Monday, March 26, 2007

patti smith is officially famous

Patti Smith is one of this year's inductees to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

I've seen footage of induction ceremonies down the years and never been quite sure what it meant. Was it some honour like getting a degree? I'd sort of assumed so, but then again I'd always imagined a literal hall - something like Versailles' Hall of Mirrors but with big pictures of Elvis and Bowie. And maybe some lifesize bronzes like Dublin's mental Phil Lynott statue.

But in the end I'd presumed this was for some reason unlikely, and really it was nominal.

But no! It exists! In Ohio!

Patti wrote a really interesting piece about it for the New York Times. Her poetic prowess is undimmed.

Rock'n'roll. It drew me from my path to a sea of possibilities. It sheltered and shattered me, from the end of childhood through a painful adolescence. I had my first altercation with my father when the Rolling Stones made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Rock'n'roll was mine to defend. It strengthened my hand and gave me a sense of tribe as I boarded a bus from south Jersey to freedom in 1967.

Rock'n'roll, at that time, was a fusion of intimacies. Repression bloomed into rapture like raging weeds shooting through cracks in the cement. Our music provided a sense of communal activism. Our artists provoked our ascension into awareness as we ran amok in a frenzied state of grace.


She talks of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith of the MC5

Before he died, in the winter of 1994, he counselled me to continue working. He believed that one day I would be recognised for my efforts and, though I protested, he quietly asked me to accept what was bestowed - gracefully - in his name.

Last night I joined REM, the Ronettes, Van Halen and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On the eve of this event I asked myself many questions. Should an artist working within the revolutionary landscape of rock accept laurels from an institution? Should laurels be offered?


With corporate sponsorship for the Hall Of Fame coming from banks and cola companies, it's a question well worth asking.

She has addressed it outright

I still don't believe in rock 'n' roll awards. I would not accept one from MTV or something. That's kinda disgusting to me. But I try to understand the meaning that this has for people. It means a great deal to the inductees, and I accept it in that spirit.


Really? If other people like it then that undoes the reasons for awards being dubious and makes it good?

When REM were first called 'The Best Band In The World' Stipe didn't succumb to messianic pressure, replying, 'have you seen who else they've said that about?'.

In the case of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, I think my dignity would force me to refuse an award from people who'd decided to honour Bob Seger, Del Shannon and Gene Pitney ahead of me.

And look at some of the others already in there too. Ritchie Valens - three genuine classics in a career lasting a little under a year is amazing for him. But really, three classics makes you get in there ahead of Patti Smith? Out here in reality it barely ranks you above The Members.

Why the huge number of bands like the Supremes, the Shirelles, Martha & The Vandellas and The Ronettes? They were little more than puppets singing over great work written and produced by others.

As the givers of the award are corporate smugsters with no taste, what does it actually mean to be inducted to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame?

The clue's in the name. It's not the Hall of Achievement or the Hall of Talent, but the Hall of Fame. And what's that worth? Mr Ed used to get fanmail by the sackful. Take That got the Brit for Best Single last year.

I note that on the front of Apocalypse Now it says it won two Oscars. Best Cinematography and Best Sound, whoop de doo. By contrast, fucking Chicago swept the Oscars.

Woody Allen has the right idea. When he won Oscars, he didn't turn up to collect them cos he wants nothing to do with the Academy. It's nothing to do with why he makes films nor if those films are any good. They had to send them to him and his mother now keeps them on top of a cupboard.

Prizes tend to go to the kind of stuff that always wins prizes. It's either denoting that the stuff receiving it is safe and smug (or has become such), or else once in a while something genuinely maverick gets an award to show that the award givers are a bit wild after all. Whoah there, the Brits were actually live on TV and had Russell Brand presenting this year. Lock up your daughters.


I have wrestled with these questions and my conscience leads me back to Fred and those like him - the maverick souls who may never be afforded such honours. Thus in his name I will accept with gratitude. Fred Sonic Smith was of the people, and I am none but him: one who has loved rock'n'roll and crawled from the ranks to the stage, to salute history and plant seeds for the erratic magic landscape of the new guard.


My god that’s a fantastic use of language, denoting a keen understanding of the power and potential of popular music. But popular music doesn’t mean popular in the sense of nobody feeling threatened and everyone smiling. It’s there to celebrate intensity, weirdness and independence. A cola-sponsored award from those who prize Bob Seger doesn’t qualify as an honour.

In the end it was my neighbours who put everything in perspective. An approving nod from the old Italian woman who sells me pasta. A high five from the postman. An embrace from the notary and his wife. And a shout from the sanitation man driving down my street: "Hey, Patti, Hall of Fame. One for us."


Patti’s induction ceremony took place in New York earlier this month. REM (with Bill Berry back on drums) did four songs including I Wanna Be Your Dog with Patti and Lenny Kaye. Then at the end there was a mass ensemble of REM, Ronnie Spector, Patti, Eddie Vedder, Keith Richards and a squillion others doing People Have The Power.

The song's a fantastic, rousing anthem from Patti's overlooked 80s album Dream of Life. I love it, and I love the deliberate way she's shoved it forward in her repertoire until everyone out there understands how great it is. When she was doing her first gigs back in 1996, she did it once as a recitation and then later as the full air-punching revolutionary chant.

