Patti Smith

Patti Smith

It took Patti Smith 40 years to visit Cambridge.
In this “short while”, her career moved from New York Punk underground, sharing flat and life with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, to last year induction into the rock’n’roll hall of fame. In the middle highs and lows. A masterpiece and few more albums, a stadium rock song co-wrote with Springsteen, not a single top-ten hit and over a decade retired to family life.

Along with music, the “punk’s poet laureate” dedicated to other ways of expression from language to visual arts as well as a strong political activism standing for peace and environmental issues.
She was friend with Allen Ginsberg, awarded for her poems and invited to literature happenings. She publishes photographic books and exhibits her drawings in museums and galleries.
It doesn’t take just an “o” to make her into a hero.

Patti Smith

As a result of this, Cambridge University Fellows, inexorably, invited Patti Smith to attend a very English afternoon tea in some formal, old-fashion, academic college.

On the same night, halfway into her cosy show at the Junction, a jovial Patti got rid of her new pair of shoes; she explained they were bought for the “tea with fellows” occasion; sadly none of them noticed.

Opening with the classic Redondo Beach, in an atypical cheery mood and with faithful “Horses era” guitarist Lenny Kaye on stage, didn’t help. A boring start, a band struggling to get it going. Then, barefoot, the concert picked up. It must have been those shoes’ bad day.

Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye

Patti Smith is touring her “Twelve” album (of covers). Not a surprise, she has been reworking artists’ music since her beginnings.
I must say I rarely recognize the value of a cover over the original.
It works well if Jimi covers someone, it doesn’t work as well when someone covers Jimi. Patti Smith fixation with Jimi Hendrix dates back to 1971, when she met him at his Electric Lady studios opening.
In 1974 her first single attempted a remake of Hendrix’s Hey Joe (already a cover).
In 2005 she coordinated the Meltdown at the London Royal Festival Hall. The festival closed with a keenly expected show called: “Songs of Experience”. A stellar guests list was put together, from Jeff Beck to Joanna Newsom, from Flea to a Siberian folk band with Patti overseeing (and singing). Not a single memorable Hendrix cover came out of that night.
She persevered in Cambridge, performing a lysergic version of Are you experienced? with Kaye’s version of Voodoo child riff included as a bonus towards the end. Useless.

The “new shoes” interlude arrives.
Back to music, pairing Stones’ Gimme Shelter with eternal P.Smith/The Boss co-written Because the night works very well. A song supports the other and both are damn good live with the band breaking in guitars as they were wild horses. Patti Smith hasn’t lost an inch of her deep voice.
Unfortunately Doors’ Soul Kitchen is absolutely soulless and Nirvana’s Smell like teen spirit does smell too teen, you are “sixty-teen” Patti.

Patti Smith

I knew where it was going to end. Defying, although quite scared, the idea of listening to Patti Smith Group playing Tears for Fears’ Everybody wants to rule the world, I hanged around the bar, waiting for THE moment before riding my scooter back home, through a bloody freezing Cambridge night.
Valuably the high spot arrived without Tears for Fears stuff:

“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine…”

Her revised verse over Van Morrison’s Gloria is my all-time best album opening.
A song as addictive as timeless, it is like Keith Richard playing Brown Sugar, Bob Dylan playin…well…transforming Like a Rolling Stone.
Suddenly I realize to be in front of a rock goddess, I forgive her for any sin, which she visibly committed and decide to stay for the encore.
She returns thanking the audience and Cambridge University Fellows (yes, she did!) for that day. Lou Reed’s Perfect Day is clearly the perfect song to close.
That was another highlight of an entertaining but often mediocre night.

I left the venue with a question: if neither Jesus nor Jimi died for her sins…who else did? I rode home carefully, just in case!

More about Patti Smith here [myspace] [official website]

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Patti Smith

Photo tip

Given that I don’t like flower photography, this was, in all probability, my last chance to share a subject with Robert Mapplethorpe. I fought hard to get a pass then I discovered what a rockstar tantrum is.

Patti policy was the strictest I encountered since James Maynard-Keenan and Robert Fripp. Both, pathologically diagnosable as camera-phobics, do not allow any photographer, play in the dark or hide someway on stage and intimidate to leave as soon as a flash comes from the audience.

Patti is milder. A photographer herself, she allowed us to shoot but only during the first song: i.e. Redondo Beach – 3’26”.
In addition we were located on a precise position of the pit, left of the stage. Forbidden to move.
Secret unveiled then, now you know why these pictures look all pretty similar.

What to do in 3 minutes at a standstill it is no longer up to you.
Your only chance is to take as many photos as you can and hope that few will come out good.

