I’ve been listening to the new Patti Smith album for the past two days and my initial enthusiasm for Banga has only grown stronger. At first I thought my lust for a Smith album that knocked me sideways like Horses was coloring my take on this new one, but I think I can fairly objectively say it is the second or third best album of Patti Smith’s career.
Smith’s voice has never been finer and, unlike many of her albums after Easter, Banga is full of lovely melodies and hooks. Lyrically, the album follows in the spirit of Smith’s memoir Just Kids: ruminative, prayerful, melancholic and hopeful - a delicate, tough and occasionally fierce expression from a spiritual warrior moving forward with grace and determined soulfulness.
Banga was produced by Smith at Electric Lady Studios (where Horses was recorded in 1975) and features her group (Lenny Kaye, Jay Daugherty and Tony Shanahan) in stellar form. Tom Verlaine provides some shards of psychedelia to two tracks and there’s some drumming and guitar work from Johnny Depp on the title track.
For fans of rock legends who still deliver the goods, Neil Young has added Smith to his tour schedule. The Patti Smith Group will open for Young in these cities:
Nov. 23 – Montreal, Quebec, Bell Centre
Nov. 24 – Ottawa, Ontario, Scotiabank Place
Nov. 26 – Boston, Mass., TD Garden
Nov. 27 – New York City, N.Y., Madison Square Garden
Nov. 29 – Philadelphia, Pa., Wells Fargo Center
Nov. 30 – Fairfax, Va., Patriot Center
Dec. 4 – Bridgeport, Conn., Webster Bank Arena
The following video was shot at Detroit Institute of Arts where an exhibition of Smith’s photographs is taking place concurrent with the addition of her late husband’s, Fred “Sonic” Smith, guitar to the museum’s collection.
The song “April Fool” is the opening track of Banga. Accompanying Patti are her son and daughter, Jackson and Jesse.
New Directions recently re-issued Patti Smith’s book of poems Woolgathering, which has been out-of-print for almost 20 years. The new edition contains a previously unpublished autobiographical short story called “Two Worlds.”
Woolgathering is an evocation of Smith’s childhood and early days in New York City delivered in sensuous prose that flutters at the edge of consciousness like the iridescent wings of a Luna moth. The writing is vivid, intoxicating and haunted.
“I had a ruby. Imperfect, beautiful like faceted blood. It came from India where they wash up on the shore. Thousands of them—the beads of sorrow. Little droplets that somehow became gems gathered by beggars who trade them for rice. Whenever I stared into its depths I felt overcome, for caught within my little gem was more misery and hope than one could fathom.”
In the video below, Patti reads from Woolgathering and shares memories of growing up in Jersey and New York. She is, as usual, totally charming.
This was shot at my favorite bookstore on the planet, the Strand. For 25 years I lived just a few blocks from the Strand and would spend at least 10 hours a week there hunting and gathering. I have the books to prove it. Thousands of them.
An amusing little anecdote from Ari Up of the Slits about the time she met Patti Smith after a show in the 70s (which doesn’t go quite as you’d expect.) As ever, Up oozes oddball charm here, she is still very much missed!
Patti Smith with neck brace. Photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe.
I remember seeing Patti Smith’s first performance on The Mike Douglas Show in 1977 and thinking how unexpectedly cool that show was. Just imagine how dumbstruck daytime TV viewers must have been seeing The Patti Smith Group popping up between episodes of As The World Turns and re-runs of Dobie Gillis. Hell, I was even blown away!
I actually had to go to a friend’s house to watch Patti on the Douglas show because I didn’t own a TV set. It was the first time I saw her perform live and it confirmed everything I imagined The Patti Smith Group would be: wild, inspired, unadulterated rock n’ roll. And part of what made this particular performance so bona fide is Patti and the band didn’t condescend to or mock the daytime TV format they were operating in. They put their hearts into it. Every fucking show mattered to them, whether it was sandwiched between soap operas or on the stage of legendary Manhattan punk clubs. Patti was a punk without the wiseass, holier-than-thou bullshit. She wanted to spread the rock gospel throughout the nation, from the Bowery to double-wides in middle America. Everybody was invited to the party.
