I could be a genius
If I just put my mind to it
I could do anything
If only I could get around to it
We were brought up on the space race
Now they expect us to clean toilets
When you’ve seen how big the world is, well
How can you make do with this?
They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Given how hard I worship Patti Smith this means I probably shouldn’t even be in the same room with her. The thought sticks in my head like gum on the sole of an expensive shoe as my best friend and I scuttle through raindrops into Cardiff’s Coal Exchange. The lights are low and security minimal. An unobtrusive table covered in tee-shirts suffices for merchandising. “When is the support act on?” my friend asks. Security shakes his head: no support act. My heart hippity-hops. I hate the farce of standing around while two guys in black take an hour to plug in the headliner’s guitar. Tonight is already exceeding expectations.
The stage is small, low, close; we could hop over and perch on the edge. No fanfare, no lights-up-lights-down, just a sudden soft landing of feet onstage. Patti smiles at our delayed whoops of recognition. She opens her mouth and the world breaks open. There is no discernible relationship between that slight torso, overhung with an Electric Lady Studios tee-shirt and a too-big black blazer (red marker pen hooked in the left pocket, as if she’d just been labelling boxes) and the voice that envelops the air. It’s like being run over by a Rolls-Royce.
I’m dancing barefoot
Heading for a spin
Some strange music draws me in
“The look on your face,” my friend says (later). I wonder if the look matched my thought: that I am finally looking at a flesh-and-blood human after a lifetime of watching holograms.
She extends her arms in blessing, evocation, incantation. Girl is washed up on Redondo beach by the waves her throat makes. The mike is a token gesture; a puff of smoke to screen the dark art of her voice. There is a peace sign inked on the left knee of her jeans, like kids did back in high school. It matches the girlishness of her grin. “I went looking for a Welsh rarebit today,” she tells us, “rarebit” drawling out like rabbit in flat American vowels. A man in the crowd calls out an offer – he makes a great Welsh rarebit. She chuckles, flashing un-American teeth: “I’ll see you after the show.”
I want to freeze every instant, turn each note to ice then taste it melt. Lenny Kaye, her musical compatriot for over 40 years, is tucked in the corner, making magic with his guitar. The rest of the band moves in orbit; Patti is the centre of the universe. Dedicating a song to the people of Japan Patti says gently: “We’ve been very cruel to Mother Nature and she can be very cruel back… we honour you, Mother.” It should be a platitude, but it isn’t.
None of the words tumbling through my head are strong enough to hold up to her light: sincerity, energy, androgyny, and the one that comes closest yet falls most infuriatingly short: integrity. Patti Smith is the most complete human being I have ever seen. This is not performance, it is revelation.
She tells a little story about her friend, Johnny, before playing (for the first time, live) his birthday song: ‘Nine.’ “We were sitting at the bar and I said, ‘You’re a pretty handsome guy.’” she recounts. “I’d never noticed before because he’s so radiant that even if he were the ugliest man on earth he’d still be beautiful.” If anyone else told this story I’d think: “Lucky cow, hanging out with Johnny Depp” but I’m thinking: “Lucky son of a bitch, Patti Smith wrote a song for you!” Together, they must gleam like stars.
She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Her face should be carved in granite, Rushmore-size. I strain to memorise the slant of her cheekbones, the swoop of her nose, the triumphal lines that mark her as an elder. “I have Welsh, English and Irish blood,” she says. Someone boos the word “English” and she scolds: “What do you want me to do? I can’t divide myself.”
If only time would slow down. She dedicates a sweet, sad song to Amy Winehouse; whisks us to CBGBs with ‘We Three’; then lulls us with the affectionate rollick of ‘April Fool’. Between gripping my friend’s hand and shrieking myself hoarse I try to grab as many details as I can: the black and silver ring on the middle finger of her right hand; the band on her wedding finger; a charm bracelet on her left wrist; the unbuttoned cuffs of her jacket; the jeans stuffed carelessly into cheap-looking gilt biker boots. Her cloud of brownish-grey hair carelessly plaited at the ends.
Then, sudden as she soft-footed on, Patti slips off stage. The band continues. She’s right there – a handful of feet away, next to the mixing desk. She looks over, smiles and waves. Jaw slack, I wave back, willing, praying, desperate to transmit some of my love and awe. You’re more than a hero. Faces around me begin to take note and bodies eddy towards the slender barrier. She blows a pair of kisses then drifts back to perch onstage between the monitors, heels swinging like a kid on the edge of a dock, un-self-consciously singing along as her band mates whirl through snippets of old standards.
Everything is easy. When she’s ready, Patti gets up and sings again, as natural as a cat rising from a patch of sun and stretching. She joins the band in a fierce guitar jam, notes racing, her free breasts moving beneath that baggy tee. I am transfixed. It is almost unbearable.
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe.
A man with a pink-and-purple Mohawk grabs his partner and they dance as we throw our voices back to her because the night belongs to lovers. I’m sweating; hot and cold as my last first kiss. When the opening chords of ‘Gloria’ reverberate my heart melts into my stomach and fizzes like popping candy. G-l-o-r-i-a she spells and we’re spellbound. My sins my own/they belong to me.
I refuse to contemplate the end. A girl in a black spaghetti-strap vest with cropped blonde hair dances beside me, golden arms twirling in tribute. The band slips quietly offstage. We stomp, whistle, and holler; please come back, please.
