Tag: Patti Smith

Gloria

G L O R I A

A song that comes in many incarnations. Though originally Van Morrison’s baby, Gloria has escaped from him and his recordings of it are far from the most renowned. I’ll admit I’m not much of a fan of Van Morrison; in his solo career he’s too often wasted his vocal gifts on mawkish, subpar material. But in the early days with Them, he approximated American blues more convincingly than anyone in swinging England with the possible exception of Eric Burdon. Gloria was only a minor hit, but it caught on for being catchy and easy to play. Them’s version was a driving, bluesy showcase for their frontman’s vocals, but it was the three-chord simplicity of the tune itself that made every aspiring garage rocker to jump all over it. It’s become a staple of guitar-101 setlists. The list of cover versions is far stretching and includes guitarists ranging in mastery from Jimi Hendrix to Bill Murray.

The original was, like many a pop song, an ode to a hot chick, though the lyrics were the least important item on the menu. That shortcoming has lead to some inspired ad-libbing. The Doors made Gloria a concert staple, and the live recording became a hit for them. Jim Morrison’s rendition is a lascivious fantasy about a naughty schoolgirl. Morrison was known for interrupting otherwise concise songs with hazy rants about mystical ancient snakes, but  there’s nothing mystical about the verses he inserted into Gloria. It’s probably the most erotically charged moment of his, or anyone’s, oeuvre. It’s downright dirty, and not a little bit creepy for making it clear that little Gloria is a schoolgirl whose parents aren’t home.

Songs by men about lusting for young girls are rock music’s bread and butter. So many men have sang about screwing Gloria that the song had soon picked up the misogynistic tang of a gang-bang video. Man, that Gloria must be a real slut! Clearly, Gloria needed rescuing from mindless iterations by all-male garage bands, and Patti Smith was the one to do it. Smith took a classic example what I’ll call a ‘male-gaze song’, chucked everything but the chorus, wrote new words and made it the most definitive rendition of Gloria. She started with the now iconic line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”, asserting her own rebellious view before launching boldly into the famous chorus – “Make her mine, make her mine!” It was a ballsy rewrite. Smith took the traditional hungry, lewd male-gaze perspective and made it her own. She wants Gloria too, but for her own reasons. She made it mean more than just desire, though her version is as sexy as anyone’s. It’s a post-gendered howl of empowerment, breaking free of the confines of both religious dogma and boring parties, asserting her responsibly for her own actions, her own desires. Smith took a song that would almost be sexist if it weren’t so dumb, turned it inside out and came back with an anthem I would call feminist if it weren’t so universal.

Ghost Dance

She’s a shaman, she’s a witch. Patti Smith is lucky to have been born in 1946. A few centuries off, and she’d have got herself hanged, or worse. Even a few decades off and she’d have been an unhappy camper, stuck with no outlet for her gifts and charisma. It wasn’t that long ago that society had no place at all for a woman too intelligent and too gifted to put her head down and bend to conformity. We really need to stop complaining and appreciate that we’ve got the freedom to self-create like never before. Some people complain that young girls today don’t have enough role models, not enough women who represent self-expression and strength, but again we need to step back and count our blessings. Patti Smith is still here, if anyone needs her. Which we desperately do, always.

Frederick

Patti Smith has an image as a scary, no-bullshit, hellraising ‘godmother of punk’, an honorary one-of-the-boys, a poet and an intellectual who wears black boots and doesn’t comb her hair because she’s above caring  about such superficial aspects of appearance. That’s a great image, an influential and inspiring one. But just listen to how girlish she sounds singing the first lines of Frederick, a song she wrote for her future husband (coyly referred to in liner notes as ‘my clarinet teacher’). She’s the godmother of punk, and she’s the little girl who stole an encyclopedia from the general store. Like any girl would, she spent her first substantial paycheck on a fur coat. She’s been known to contribute essays to Vogue about the charm of matching hats and purses. She’s the godmother of punk who chose to leave the open road to get married and live in the suburbs. She didn’t resume her career until widowhood left her broke and stranded in suburbia without a driver’s license. As usual, the person is more interesting than the icon.

hi hello wake from thy sleep
God has given your soul to keep
all of the power that burns in the flame
ignites the light in a single name

Frederick name of care
fast asleep in a room somewhere
guardian angels [line a bed]
shed their light on my sleepy head

