Continuing the list of songs and the remembrances they evoke from your humble columnist. Always going with live performances when I can, with the idea that it’s more fun to actually see musicians play the song. Part one is here; part two is here. And this week we pick up with….
Day 16: One of Your Favorite Songs From a Movie.
Well, it’s stretching a point; but The Six Million Dollar Man started as a series of made-for-TV movies. Anyway, it’s an excuse to put this up. Our friend Pol Rua turned it up a while back and it just delights me. Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes covers jazzman Oliver Nelson.
Day 17: A Song That Features Your Favorite Artist.
I had to think long and hard about this one because I have so many; I don’t even really have a favorite genre. Beethoven? Johnny Cash? Jean-Luc Ponty? The Jam? It changes from day to day depending on what I am in the mood for.
But I always end up coming back to Patti Smith more often than any other artist. I guess because it feels like we grew up together. When I was in high school she was putting out stuff like Horses and Easter and she sounded as angry and out-of-place as I felt, her music resonated hugely with me. I wanted to write and do art, she wanted to write and do art, we both felt frustrated with the avenues available to us to do that. She was in no way a sex symbol like other rock star types and that was one of the things I always liked about her (though many of my high school classmates were grossed out by the armpit hair she displayed on the cover of Easter, I rather liked the fuck-you sentiment it clearly was meant to evoke.)
She always seemed fearless, willing to try anything when it came to her work, and if it flopped (even I have to admit that Radio Ethiopia is a dog of a record) she just picked herself up and went on to the next thing. Her take-me-as-I-am aesthetic was something I admired and aspired to myself.
Plus she was a writer. Not just songs; books too.
(Still is…. in fact today the books are her primary focus, though she still does the occasional concert.)
Eventually, she found true love with Fred “Sonic” Smith and in the eighties she married him and retired from touring to raise a family. Around that same time I got clean and sober and got my act together and again, it felt like we were running in parallel, both of us glad to leave the turbulent times behind.
Then in the early 90s she lost her husband, her brother, and her best friend to illness in the space of a few months. My first marriage blew up around then. She threw herself into her work to get past it, and I was doing the same. So yet again, it felt like we were paralleling each other: the rest of the 1990s were about rebuilding, for both of us. She started touring and putting out records again and I started to crack magazine markets as a writer. Our paths intersected, sort of, when I got my first columnist gig at WITH magazine on the strength of a particular piece I wrote; an appreciation of her career, with an emphasis on the resilience and artistic resolve displayed on her new record Gone Again.
The new stuff showed she hadn’t missed a step, and her voice has become a really magnificent blues instrument over the decades.
It was nearly impossible to pick just one song, but on the assumption you probably already know the hits, I went with a more obscure one from later in her career. You can see that she and her band– especially guitarist Lenny Kaye– were still capable of rocking hard despite all the miles they had on them. This is one of my favorites from the late-1990s/early 2000s rebuilding years: “Glitter In Their Eyes.” It’s from Gung Ho.
If you want a nice sampler without investing in the entire catalogue going back 30-plus years , this record is a good chronological greatest-hits compilation of Patti Smith’s career. It’s the one we play a lot in the car.
Day 18: A Song From the Year You Were Born.
I was born in 1961. There’s not a lot from that year that interests me, certainly not on the rock-and-roll end of things. But jazz was having a renaissance. Here’s Dave Brubeck with “Take Five.” Dig the cool improv bits in the bridge, cats. That’s how you know it’s live.
Day 19: A Song That Makes You Think About Life.
But what I didn’t mention is how this album, and particularly this song, Rough Night In Jericho, was my personal soundtrack for writing it. I even put the relevant lyric in the front of the book as an overture, sort of.
…I stood atop the ancient crumbling wall
And strained to hear the trumpet call
I leaned a bit too far and lost my hold
I fell into the unforgiving sand
Barely missed the saving hand
And I was crushed beneath the falling wall
Can you hear my heart beat?
Over the walls falling
Walls falling on me?
Listen to my heart beat
Let the cold wind blow
Rough night in Jericho
Let the walls fall in
Guess I’ll be saved by love again
Rough night in Jericho
Even though the walls are falling
I swear I hear the calling now
Anyway, here’s the whole song.
Day 20: A Song That Reminds You of Your Mom.
Oh, God. Well, without getting into all that troubled history, let’s just say this. Mom loved Burt Bacharach; Mom loved black singers that sounded whiter than white people; and Mom was a screaming vampire bat co-dependent married to an abusive alcoholic, so her ideas about love were pretty damaged.
Given all that, it’s no wonder I always think of her when I hear this.
Day 21: A Favorite Song With A Person’s Name In The Title.
“Gloria,” originally by Van Morrison and Them, is probably my favorite. The reason is because of the Patti Smith cover/remix version of it she did on her debut album, Horses. If you have a band that likes to rock it’s almost impossible to screw up and Patti and her band did it justice. I remember it vividly from my teenage years, driving around the pastureland on the outskirts of town with this song blaring from the car stereo and us all roaring along with the chorus.
Here is a live version of Patti and her band doing it in 2007, over thirty years after they originally recorded it, and you can tell they still love to rock it out. The best part of this performance for me is Patti occasionally grinning at her bandmates, just because it’s FUN to rock hard, man. The joy on her face always makes me smile; especially since Patti is not known for being joyous. Like I said above, she’s got some miles on her, but she’s still out there doing it for real.
Day 22: A Song That Motivates You.
One more from Patti. I know, I know, but I really love this performance. It’s motivational for me mostly because of the energy she’s putting into it… Because she is seventy years old and still selling the defiance and passion and rage these songs had when they were originally recorded, when she was in her twenties. I hope to God I can still put this much into the work when I’m that age. This is a real rock concert, too, not some nostalgia fest or PBS thing. You go, girl. (And you too, Lenny.)
It kind of sums up everything I like about Patti Smith as a performer– not just the passion and the hard-rocking performance but the art-is-messy rawness… and even her willingness to look silly to sell the concept of the song. Speaking of, I suppose I should have warned everyone that the lyrics are offensive to some, but that’s kind of the point.
Day 23: A Song That You Think Everybody Should Listen To.
And there you have it. As always, feel free to share your picks down below in the comments. Back next week with the final seven.