Songlines

patti smith

It’s been a Big Music Week for me. After all the excitement of Madcap’s Last Laugh last Thursday this Thursday was marked by a fabulous performance by Patti Smith at the Roundhouse. I’m nearly on overload now – someone get me a wet flannel to lay across my fevered brow.

I’m a big believer in the importance of connections in creativity, as per the very first post on this blog inspired by Andre Breton on surprising connections. I had this fantastic text book at school in Mr Fitch’s English class – Paradise Lost, Books I-II (edited by John Broadbent for Cambridge University Press) – which was a real inspiration for me at a crucial age. I found a second-hand copy years later. As it says on the back: “The editors’ aim is not simply to inform on points of fact, but by indicating lines of investigation, to stimulate the student’s interest and to encourage him [this must be the boys school version] to find out for himself. Links with subjects not traditionally regarded as concerning ‘English’ are emphasised.” So the footnotes in the book, which make up about a third of the text, range from notes on flies/Golding/Sartre via 16th century polar exploration to Freud. Being taught about Milton also gave me a real love of language and its roots. One of the aspects of Patti’s performance last night which was most enrapturing was her obvious delight in using and playing with language. Her take on Smells Like Teen Spirit – one of those uncoverable songs, covered masterfully – reveled in the simple lyrics: A mulatto. An albino. A mosquito. My libido. She inserted stretches of poetry into the songs by others which make up her new record Twelve bringing an energetic new dimension to great songs – like White Rabbit and Are You Experienced?

Which brings me back to the connections, the whole place was radiating with them last night. She opened with Gloria which I’d seen Van perform just six days before on the very same stage. And perhaps Jim Morrison sang in the same round hall when he famously played the Roundhouse with The Doors in 1968, legend has it doing the longest encore of all time. Patti went on to perform Soul Kitchen.

She did a cracking version of Are You Experienced? with her trusty stalwart Lenny Kaye on guitar while she accompanied with her mad clarinet playing, which was perfect for the song, properly steeped in psychedelia, a direct link to Jimi Hendrix who played the Roundhouse in February 1967, and who Patti also name-checked during a climactic version of Rock’n’Roll Nigger.

Then there are the links to CBGBs via Debbie Harry /Blondie. To Kenneth Tynan via liberal use of “fuck”. To American beat poetry via The Living Theatre of New York. Connections radiating around that resonant space, 360 degrees of power (it was once a railway engine turning shed) and intoxication (an old gin warehouse) and performance for the people (home of Arnold Wesker’s Centre 42).

Last weekend my younger son had Symmetry as the subject for his homework. I was really taken by how he could see Infinity in the Circle without knowing the word or exactly how to express it – his words were more than up to capturing the amazing concept. I never got round to reading that book Songlines (every one seemed to enjoy it at the time) but I’ve no doubt that last night’s performance was the hub of a rich radiance of music, words and beyond.

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4 comments so far

  1. ArkAngel on

    Just watched Patti Smith on Later (BBC2). She summarised Jimi Hendrix’s appeal as the combination of poetry, activism, vision, sexuality, humility, and being a great dresser.

  2. Miriam Hirsch on

    Hi Adam – here’s a presence from your long ago past -
    I came across your blog by accident/chance and love reading it from time to time -
    also read your page o Wikipedia, which I know is not always 100% accurate – is most of it factual? -
    I sent your blog link to my son Gil who will I am sure enjoy it too -
    Gil’s also blogs http://www.chimeraobscura.com/vm/

  3. ArkAngel on

    Lovely to hear from you and the good ol’ US of A – i don’t think i’ve seen you since that fabulous weekend of the New York Film Festival victory / Bronagh’s citizenship party. Glad you’re enjoying Simple Pleasures. The Wikipedia page is accurate last time I looked! Was there something that struck you as unlikely?!

  4. ArkAngel on

    PS I can just about recognise Gil although he was only about 2′ tall last time we met!


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