Get to your place a bit in advance if you don’t want to discover that all the best spots are occupied by your colleagues. Use the time to try few lenses and to decide which best suit the occasion. Length depends on how far you are sited; 85mm and 135mm in this case.
Either take with you a couple of cameras or use a zoom (lucky you). Lens lenght variation can make one picture different from the other.
If you have your creative moment you can try out different shutter times and likely get some blurred images, but don’t exaggerate; 3 minutes are not the right while to get experimental.

Don’t forget to check in advance that your batteries are full and your memory card empty.
You will not have time to change anything, and most of you won’t have to change the roll of film (lucky you).

Patti Smith

~ by Valerio on November 2, 2007.

13 Responses to “Patti Smith”

  1. i do so love film!

  2. Your photos are mediocre and your writing is shite.

    Nobody died for her sins – they’re her own, they belong to HER.

    Finf yourself a proper job when you finish school, and let a decent photographer get the pass next time.

  3. I have to agree with Carol – your photographs are no better than holiday snaps, your review is no better than a primary school composition and your understanding of Patti Smith is non-existent.

  4. I wonder, did you start out hating Patti Smith and hope to be turned around, or were you just in a bad mood because it was cold and drafty and you had to drive there on your skooter? That was a very Coooold review of Patti Smith and her work that night, and I get the impression you have a personal grudge against her. Even comments about her age are thrown in there…well, we all have our opinions…and actually, my opinion of typing white on black is that it’s very difficult on these old-teen eyes of mine. thanks. The photos are quite ok, but the review is a bit mediocre.

  5. Hey leave this guy alone. I bet none of you (the above) have ever photographed a live band before and have no idea of how difficult it can be when draconian restrictions are placed on the press. At the end of the day all we are doing are promoting the artists who you all love so that they (the artists, record companies, promoters,PR’s etc….) can get rich. Also this is a BLOG not the Observer so the author can write whatever he sees fit. Also what’s wrong with Scooters or bicycles? You ladies are a serious sad bunch. John

  6. well Vale, you love a song, you want to sing it. I would like to sing jimi’s songs on stage too and Patti does what she wants (unlike me).
    Rules and limits are a good way to develop something out of your usual standard. Just out of curiosity, what do you feel this has helped you develop?

  7. John, actually I have photographed a live band before. He can indeed write whatever he wants – so can we.

    I got the impression he had typed Patti Smith into google and plagiarised a few quotes from elsewhere. (Tears For Fears)

    I don’t like ageist comments – sixty-teen – will he make it to 60? Or will some truck-driving Patti fan mistake his scooter for a hedgehog?

    By the way, it’s FOR somebody’s sins, not FROM.

    Jimi’s studios are Electric LADY, not Electric Ladyland – that was an album.

    ROCKSTAR TANTRUM : Patti KNOWS front rows are for fans, not photographers.

    “share a subject with Robert Mapplethorpe” – in his dreams!

    Sorry for being one of the seriously sad bunch, I think we are probably agreed that we like his last photo. To quote someone who emailed me …..”What are you still doing here, Sonny?” – stink eye for the photographer.

  8. Ladies, you all got a point here. About my writing.
    Being primarily a photographer, language is not my means of expression. Being Italian my English is quite crap. I agree.
    Options were simple, either I wrote a “wonderfully” fluent Italian review or post a Patti photoalbum without any word.
    Either way I couldn’t share with hundreds of you (yes hundreds, would you believe it?) my thoughts.
    I wish at least some of you were at the Cambridge gig to share an opinion of the show, instead of arguing with me without having seen it.

    Thanks to Carol for spotting the mistyping errors, I corrected them. You are welcome to be my proofreaders.
    I promise I will try to develop my English, in addition to my 35mm films, to keep at least Airid happy!

    Patti suggests peace, although you, Patti’s fans, don’t seem that peaceful at all, what’s wrong?

    Ciao…and keep browsing in the future.

  9. Airid is happier in Italian, baby.

  10. I was not talking about language, only about being forced to take pictures from a corner.

  11. Great photos given the restrictions placed upon you – I was at the gig and saw how little opportunity there was to get a good shot. I don’t agree that the show was often mediocre, although she was better in Sheffield. Beneath the Southern Cross was completely transcendent in Cambridge that night.

  12. I can’t believe she also sings flat on recorded media. What’s the fuss about?

  13. having not seen the gig i can’t comment on the reveiw but give velerio a break, 1 song from stage left no movement and first song of the show (usually not the most impressive performance of any gig) then shoot on film son no spray and pray like i see so many digital photographers do. last shot is nice, likely you had few to choose from. as for the show I’ve seen Patti numerous times since the mid seventies some gigs have been awe inspiring, others just mediocre, sounds like this was at the mediocre end

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