But check out the actual Youtube footage. For all the force and intelligence and fire of those artists, its a cosy smugathon, all a bit We Are The World. Exactly the sort of thing that we first went to those artists to get away from.

I don't think Patti's integrity is necessarily changed. She, ever the poet, puts her case well, and of course I can't argue with her honouring a promise made to her husband. But I do think she misunderstands the meaning of the award.

One for us? Or are they trying to make us one of them?

4 comments:

Curious Nick said...

'...we ran amok in a frenzied state of grace.' - that is fuckin awesome. I may have to repeat that to myself quite a lot over the next few days.

Anonymous said...

I got bored out of my skull before I could read the whole rant, but what I did read was total crap. I'm guessing that you are a child of the '80's or '90's who has absolutely no appreciation of older music and the artists that produced it (hint - they invented Rock & Roll, moron.

So, to slag truly great artists such as Gene Pitney and Del Shannon shows your age and your particular subjective bias.

To truly appreciate Smith's work you have to be knowledgeable of Rocks' total history, not just your little time frame.

Rock on, mofo.

merrick said...

I got bored out of my skull before I could read the whole rant

nice to know I'm dealing with your informed opinion.

I'm guessing that you are a child of the '80's or '90's who has absolutely no appreciation of older music

You guess wrong, my friend. Last weekend I DJed a 5 hour Northern Soul set to a raging crowd. All music from the 60s.

I have an awed respect for artists who made that primal rock n roll out of nowhere. I love the idea you've given me that when I'm listening to Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran or Esquerita I should also be listening to others like Gene Fuckin Pitney and Del Shannon (hint - those two came along years after people invented rock n roll, moron).

I was actually having a dig at the relevance and stature of Shannon, Pitney, Seger et al compared to others inducted. You can tell it's not a generational thing by the way I don't decry inducting Elvis, James Brown, Sam Phillips and whoever.

Most of the inductees were making records before I was born, and most of them are brilliant, towering artists.

Del Shannon was not a truly great artist, he was a one-trick pony wh did a couple of great 45s. Gene Pitney, the archtypal nasal voice in the Vic Reeves pub singer style, was schmaltzy shite from start to end. Safe, sedate, more Val Doonican than Carl Perkins.

To think i was saying something generational or ageist is a very peculiar misreading of the post that tells us a lot more about you than me.

merrick said...

The Guardian only had Patti's piece on their site for a week, the New York Times want you to register before they'll let you see it, so here's it is in full

========

On a cold morning in 1955, walking to Sunday school, I was drawn to the voice of Little Richard wailing Tutti Frutti from the interior of a local boy's makeshift clubhouse. So powerful was the connection that I let go of my mother's hand.

Rock'n'roll. It drew me from my path to a sea of possibilities. It sheltered and shattered me, from the end of childhood through a painful adolescence. I had my first altercation with my father when the Rolling Stones made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Rock'n'roll was mine to defend. It strengthened my hand and gave me a sense of tribe as I boarded a bus from south Jersey to freedom in 1967.

Rock'n'roll, at that time, was a fusion of intimacies. Repression bloomed into rapture like raging weeds shooting through cracks in the cement. Our music provided a sense of communal activism. Our artists provoked our ascension into awareness as we ran amok in a frenzied state of grace.

My late husband, Fred Sonic Smith, then of Detroit's MC5, was a part of the brotherhood instrumental in forging a revolution: seeking to save the world with love and the electric guitar. He created aural autonomy yet did not have the constitution to survive all the complexities of existence.

Before he died, in the winter of 1994, he counselled me to continue working. He believed that one day I would be recognised for my efforts and, though I protested, he quietly asked me to accept what was bestowed - gracefully - in his name.

Last night I joined REM, the Ronettes, Van Halen and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On the eve of this event I asked myself many questions. Should an artist working within the revolutionary landscape of rock accept laurels from an institution? Should laurels be offered? Am I a worthy recipient?

I have wrestled with these questions and my conscience leads me back to Fred and those like him - the maverick souls who may never be afforded such honours. Thus in his name I will accept with gratitude. Fred Sonic Smith was of the people, and I am none but him: one who has loved rock'n'roll and crawled from the ranks to the stage, to salute history and plant seeds for the erratic magic landscape of the new guard.

Because its members will be the guardians of our cultural voice. The internet is their CBGB. Their territory is global. They will dictate how they want to create and disseminate their work. They will, in time, make breathless changes in our political process. They have the technology to unite and create a new party, to be vigilant in their choice of candidates, unfettered by corporate pressure. Their potential power to form and reform is unprecedented.

Human history abounds with idealistic movements that rise, then fall in disarray. The children of light. The journey to the east. The summer of love. The season of grunge. But just as we seem to repeat our follies, we also abide.

Rock'n'roll drew me from my mother's hand and led me to experience. In the end it was my neighbours who put everything in perspective. An approving nod from the old Italian woman who sells me pasta. A high five from the postman. An embrace from the notary and his wife. And a shout from the sanitation man driving down my street: "Hey, Patti, Hall of Fame. One for us."

I just smiled, and I noticed I was proud. One for the neighbourhood. My parents. My band. One for Fred. And anybody else who wants to come along.