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Patti Smith’s Journey to “Horses”

Rounding out the Patti Smith 2015 beat, I wrote this piece for Vulture on Patti’s road to rock and roll.

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Patti Smith’s Most Memorable NYC Gigs

My latest for the Village Voice: PATTI SMITH’S MOST NOTABLE NEW YORK CITY GIGS. This was quite the research project / rabbit hole, but a very enjoyable one.

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Patti Smith & Horses Turns 40

I went to Paris for the opening show of the tour, on Arthur Rimbaud’s birthday. I will write a longer more personal piece on it soon (like tomorrow) but here’s my report for the Village Voice. Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 7.09.47 PM

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New Writing In The Village Voice

Two pieces in the Voice today: a review of the Television show in Brooklyn last night, and the one I’m particularly proud of, a guide to the (mostly vanished) landmarks mentioned in Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

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Patti Smith and Her Band, Webster Hall, 29 & 30 December 2013


Patti used to play every year at this time. The 29th was the show for the diehards, we’d huddle in the cold outside for an hour or two before sprinting up the stairs for the front. I used to joke that we could bowl inside Bowery Ballroom on those nights, no one else bothering to get there much before the show started. (That was until “Just Kids” and the book award and god bless, the world suddenly started showing up at the Bowery in December.) The 29th was usually loose and sloppy, mistakes, chatty Patti. The 30th was “the birthday,” and she was usually on her game for that. Then there were the New Year’s Eve shows. I would either go to the 29th and the birthday or the birthday and New Year’s, but always at least two, how on earth could I be living in proximity of the possibility and not go to at least two? I would go solo to one and the boyfriend would come along to the other.

On my solo nights, without fail I would be tired or sick or it would have snowed like crazy and I’d grumble about not going or going and selling my ticket but I would suck it up and go because, again, how could I NOT GO when I LIVE HERE and she would always do or play or say something that would have me riveted to the spot, usually in tears, feeling as though she was speaking directly to me, exhortations about working hard and being free and finding your courage and just the physical presence of her, STILL DOING THIS, on that stage, would be enough to lift me through the dark of the winter and to the other side of things. The New Year’s shows were a shitshow if you weren’t down front but if you were it was confetti and friends handing out hats and noise makers and everyone arguing whose phone we were using for the countdown and then “People Have The Power” at midnight, before sprinting down to the corner of Allen and Delancey where you can always get a cab, even on New Year’s Eve.

Then she retired, or claimed she was going to retire, and made it two years before coming back again in December, this time at Webster Hall, for the 29th and the birthday. So I bought my tickets and got on that line again. The 29th was the sloppy show, it was unfocused, full of drunk yelling assholes. It was front loaded with songs from Banga which is actually quite a fine album but Patti wasn’t entirely together, so the band wasn’t at their best and they kind of meandered around. Until Patti says, “This is for Lou” and begins “Beneath the Southern Cross.” This song is one of the band’s finest moments any year, it’s this throbbing surge of guitars and voices and Jay Dee hitting the drums with the mallets and it is shimmering and writhing and a complete and total funeral dirge. At the end she yelled, “LOU… YOU ARE NEW YORK” and that was it, I was gone. I was breathless and in tears when it was done, and so was she.

Things picked up from there, and while it was not the best night I have ever seen her do, I was still glad that I was there, standing there remembering all of this during “People Have The Power” when she reminds us that 2014 is the Year of the Horse and we need to work and be free and be healthy and strong, like your punk rock grandmother.

Tonight was the birthday, and although I felt like death on a cracker I was standing on that line in the bitter cold one minute after 5pm and rushing for the rail like it was the middle of the summer and I was in fine health. I knew if I got the rail I could make it even if I was sick and if I was sick, at least I would have seen Patti. And like always, I was right.

At 9:02 sharp the flashlight blinked from the back of the stage and the lights went down. Andy York, who is playing second guitar these days, comes out carrying what looks suspiciously like a bow and I’m making Jimmy Page jokes although, I mean, it’s Patti, so I can so dig it, whatever it is going to be.

But what I don’t expect is for her to walk up to the mic bathed in this black purple light and for the band to hit an initial cord and her voice to sing, “I.. don’t know where I’m going…”

It can’t be anything else than what it is. It’s like she’s uttered some magic incantation and I just can’t even move, or blink, or breathe.

