Saturday, July 15, 2006

Old? No way

I watched an interview on BBC News 24 "HardTalk" last night with Patti Smith. I saw her in concert a couple of years ago, and although the set was predominantly her later career - she had a 16 year break from music to bring up her children - her voice and presence were remarkable. I first heard "Horses" at University in 1985, and its a great album, obviously, but more than that, despite her being linked with the punk/new wave scene, its clearly more than that; and owes quite a lot to some of the progressive/art rock tendencies of the early 70s (note her involvement with Blue Oyster Cult!) That run of albums - with "Wave" "Easter" and "Radio Ethiopia" formed part one of the career - but part 2 has also got value, there's great songs on all of her subsequent albums, and the 2-CD best of a few years ago made a good attempt at summarising the career. Although still an activist, she's also still an artist - and, though it was a bit oblique what she plans - its less likely to be music than art, writing etc. Her identification with romantic heroes such as Blake and Rimbaud is well known. I read a biography by Victor Bockris, which emphasised that the New York scene that she was on in the early 70s, centred round the St. Marks' Poetry Project, was as likely to have George Harrison and John Lennon dropping in, alongside readings by Smith and others. The Factory was in full flow of course, and she was a close friend with Robert Mapplethorpe (who took the iconic photo for the "Horses" cover.) You had great energy from the second wave of the New York School, people like Anne Waldman; Ginsberg was still writing, and very public; and its a period that is ripe for re-assessment, the equivalent, clearly of other high water marks of artistic highs, such as the "beats" and "Bloomsbury's." Moreover, that moment when the biggest band in the world - the Beatles - had split, but were intimately involved in the avant garde, in the openended artistic scene in New York, sees a rare confluence between music, literature, visual arts and film.

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