The first half of the video was shot on December 7, 1976 and broadcast on January 19, 1977. The second half, with Patti in a neck brace, was aired on Apr 19, 1977. It was her first live appearance after falling 15 feet off a stage and breaking several neck vertebrae in Tampa Florida on January 23, 1977.
Thanks to Jim Laspesa at Bubbling Over who continues to unearth gems from his impressive video archive.
Ask The Angels, Free Money, I Was Working Real Hard and Keith Richards Blues.
Jersey punk receives the 2011 Polar Music Prize from Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf.
Patti Smith was awarded Sweden’s highest musical honor this past week.
The Polar Music Prize was first presented in 1992 and has gone to pop artists such as Sir Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and classical names such as Isaac Stern, Renée Fleming, José Antonio Abreu and Ennio Morricone.
Smith’s award was presented by one of her favorite authors, Sweden’s Henning Mankell. Speaking without notes, he credited Smith for inspiring women all over the world to write poetry and create music. He then read the citation, which lauded Smith for “devoting her life to art in all its forms” and for demonstrating “how much rock ‘n’ roll there is in poetry and how much poetry there is in rock ‘n’ roll.” Calling Smith “a Rimbaud with Marshall amps,” the citation said that she “has transformed the way an entire generation looks, thinks and dreams.”
In her acceptance, a visibly moved Smith had to stop for a moment to collect herself as she thanked her daughter Jesse Paris and son Jackson, as well as the musicians she has worked with for years, including “Lenny Kaye, who has played guitar by my side for over 40 years.” Smith also acknowledged the late Stig Anderson and “my late husband, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith,” guitarist for the rock band MC5.
“Receiving the prestigious Polar Music Prize is both humbling and inspiring, for it fills me with pride,” Smith told the audience at the Stockholm Concert Hall. “It also fills me with the desire to continue to prove my worth. I am reminded always how collaborative the music experience is and so I would like to thank the people, for it is the people for whom we create and it is the people who have given me their energy and encouragement for four decades.
No longer outside of society, punk’s elder stateswoman discusses her past, the present and the creative process with Stockholm journalist Jan Gradvall.
Virginia Woolf put stones in her pocket, left home, and walked out into the River Ouse. It was March 28th 1941.
Drowning isn’t the easiest of deaths, it can take up to 7 minutes. We can pretend and romanticize it as much as we want, but it was not an easy death.
In January 1941, Woolf had dropped into depression, she wrote in her diary:
January 26th 1941
“A battle against depression…I think, of memoir writing. This trough of despair shall not, I swear, engulf me.”
Then 3 weeks before she took her own life:
Sunday March 8th 1941
“I intend no introspection. I mark Henry James’ sentence: observe perpetually. Observe the oncome of age. Observe greed. Observe my own despondency. By that means it becomes serviceable. Or so I hope. I insist upon spending this time to the best advantage. I will go down with my colours flying.”
Woolf fought. Woolf struggled. Woolf lost. Or, rather we lost. In a note to her husband Leonard, she wrote:
Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ‘til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.
The fear of madness had always been there, and once described her nervous breakdown:
“My own brain -
“Here is the whole nervous breakdown in miniature. We came on Tuesday. Sank into a chair, could scarcely rise; everything insipid; tasteless, colorless. Enormous desire for rest.
“Wednesday - only wish to be alone in the open air. Air delicious - avoided speech; could not read. Thought of my own power of writing with veneration, as of something incredible, belonging to someone else; never again to be enjoyed by me. Mind a blank. Slept in my chair.
“Thursday. No pleasure in life whatsoever; but felt perhaps more attuned to existence. Character and idiosyncrasy as Virginia Woolf completely sunk out. Humble and modest. Difficulty in thinking what to say. Read automatically, like a cow chewing cud. Slept in chair.
“Friday : sense of physical tiredness; but slight activity of the brain. Beginning to take notice. Making one or two plans. No power of phrase-making. Difficulty in writing to Lady Colefax. Saturday (today) much clearer and lighter. Thought I could write, but resisted and found it impossible.