“But I’m gonna try for the Kingdom, if I can…”


It is amazing and spellbinding and sad and tragic and magnificent, all of those things, and I am too stunned to react much, and am still feeling that way all through “Dancing Barefoot.” I mean, the problem with “Heroin” is that you can’t really cheer for it. Lou used to have that problem, people would yell for it, and the famous admonition was, “You know, when I say that it’s my wife and it’s my life, do you think I’m fucking kidding?” There was a gasp of recognition once people realized what was going on, and then a few more at that point when the rest of the audience recognizes it, and there were a few yelps but mostly, either people were like me and snapped to fucking attention, or they didn’t but picked up on the vibe and came along for the ride. It worked. It was unbelievable.

Tonight was a much different night. She was focused and the band was together and it was a thundering locomotive on that stage. The Banga material shined brightly, it was sharp and crisp and didn’t sag. She dedicated “Capital Letter” to Jennifer Lawrence (and was wearing her mocking jay pin all night which I couldn’t get a photo of because her hair was covering it). “Free Money,” the thing all the idiots were yelling the night before, appeared early enough to get the attention of anyone who might be wandering due to unfamiliar material. “Free Money” was the band in high, high gear, driving through the song, sharp, searing, as good a version as you would have gotten back in the day. “Because the Night” was prefaced by a beautiful story about the first time she met Fred, but was interrupted by the maroon yelling KICK OUT THE JAMS WARGHDHEIDHD in the middle of it.

The Lenny set tonight was a medley, him and Tony Shananan and new addition Andy York taking turns, “Talk Talk” and “Open Up Your Door” (during which Patti came out and bopped around) followed by “Open Your Eyes.” At the end, Jesse Smith came out from backstage carrying a cake (she actually came out a song earlier, which is the only reason I have video) and then was followed closely by Michael Stipe, carrying his own cake, completely clad in orange. In a lovely but not well thought out gesture, Webster Hall dropped one of the nets of balloons it had in place for tomorrow night; Patti loved it, but now the stage was full of balloons and for the rest of the night we’d hear random loud POPs as they met their fate. This was followed by a cover of “Stay” by Rihanna, which she pulled off with typical aplomb.

Then, again, for Lou, another ethereal “Southern Cross,” another amazing moment, power rising off that stage, rhythm and drive and energy and sheer fucking magic. I would hold that rock and roll moment against any other band right now or ever, quite frankly, and I stood there feeling bad that not more people I know who loved music were seeing it. It was sweet and pure and powerful and all of it, everything, washed through me yet again. So much love. So much gratitude. When I saw her for the first time when I was 15, just months before she called it quits in Florence, I never ever thought that I’d be seeing her year after year after year at both my age and hers. It is the luckiest, most beautiful thing.

We jumped around to “People Have The Power” and the Babelogue and “Rock and Roll N****r” and waved goodbye, one more year, one more time, happy birthday, Patti Lee, we’re glad you’re back.

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 12-3-12


Walking onto the floor and seeing the Rust Never Sleeps set at the other end of the Barclays Center was this combination of disbelief and deja vu. I never got to see the Rust Never Sleeps tour; by the time I read about it in Rolling Stone it was long gone, and I used to sit in front of my stereo with the records and bemoan that I had missed what had to have been one of the most amazing things ever.

Monday night made up for all of that in so many ways. I applaud Neil bringing back the theatricalism of the intro, although this time they’re in lab coats and hard hats instead of dressed like jawas, scuttling about the stage. I was thrilled to discover that these were the original sets, that they escaped the warehouse fire. And being able to take the photo above, capturing that iconic album cover, was achieving some kind of previously unknown dream.

The sound was great; the show was loud and powerful and I liked the sound on the floor of the arena (my first visit). Neil is strong and in fine mettle. There were plenty of enormous grungy jams that just, only just, teetered on the edge of trying some of the audience’s patience; I appreciated the gentleman yelling “YOU SUCK” at the end of the closing jam of “Walk Like A Giant,” as the RNS Woodstock rainstorm was recreated for us, to my amusement and sheer wonder. LIke, it made sense that Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley and Lee Ranaldo were in the audience. (Also spotted: Al Gore. No kidding.)

There was restraint, though; when I heard the first notes of the opening “Love And Only Love” I settled in for what in past tours would have been a good 20-25 minutes, Neil kept things trim while still maintaining the integrity of the thudding original, which needs that room to grow and blossom. I was a little sad to get “Powderfinger” instead of “Cortez,” but later on I would get just about everything I could want, including “The Needle and the Damage Done,” just Neil acoustic. But “Cinnamon Girl,” “Fuckin’ Up,” “Mr. Soul” and then, of course, “Hey Hey My My” were what you came there for. (Although I was amused at a Barclays Center security guard walking around with headphones in some distress as Neil had the audience singing, “You’re just a fuckup!” for about 10 minutes to close the song out: “They’re just singing “Fuck” over and over,” she said over her headset.)