Patti shed the blazer a long time ago, stopped once to wipe her mouth on her tee-shirt. She is at once huge, luminous, a warrior king/queen (beyond sex, beyond gender, beyond binary) and a slip of a woman, sinewy, and not young. Anticipation clenches my heart like a fist. “You don’t need their shit!” Patti cries, raising her arms (prophet, priestess, the voice of one crying in the wilderness) “Be free!” The air crackles and atoms smash as the band launches into the driving riff of ‘Rock’n’Roll Nigger’. The blonde and I scream like schoolgirls. Baby got a hand; got a finger on the trigger. Baby, baby, baby is a rock-and-roll nigger. My blood rushes like it’s late for an appointment.
We wobble out: dazed, high, jelly-legged and dry-mouthed. The engine of compulsion is revving: I must write, have to. But anything I muster will be inadequate to the point of dishonesty. There is so much I want to say: thank you Patti, I love you, hallelujah, how?, you’re beautiful, you’re an artist, you’re a blessing. Thank you.
She is benediction
Here’s a profile I wrote for Clash in 2006 about two-man band Zero dB.
Trace a line from The Police to Sun Ra via a menswear shop, Newcastle and the Big Chill and you’ll emerge through the looking glass into the bent, sun-blitzed world of Zero dB. Where, for the last six years, Neil Combstock and Chris Vogado have been conjuring up aural mischief as remixers for the likes of Peace Orchestra, Truby Trio, Hexstatic and Original Soul Boy and the legendary Sun Ra.
Now, with debut album ‘Bongos, Bleeps & Basslines’, Zero dB are stepping from the brackets of the liner notes to deliver a joyously muddled musical adventure that veers and swoops, punch drunk, from dance floor to cocktail lounge.
Relaxing at his home in the heart of Barcelona affable Chris Vogado (first record: ‘Outlandos d’Amour’) admits he never meant to end up in a band. “I always wanted to be an electrician – and I was for a bit… it didn’t take me long to realise it wasn’t a dream job.” A stint in tailoring followed. “The worst job ever. Too many inside leg measurements. Was it women’s tailoring? No. If it had been I might not be here now,” he chuckles. On a music technology course in Newcastle he met Neil Combstock, and the pair started working together after the both drifted down to London. Alongside their extensive remix work they started releasing their own tracks, beginning with ‘Come Party’ (still, Chris says, the ultimate floor filler).
“Thirty or forty” tracks later and Zero dB were ready to skim the cream to create ‘Bongos, Bleeps & Basslines’, beginning with the title track (Chris’s top pick of the album), a barefoot-electro tribal funk anthem. His second favourite, ‘Sunshine Lazy’, oozes with affection for the bossa nova music he grew up on, all loping beats and hazy heat-shimmer vocals from Nouvelle Vague collaborator Phoebe Tolmer.
Elsewhere the record skips merrily between genres, appealing, Chris says hopefully, to any audience from WOMAD to Homelands, jazz festivals or the Big Chill. “We could fit into all four – we’ve done the Big Chill before, and I’d love to go back, but all of them really.” Robust internationalism is very much part of the Zero dB experience, actually, with Chris in Spain and Neil regularly moving between Tokyo and London.
“We recorded the album in London though,” Chris reports. “We both realised that to get a really good album together you need to be face to face. Otherwise, when you start arguing about it, it’s too easy to put the phone down.”
And they’ll be reunited soon, he says, to take the album on the road. “We’re producers first, really, and DJs second, but we’re going to try something live this year. The album sounds very ‘live’ and we want to capture that atmosphere – it’s going to take a big band though.”
Meantime, Neil is back in Tokyo and Chris and his wife are looking forward to their first holiday in, well, six years. “Since this whole thing started, actually,” Chris says with a mock sigh. “We might jump on the ferry and go to Ibiza. That would be nice.”
I dig Squidoo.
It’s a clever online platform that lets you project your life through a ‘lens’ Check out my first lens: a snapshot of my project management experience on Rock Chic.
Not only is Lady Gaga the best pop songsmith on the planet, she has some of the best tattoos. The Rilke quote on her upper arm reads, in part: “In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write.” C’est magnifique.
The Lost Brothers started as a “joke” according to Oisin Leech but he and musical partner Mark McCausland soon found people taking their dusty, gentle folk harmonies to heart. Their deubt album Trails of the Lonely is one of my favourites: a Simon & Garfunkle drinking whisky-laced coffee in the rain with Burt Jansch affair (which they recorded in my native burg, Portland OR) that is both fresh and ageless — so I tracked down Oisin to find out what makes the Lost world turn. Hats, poetry, Powell’s Books and Bob Dylan are in; OK! magazine is out…
The full interview is forthcoming at Pennyblackmusic. Meantime, mark your calendar for the release of new album So Long, John Fante on 25 November and its launch at at Dublin’s Workmans Club on 30 Nov.
People who are just starting out are always sort of coming to me for advice as the example of “independent girl,” and lots of people ask, well, how did you get the booking agent or the national distribution or the tours? And I look at them like, “Good lord! Relax!” I mean, how I did it was to not care about it and to not even think about it for years and years. All I thought about was getting the next little gig in the little bar, and I get this sense that people want me to give them the secret formula or the magic trick to make it all happen. I think low expectations are really useful, and a lot of patience. — Ani DiFranco
(from Mother Jones)
No idea why, but this has been running through my head today:
Zooropa…vorsprung durch technik
Zooropa…be all that you can be
Meet our winner
Eat to get slimmer
My momma and daddy musta loved each other/because I had eleven sisters and brothers
Dolly Parton, ‘Old Black Kettle’