“A desire to read poetry set in on Friday. This brings back a sense of my own individuality. Read some dante and Bridges, without troubling to understand, but got pleasure from them. Now I begin to wish to write notes, but not yet a novel. But today scenes quickening. No ‘making up’ power yet: no desire to cast scenes in my book. Curiosity about literature returning; want to read Dante, Havelock Ellis and Berlioz autobiography; also to make a looking glass with shell frame. These processses have sometimes been spread over weeks.”
Even at its worst, Woolf’s desire for creativity, to create, to write, to survive, never weakened.
Monday October 25th (First day of winter time)
“Why is life so tragic; so like a little strip of pavement over an abyss. I look down; I feel giddy; I wonder how I am ever to walk to the end. But why do I feel this: Now that I say it I don’t feel it. The fire burns; we are going to hear the Beggar’s Opera. Only it lies about me; I can’t keep my eyes shut. It’s a feeling of impotence; of cutting no ice.
Here I sit at Richmond, and like a lantern stood in the middle of a field my light goes up in the darkness. Melancholy diminishes as I write. Why then don’t I write down oftener? Well, one’s vanity forbids. I want to appear a success even to myself. Yet I don’t get to the bottom of it. It’s having no children, living away from friends, failing to write well, spending too much on food, growing old. I think too much of whys and wherefores; too much of myself. I don’t like time to flap around me.
Well, then, work. Yes, but I so soon tire of work - can’t read more than a little, an hour’s writing is enough for me. Out here no one comes in to waste time pleasantly. If they do, I’m cross. The labour of going to London is too great. Nessa’s children grow up, and I can’t have them to tea, or go to the Zoo. Pocket money doesn’t allow of much. Yet I’m persuaded that these are trivial things; it’s life itself, I think sometimes, for us in our generation so tragic - no newspaper placard without its shriek of agony from someone. McSwiney this afternoon and violence in Ireland; or it’ll be the strike.
Unhappiness is everywhere; just beyond the door; or stupidity, which is worse. Still I don’t pluck the nettle out of me. To write Jacob’s Room again will revive my fibres, I feel. Evelyn is due; but I don’t like what I write now. And with it all how happy I am - if it weren’t for my feeling that it’s a strip of pavement over an abyss.
‘Virginia wrote The Waves for her brother, Toby. I think that’s part of the reason I chose to read from it. I feel very comfortable in those areas. I feel comfortable with her clawing her insides out to express her grief about her brother. I feel very comfortable when she writes about looking in the mirror and seeing the gaunt, greying face of her dying mother and also feeling strong and OK about that. Maybe that’s why I didn’t come to her work until late in life. I hadn’t gone though enough before to understand what she had to offer as a person and as an artist.’
Patti Smith is “waving to Virginia”, with accompaniment from her daughter, Jesse Smith on piano.
This Sunday night at 9p.m. on the USA network crime drama Law & Order: Criminal Intent, poet/rocker Patti Smith makes her acting debut. Smith will portray a Columbia University mythology professor. It was actor Vincent D’Onofrio’s idea to cast Smith in the role.
Titled “Icarus,” the episode, which also features guest star Cynthia Nixon, concerns the investigation of a Broadway musical after an actor dies on stage while performing a stunt. (Can you say, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”?)
“I’ve never really acted, but I highly respect the craft,” says Smith. “I knew that it wasn’t going to be simple, but it was a little more daunting than I expected.”
I can’t embed it, but if you’d like a quick look at Smith’s performance, click here.
Below, a terrific live “Horses” on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1976:
Nice homage to iconic female rockers with these cool skateboard decks, “Girls Girls Girls” from Girl’s 2010 Summer collection. Sadly, it appears they are no longer available on Girl’s website, but with a lil’ investigating, you’ll be able to find them. Ebay, perhaps?
Patti Smith appears on the Mike Douglas Show - March 8, 1978.
A giggling Kristy McNichol seems quite amused by Patti. Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller and William Shatner were also on the same program. Imagine a Shatner/Smith duet of “Rock and Roll Nigger.” One can only dream.
Patti is ostensibly on the show to promote her book Babel. Odd to see a poet making the daytime television rounds to promote a book of poetry that was published in a limited edition. She ends up spending most of her time talking about Muhammad Ali.