Patti Smith’s opening set was, uncharacteristically, the first time I have seen her perform this year. I felt she presented a strong setlist, giving people the hits with “Because the Night” and “Dancing Barefoot,” a new song from Banga, her lovely NY cover of “Only A Dream” from the Carnegie Hall tribute, and just when I was looking at my watch and thinking she had time for two more, the opening notes of “Land” guaranteed she could go full out punk priestess, incorporating a brief rant against the Barclays Center, even, as the transition into “Gloria” had the crowd roaring in approval.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the third band on the bill, Everest, who I also felt fine tuned a nicely crunching set to fit the bill they were on. [Full disclaimer, one of my oldest friends is in Everest and so I spent half of their set beaming at the sight of my BFF performing in front of the Rust Never Sleeps set.]

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Patti Smith: Camera Solo

I traveled to Hartford last weekend to see Patti Smith’s first museum photography exhibit, titled Camera Solo at the Wadsworth Atheneum. It’s a small but dense exhibit, three rooms of photographs and artifacts. It took about an hour and a half to go through everything, which included time to watch a 7-minute 35mm short that was part of the exhibit, and to revisit favorites at the end.

The exhibit is accompanied by an audio tour that you can access from your cellphone, by dialing an 800 number and punching in an exhibit number. Patti herself recorded the narration, which was just fantastic. It definitely added another dimension to my experience of the exhibit, and I appreciated the low-tech but extremely effective method. (You can hear the narration in the museum’s account on Soundcloud!) If you had the narration and the exhibit catalog (which I had received as part of a charity grab bag I purchased during the New Year’s Eve shows, you would be able to experience about 50% of the exhibit.

Of course, seeing everything in person is always so different than leafing through a book, as any art history student knows. The light in the room, your physical proximity, distance, space, all of this combines to make the experience of being there with the art so very worthwhile. Various artifacts from Patti’s collection, some of which were photographed in the exhibit, appeared in vitrines throughout, accompanied by handwritten cards explaining the items.

I appreciated the natural but also thoughtful grouping of items, and was most touched by the space dedicated to her thoughts and photographs and work about Rimbaud. That room also featured one of her three-dimensional pieces, a version of the litter that carried the injured Rimbaud through the Ethiopian desert. You saw an initial sketch of the litter, a miniature prototype, and then the fully realized piece. There were also items from her trip to the Rimbaud Museum in Ardennes (which readers of Just Kids will remember).

As a fan I am continually inspired by her hard work and dedication, and how she never pretends that anything just happens (although she makes a fair allowance for magic or the divine, which is different) and never hides her process and the sweat and effort it takes to produce it. The exhibit is in Hartford until mid-February; combine your trip there with a visit and tour of the Mark Twain House (which was absolutely amazing, and well worth the time) and you have a nice day trip.

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Patti Smith performs U2’s “Until The End of The World” live

Definitely did not see this one coming last night!

I am so divided on this cover of the song. I think she starts off strong and think the initial attitude and perspective work, but then feel like the performance loses its way a little bit–and not just because of the lyric changes, or that she forgets the words at one point. I think it’s that I just want it to work so incredibly badly that I will forgive it a million sins, which robs me of true objectivity.

More on the show later.

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my best shows of 2011


Even I am not immune to the year-end listing process. Here’s my list of favorite/best shows of 2011. It’s so skewed as to representative of nothing except my particular universe – but it’s not like I’m pretending that 2012 isn’t going to be a laundry list of Springsteen and Afghan Whigs shows.

1. Twilight Singers, San Francisco
2. Wild Flag, Bell House
3. U2, Montreal night 1
4. Big Audio Dynamite, Roseland
5. Horrible Crowes, Bowery Ballroom
6. Twilight Singers, Webster Hall
7. Gaslight Anthem, Asbury Park Convention Hall [I feel the need to footnote this show by pointing out that it was amazing before Bruce showed up.]
8. U2, Giants Stadium
9. Bryan Ferry, Beacon Theater
10. Patti Smith & Lenny Kaye, St. Mark’s Church

Greg Dulli
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Patti Smith & Lenny Kaye, St. Mark’s Church, 2/9/11


Standing outside St. Mark’s Church, shivering as I waited to get in, I turned as someone came up behind me. It was Patti, and Lenny. “Happy Anniversary!” I said. She giggled a little, the way she does these days, before thanking me and heading into warmth.

