten-minute plus individual instrument solos were choking the life out of rock. Rock had become soulless, self-indulgent. Thank God for punk. Patti Smith was one of the pioneers of the scene that arguably was Rock’s last true evolution. The only exciting new original things happening in Rock could be heard in true “hole in the wall” sketchy bottom of the barrel New York establishments. Some nights the band members on stage outnumbered the audience. The type of music being played at CBGB’s Max’s underground was thrilling, enthralling but not anything that you could call commercial. The scene may have lacked musicianship but it featured the fundamental ingredient in Rock and Roll: courage. Do it yourself. “Can’t play any chords, fuck it neither can I; let’s start a band”. Pattie took that sentiment and out rocked the boys. If the Ramones are the kings of punk, then Patti is without a doubt the queen.
“Can’t play any chords, fuck it neither can I; let’s start a band”
Musically, and visually speaking Patti incorporated her infatuation with Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and 60s rock creating an organic iconic look. She wore a leather jacket, chain smoked, psyching out fellow bands with her Keith Richards “bubblegum swagger”. She was not trying to be “cute”. The original album cover features Patti as an androgynous rock star. Imagine the field day the conservative pundits had when seeing a woman, no makeup, and shaggy hair in a suit: a true original. Her lyrics referenced avant-garde ideals, Rimbaud, injustice, and politics. The music and vocals were delivered with a passionate rawness that forty years later still warrants adulation.
The opening track Gloria (Part I: “In excelsis Deo”; Part II “Gloria”) is an unconventional clever cover of Van Morrison’s original. She weaves original poetic lyrics keeping only the original song’s anthem chant “Gloriaaaaa!”. The first thing Patti utters is “Jesus died for everyone’s sins but not mine.” Ms. Smith takes a shot at America’s religious right and their misinterpreted representation of Christianity. Forty years later and that line somehow is more relevant than ever. Donald Trump personifies the absolute worse aspects of political pandering to religious voters. Patti did not care about the ramifications back then and she cares even less in this dangerous politically correct climate. Before you think you are in for a preachy tale, please stick around. The track builds and builds, culminating into pub rock ecstasy. The mood is festive and Patti is at the forefront encouraging the lucky souls that obtain passes to have a good time. One can feel the love pouring from the stage.
The track Elegie takes on a different shade of blue that cuts deeper considering the musical icons that have passed this year. Patti’s experiences, trials and tribulations shape an already devastatingly gorgeous song further into the melancholy but hopeful beauty of the original. Much like Dylan, Patti has kept the music fresh by not trying to recreate the same notes or vocals of yester years. They understand that the goal is to recreate the emotion of the original. Elegie’s last lyric makes the heart quiver. “Trumpets, violins, I hear them on the distance. And my skin emits a ray, but I think it’s sad, it’s much too bad that our friends can’t be with us today.” It has been a devastating year for music lovers. While listening to the track I couldn’t help but think of David Bowie and Prince. It is a beautiful eulogy that collectively allows us to say goodbye to Rock and Roll royalties.
Personally the live version of Elegie healed a part of my heart that was left by my father’s relapse into addiction that effectively ended my parents’ marriage. I’m too hurt to be angry. Patti lets me know it is alright. She invites us to think of all those that cross your path. Remember the light instead of the darkness. I bought her CD while I was a junior in high school. I fell in love immediately. I’ve spun this album hundreds of times. Elegie resonates quite differently. I could not fully understand the depths of the song until now. Hearing this track at this point in my life was a gift that I will forever be thankful. Horses offers something for everyone. A landmark album that inspires and will revive parts of the heart one thought were long gone.