I am a threshold yearning to sing
down with the the dancers having one last fling
here’s to the moment when you said hello
come on my spirit are you ready let’s go

hi hi hey hey
maybe I will come back some day now
but tonight on the wings of a dove
up above to the land of love

……….

now I lay me down to sleep
pray the Lord my soul to keep
kiss to kiss breath to breath
my soul surrenders astonished to death

night of wonder for us to keep
set our sails channel [out] deep
after the rapture two hearts meet
mine entwined in a single beat

Frederick you’re the one
as we journey from sun to sun
all the dreams I waited so long for
fly tonight so long so long

bye bye hey hey
maybe we will come back some day now
but tonight on the wings of a dove
up above to the land of love

Frederick name of care
high above in sky that’s clear
all the things I’ve been dreamin’ of
are expressed in this name of love

bye bye hey hey
maybe we will come back some day now
but tonight on the wings of a dove
up above . . .

This is dedicated to my clarinet teacher
Fred Sonic Smith

Dead City

When Patti Smith says “Motor City”, that’s Detroit, right? Which is, by all accounts, dead or at least dead-ish from the decline of the formerly glorious American motor industry. She’s a Jersey girl herself, so what her connection to Detroit is, I’m not sure, or rather, her son Jackson did marry a nice Detroit girl, Meg White, but that was last year, so what the connection was in 1997 I don’t rightly know.

Dancing Barefoot

I think this song is about lust. Maybe I’m gutterminded but I’ve always thought so. Now, obviously, desire is one the most popular subjects for songwriters, right up there with love and slightly above chemical intoxicants and cars. While there isn’t a singer alive who hasn’t sang at some point about their ongoing quest to ‘get some’, very few are able to do so in a dignified manner. The overwhelming majority of songs are about sex and the majority of those songs rely on metaphors of the log/fireplace variety. That doesn’t mean they’re bad songs, necessarily, or that everyone should always be trying to write highmindedly about the laughable business of getting laid. It does remain, though – there’s not too many songs dealing with desire in a way that is emotionally convincing. Of those, an awful lot are about rejection, misery and self-loathing. That makes for a very few songs about desire that make desire itself seem like a desirable thing, let alone a spiritually edifying one.  Of those, a disproportionate  number is by Leonard Cohen. To whit, there are very very few songs about lust, sex and desire that are not silly, or sleazy, or stupid, or depressing and are not written by Leonard Cohen. Of those, a very minute number are written and performed by women. Taking a moment, let me say there’s plenty of good sex songs by women, but too many of them fall into the self-loathing/depressing category. As far as songs about sex, by women, that are empowering, poetic, non-cheezy, emotionally realistic, and, you know, good…I think it’s mostly just this one. On the other hand, I could be completely off base in my interpretation anyway. It could well be about picking dandelions in the park with Mapplethorpe for all I know.

Dancing Barefoot

she is benediction
she is addicted to thee
she is the root connection
she is connecting with he

here I go and I don’t know why
I fell so ceaselessly
could it be he’s taking over me…

I’m dancing barefoot
heading for a spin
some strange music draws me in
makes me come on like some heroin/e

she is sublimation
she is the essence of thee
she is concentrating on
he, who is chosen by she

here I go and I don’t know why
I spin so ceaselessly,
could it be he’s taking over me…

[chorus]

she is re-creation
she, intoxicated by thee
she has the slow sensation that
he is levitating with she …

here I go and I don’t know why,
I spin so ceaselessly,
’til I lose my sense of gravity…

[chorus]

(oh god I fell for you …)

the plot of our life sweats in the dark like a face
the mystery of childbirth, of childhood itself
grave visitations
what is it that calls to us?
why must we pray screaming?
why must not death be redefined?
we shut our eyes we stretch out our arms
and whirl on a pane of glass
an afixiation a fix on anything the line of life the limb of a tree
the hands of he and the promise that s/he is blessed among women.

(oh god I fell for you …)

Because the Night

The story of this song’s inception. Bruce Springsteen wrote it (for himself and from his usual working stiff’s perspective) in 1978. Springsteen recorded it during the Darkness At the Edge of Town sessions, but somehow it didn’t fit in with the other material (maybe because he was playing it in a Latin style). Meanwhile, Patti Smith was recording Easter at the same studio and the two were exchanging ideas. Smith saw the song’s potential and recorded her own version, changing some of the lyrics to a female perspective. Because the Night became Easter’s first single and the rest is history. Springsteen’s version never made to vinyl, but he’s often played it live.