Janet Hamill opened, reading with strength and aplomb and she forced the room – many of whom had no idea who she was, or her connection to Patti – to pay close attention, not just tolerate her. She was marvelous.

Anne Waldman followed with an introduction of Patti and Lenny so amazing I wish she would publish it. She noted that she was the poet who introduced Patti that day back in 1971. The introduction tonight was about five pages long, full of love and flamboyance and praise and things better said now while we are all still here in the same room to hear it than in 10 or 20 years at someone’s eulogy. We had enough ghosts in the room as it was.

Patti seemed flustered, and needed a minute to collect herself, and then opened with “Oath,” the first poem she read at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project. You could have dropped a pin in the room. The room was a little too full of people there to be seen and there because it is cool to like Patti again – I was informed by the hipster kid in front of me that so many people were waiting online because she had recently interviewed Johnny Depp for Vanity Fair (I did mention, “There was also that little book award too, you know,” only to be informed that “these people” didn’t read books) – but it was silent, and reverent, and full of love. Even the occasional shouting asshole was essentially doing it out of love.


Speaking of love, the remaining members of the Patti Smith Band showed up a few minutes before she and Lenny were due to come out and promptly sat themselves down on the floor in the front row, fittingly taking their places in front of the people who usually show up hours in advance to watch them onstage. (According to Patti, they were all making fun of her and Lenny the entire night.)

She mentioned that February 10 is Bertold Brecht’s birthday, and 40 years ago, they played “Mack The Knife” because of that event. And if you know Patti, you know she is full of these dates and remembers every birthday and every death and is not shy about sharing those facts with an audience. Lenny began to play “Mack The Knife”… and poor Patti couldn’t get past the second line. She switched to German, which I think was slightly more successful, but then some fans who I happen to know understand German began to crack up, so I’m not quite certain as to the degree of success.

There was homage to Jim Carroll, who used to work in a room at the back of the sanctuary, as Lenny sang “Still Life,” the best song he ever co-wrote with Jim. He sang it with Jim’s inflections, which gave me goosebumps. There was “Fire of Unknown Origin”. There were stories, there was history, all of which I know, all of which I came here to be told again, tonight, in this place, in the very place in which it all began, in which an alliance was solidified, the incubator of – of, well, so much. How she met Lenny, how they would dance in the record store when no one was there, how she asked him if he’d play guitar for her, how the first time she heard “Fire of Unknown Origin” set to music was when she met Lenny.

“Southern Cross” was beautiful, and had the audience on its feet, and all I could think was, “You’ve never seen it with a full band, clearly” – not that the full band was better or that there was something amiss with Patti and Lenny facing off against each other during “Southern Cross” or that it didn’t grow and morph and launch and soar, but because I know that is what “Southern Cross” does. It never fails to conjure magic.

In the end, the very end, Patti wasn’t laughing or telling tales, she was up there performing, coming back to one of the first stories she told tonight, about how she’d written “Ballad of a Bad Boy” and then gotten up and walked around the room she shared at the Chelsea Hotel with Robert Mapplethorpe and how he told her she needed to read her poems in public, and how he was going to get her a reading. And here she was, every bit still that girl, every bit rebellious and defiant and sashaying around the stage as Lenny Kaye made his guitar sound like a car crash, just like she’d asked him to 40 years ago. And then Lenny puts on an electric guitar, and she opens her mouth once again we are back to ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine’ and I am chanting the words silently like a prayer and the dorks down the front row are feeding back “G-L-O-R-I-A” at the chorus because we can’t not, just because we’re in a church and sitting in chairs doesn’t mean we’re dead, and then she exhorts us all to get up and with relief we do, and we stand and we sing it back as loudly as we would if we had been facing Marshall amps and a wall of sound. It still astonishes me how this song has aged, how she can transform it, how it is rebellion and rallying cry and as defiant as ever. (“My soul is in Egypt, but my heart is here with you” was how Patti greeted the audience earlier.)


Obviously I was not here at this church 40 years and 364 days ago. I was not at Max’s Kansas City when Jim Carroll was recording the Velvet Underground, I was not at the Mercer Arts Center when the New York Dolls played there, was not dancing down front at the Crawdaddy in Richmond when the Stones were in residence, was not sitting in the front row of the top balcony at the Apollo Theater as Otis Redding serenaded the crowd. I wasn’t, but I was, because my heart is made of little pieces of the energy that came out of all of those places. And I was here tonight, closing a loop, forging another link in the chain, empowering and reminding me of who I am.

Happy Anniversary, indeed.

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