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.
In short time he wrote me back, saying he’d be happy to chat. “Sounds like fun,” he wrote. “Went to the link, seems everybody has different ideas on what actually is Nuggets…” I was psyched.
A week later we were on the phone, waiting for the near-hurricane that swept through the northeast to hit. Lenny was as cool and friendly as his work and stage demeanor would suggest. His enthusiasm for his work in compiling this landmark collection of oddball psych-pop singles 40 years ago was impressive. Nuggets wasn’t some youthful fling for Lenny Kaye; the experience was clearly a springboard to and, to this day, a guiding light in his work with Patti Smith and beyond.
On our best days, as I see it, much of what we work to culture and share in the Halls of Rock is our initial, personal sense of love for music and the role it’s played in our lives. I couldn’t help thinking, while talking to Lenny Kaye, of my initial experiences with Nuggets in my late teens, how the album helped validate my childhood take on music and give me and my like-minded rock friends a toehold in developing our musical identities. My childhood friend and musical partner in crime Townsman andyr and I knew the significance of his old Disco Teen ’66 hits collection, which we used to analyze as yon’ teens. By freshman year in college, however, a thousand miles away from my blood brother, that album meant nothing to the new rock nerds I was befriending. Nuggets spoke to all of us, regardless of shared experiences and regional differences. The hyper kid from North Jersey, the wiseass from the suburbs of Chicago, and the long, lanky, laconic kid from Colorado all found this collection as stimulating and inspiring as I did. It was a happening.
As for my silly Annie Hall fantasy, fear not: Lenny’s not the type to put down any of us. I hope you’ll enjoy this chat at least half as much as I did. Read on!
“Saint John Lennon,” by Raphael Labro (courtesy of http://raphaellabro.com/).
Here’s a helpful new addition to the RTH Glossary, originally courtesy of Townsman pudman13, if short-term memory serves.
Based on the critical Teflon of its namesake, John, the Lennon Pass describes the point when an artist is granted a critical “lifetime pass” for accumulated subpar works based on the emotional/spiritual/humanitarian connection rock fans have with said artist’s landmark works and cultural influence. The Lennon Pass may be thought of as a form of rock ‘n roll sainthood.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with an artist getting the Lennon Pass. Even music fans who do not particularly care for said artist may admit that the pass is merited. The Clash – and Joe Strummer in particular – are a band frequently cited for getting the Lennon Pass. If she hadn’t done so with the surprising success of Easter, High Punk Priestess Patti Smith solidified her Lennon Pass when she returned from her 40 days and nights in Michigan, having established a family with Fred “Sonic” Smith only to lose him to cancer shortly thereafter.
In extreme circumstances the Pass, once granted, can be revoked. Lou Reed is an example of this, having finally had his Lennon Pass revoked after a career-full of failed attempts at spiting the Lennon Pass Committe when he started parading around with that new tai chi addiction.
Simply being an acknowledged Great Artist and/or wildly popular does not ensure the granting of the Pass. The Rolling Stones, for instance, lost all hope of receiving the pass once Mick Jagger crossed all lines of good taste by appearing on stage in football pants and Capezio slippers and then participating in the so-called “Rock Crime of the Century,” Ja-Bo. Despite their best efforts in the studio and across Third World nations, U2 have been unable to acquire the Lennon Pass.
Yesterday I spent a great night with a close friend and professional mentor, seeing Patti Smith at the Bowery Ballroom, in NYC. It was a kooky, unbalanced set, but the vibes, man, the vibes were just right! It was a night of rock ‘n roll communion, with occasional nods to The Power and Glory of Rock.
My appreciation of Smith’s music has been spotty since I bought Horses after seeing her perform on Saturday Night Live and hearing a live concert broadcast on a local FM station way back in my high school days. Her version of “Gloria” kicked my ass in that “future of rock ‘n roll” way we used to experience every few weeks in our teens. I’d buy a few other albums by her over the years, but I’d always end up cherrypicking the rockers that are based on “Gloria” and leave behind the American Prayer-inspired jazz poetry workouts. (The song “Southern Cross,” from a ’90s album, Gone Again, is one of the non-“Gloria”-based numbers by her that I love.)
I thought of Smith as one of those naturally powerful artists who get by on only two or three song templates yet lack a band skilled enough to add much variation to the narrow spectrum in which she works, similar to how I feel about The Ramones and U2. (For those of you possibly rushing to judgment, I’m not saying that her music “sounds like” those bands.) I always wished she’d made an album backed by Television, a band that could have better found the nooks and crannies in her songs. Instead, Patti’s band always sounded, to me, like second-hand scraps of guys who flunked the audition for Television or the E Street Band.
Over the years, however, I’d continued to marvel at brief live performances I’d catch on rock ‘n roll award shows. When my friend asked me if I wanted to drive up to New York with him to see this show, I didn’t hesitate to say Yes! I’m glad I didn’t. The show was not exactly what I expected or hoped for, but it hit on enough of my expectations and mixed in enough surprises to leave this rock ‘n roll “Mikey” devoid of a single beef for one night in my life. Continue reading »