Jan 162014

I’ve come to love Patti Smith‘s persona way more than her music, which I do like. She strikes me as a fellow Peace Warrior, a let-it-hang-loose freak in the best sense of the term. I usually get a charge out of people who sincerely let their freak flag fly, especially if I don’t have to smell them. I still get chills thinking about passages in Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, or the energy she projected when I saw her live. Even when she was performing one of those long jazz-poetry numbers I lift the needle over while listening to her records to get to the next song that is essentially “Gloria,” I was magnetized by her shamanistic presence. However, when I read accounts by other artists from the New York punk scene, she’s often made out to be a sham, a careering opportunist. Maybe it’s jealousy, or maybe she’s not the real deal Regardless, her shtick works for me.

Do the following artists with oversized personalities strike you as shaman or sham? Do you think they are or were anywhere near as “out there” as they portray(ed) themselves to be, or do you think it’s mostly an act, the way humble gym teacher Robert “Gino” Morella transformed himself into Gorilla Monsoon, a raving lunatic, before entering the squared circle of professional wrestling? Despite claiming to have tripped for 3 years straight, David Bowie strikes me as another “out there” artist who, in his most out-there prime, could have put aside the alien routine for a cup of tea with the Prime Minister.

I have nothing to back up these beliefs, but maybe you do about the following artists or any others who come to mind:

  • Keith Richards
  • Alice Cooper
  • Johnny Rotten/John Lydon
  • Grace Slick
  • David Thomas
  • David Lee Roth

What other shaman or sham makes an impression on you?


  4 Responses to “Shaman or Sham?”

  1. Of the folks you’ve listed, I think that David Lee Roth is probably the biggest Sham, but in the best possible way. I suspect beneath his drunken PT Barnum-esque party boy exterior lurks the heart of a savvy business man who knows that he’s just giving the people what they want. [I’m fully prepared to be pince nezzed with accounts of how he declared bankruptcy because he was duped into various bad business deals.]

    On the other hand, Johnny Rotten seems generally misanthropic and contrarian, so I’ll say he’s the Shaman of Cynicism.

  2. 2000 Man

    I think Patti Smith is both, and I think she knows it. That’s why I like her.

    Keith Richards is what he is. The press makes him larger than life and he just doesn’t disagree with any of it, good or bad.

    Alice Cooper is a total sham. That doesn’t mean I don’t like a lot of his music, but he has more in common with your congressman than he does with your good time Saturday night.

    I didn’t think David Lee Roth was either. He’s just a clown, right?

  3. Strong assessments! I’m pretty much in agreement with you, except I think DLR is the real deal, a Shaman of Knuckleheadedness.

  4. I’m with you on Rotten/Lydon. I don’t think he has another gear.

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