Back in the day, I had mixed feelings about Patti Smith. As a rock and roll artist she was up there with the best. Horses is an album I still play regularly and she had a 4-track EP around that time called Ask the Angels which I loved too. If only, I thought, as a 16 year old, into the Pistols, the Ramones and The Clash, if only she'd give up all that pretentious poetry nonsense which didn't really make sense, just a load of images laced together which slowed down the music something fierce. Give me Gloria over Piss Factory any day of the week.
Older now and wiser and a lot more mature, I still prefer Patti the rocker to Patti the poet. Though I appreciate more now how she helped popularise poetry.
Anyway, the subject this week on Toads is, yup, Patti Smith, whom I only ever saw the once. But what a gig!
Patti Smith sings Gloria at the Roundhouse London 1976
Hands on hips, in the bright circle she stands,
dark eyes machine-gunning the crowd.
Piano chords rise slowly from unsure hands
and the restless audience whistles loud.
Half Janis Joplin, half Joey Ramone,
she waits, sexless and divine,
then tilts her Jagger lips to the mike.
Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine
The words drawl lazily over the swaying tide
of male adolescence, locked in a sweaty mass.
The changeling piano licks its lips with pride
and then guitar and cymbal start to kick ass.
The purring riff curls itself around the rhythm,
speeding up now, like a freight train clanking
through Queens on a harsh winter’s night.
I look out the window, see a sweet young thing
The wave of the crowd no longer rolls
but threshes and splashes, a godless
maelstrom of flesh, as Gloria strolls
up the stairs in her pretty red dress.
Patti is on her ripped jeans knees, hair
brushing the stage floor; her slight frame is
shaking as she screams the answer -
And her name is, and her name is, and her name is...
G – like a witch, she incants each letter,
back on her feet now, fists of rage,
Faster, faster, the bass pumps like a vendetta.
A young lad scrambles onto the stage
and is manhandled off by a scurrying roadie
back into the fiery waters of smothering brine
that wash against the stage front.
Oh she was so good, oh she was so fine
Patti prowls toward us, ever nearer,
sporting a sneer of satisfaction,
showing no mercy, leaning out like Hera,
taunting us, driving us down into distraction,
but we know its coming, we know it’s coming.
One final, thrashing guitar chord, one hard-line
cymbal crash and the relief, oh the blessed relief.
Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.