There have been few opening lines in popular music to rival Patti Smith's intro to her seminal 1975 album Horses: "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine." Like Franz Kafka's first sentence in 'The Trial', it hurls the listener right in the midst of the action, springing up more questions than it answers.

In effect though Patti Smith, along with the likes of Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine, represented the more literate end of rock 'n' roll coming out the emerging New Wave/punk movement in New York focused around the CBGBs. Before embarking on a full-time musical career Smith had already had three volumes of poetry, 'Seventh Heaven', 'Kodak' and 'Witt', published and the album is heavily influenced by her literary heroes. The album draws mainly upon the Romantic visionary/mystical tradition stemming from the likes of William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, W B Yeats' automatic writing and the Beat Generation writers of Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg - and not forgetting musical influences such as Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.

For Smith, 'Horses' represented "the culmination of all my most heartfelt adolescent desires." And her desires were somewhat darker than simply boy meets girl in a pretty verse, chorus, verse format. Much of 'Horses' draws on convoluted sexual imagery, often with sado-masochistic overtones. Her garage-rock transformation of Them's 'Gloria' sees herself as the lustful, sexual male protagonist of the song and being caught in the religious schizophrenia she felt, caught between the atheism of her father and her mother who was a Jehovah's Witness. 'Redondo Beach' profiled a lesbian suicide while 'Birdland' detailed the death of a boy's father.

The album though is at its strongest when Smith is the most abstract and obtuse. The tour de force comes with the stream-of-consciousness 'Land' where Smith, to a large extent, achieves the Rimbaudian desire of the "rational derangement of all the senses" and she opens up a sea of possibilities as well taking in murder, homosexual rape and vivid psychosexual imagery of horses with flaming noses. For Sigmund Freud the image of the horse, particularly for women, in dream analysis usually represented the libido. Linear development is forgone in favour of a piling-up of images; one image flowing into the next. Sex and death fused effortlessly but gouged in rock 'n' roll parlance.

Then there was Robert Mapplethorpe's iconic black and white photography of her on the cover. Despite the turbulent emotions the album charted the picture had an androgynous Smith looking like a Warhol acolyte as if painted by Modigliani - and just as unobtainable.

Despite Smith drawing on her literary and musical heroes, Horses is still an original masterpiece. Rather than merely blending influences from the established canon of rebel outsiders and visionary idiot savants. Smith also managed to appeal to those who were aware of the power of popular music as something greater than the carefree concerns of the usual Top 40 fodder. As Smith put it: "Three chord rock merged with the power of the word." 'Horses' is at once both art as rock 'n' roll and rock 'n' roll as art.












Related Links:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patti_Smith
http://www.pattismith.net/intro.html
https://twitter.com/pattismith
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Patti-Smith/212587898832647


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