Archive for December, 2009

Patti Smith

December 27, 2009


Patti Smith (born December 30, 1946) is an influential American singer, songwriter, poet and visual artist.

In 1975 Patti Smith released her debut album Horses.


Horses was a major influence on the New York punk rock scene. Tracks on Horses include ‘Gloria’, a radical retake of the Them garage rock classic and ‘Birdland’ which in particular, owes more to jazz music than to the influence of punk. When recording this song, which was improvised by the band in Electric Lady Studios, Smith has said she imagined the spirit of Jimi Hendrix watching her. The lyrics of ‘Birdland’ are based upon A Book of Dreams, a 1973 memoir about Wilhelm Reich, written by Reich’s son Peter. Several of the album’s songs – ‘Redondo Beach’, ‘Free Money’, and ‘Kimberly’ – were inspired by moments with members of Smith’s family, while others – ‘Break It Up’, and Elegie’ – were written about her idols. ‘Land’ was already a live favorite and featured the first verse of Chris Kenner’s ‘Land of a Thousand Dances’ and contains a tribute to her long-time idol Arthur Rimbaud.’ Guest musicians included Tom Verlaine of Television and Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult.

In October 1976 Patti Smith released Radio Ethiopia.


The title track of Radio Ethiopia is one of Smith’s most notorious songs, almost legendary for appearing to be ‘10 minutes of noise’. Critics often described live renditions of the song as negative moments of Smith’s concerts. Patti herself spoke highly of the track and of how the lyrics refer to Arthur Rimbaud’s dying wishes. Arguments both for and against the song have been advanced by critics, fans and music listeners over whether the song truly is an example of the Patti Smith Group’s boundary-pushing or merely self-indulgence. Critics in negative reviews cited that Douglas’ production placed more emphasis on creating a heavy sound through numerous guitar parts which smothered Smith’s vocalsand, at times, lamented that all of the album’s songs were originals of the group. ‘Ain’t It Strange’ and ‘Distant Fingers’, the latter co-written with Smith’s long-time boyfriend Allen Lanier, had both been staples of the Group’s concerts long before the recording of Horses.

In March 1978, Patti Smith released Easter.



Easter is regarded as the group’s commercial breakthrough, owing to the success of the single, ‘Because the Night’ (co-written by Bruce Springsteen and Smith), which reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 in the UK. The first album released since Smith had suffered a neck injury while touring for Radio EthiopiaEaster has been called the most commercially accessible of the Patti Smith Group’s catalogue. Unlike its two predecessors, Easter incorporated a diversity of musical styles, though still including classic rock and roll (‘25th Floor/High on Rebellion’, ‘Rock N Roll Nigger’), folk (‘Ghost Dance’), spoken word (‘Babelogue’) and pop music (‘Because the Night’). In addition to the obvious religious allusion of its title, the album is replete with biblical and specifically Christian imagery. ‘Privilege (Set Me Free)’ is taken from the British film Privilege; its lyrics are adapted from Psalm 23.

On May 17, 1979, Patti Smith released Wave.


Wave was the less commercially successful than Easter, although it continued the band’s evolution towards more radio-friendly mainstream pop music. The title track was a tribute to Pope John Paul I, whose brief papacy coincided with the recording sessions. The first single off the album was ‘Frederick’, a love song for her husband-to-be Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith with a melody and structure bearing resemblance to ‘Because the Night’, the group’s biggest hit. The second single, ‘Dancing Barefoot‘, has been covered by many artists.

In June 1988, Patti Smith released Dream of Life.



Dream of Life was Smith’s first album after the dissolution of The Patti Smith Group. Lead single ‘People Have the Power’ received some album-oriented rock airplay at the time, and later was revived by Bruce Springsteen as a theme song for the 2004 Vote for Change concerts. Songs from this album have been performed live for the first time in a show on December 29, 2006 in New York Bowery Ballroom. ‘Paths That Cross’ is dedicated to the memory of Samuel J. Wagstaff.


On June 18, 1996, Patti Smith released Gone Again.

The production of Gone Again was preceded by the deaths of many of Smith’s close friends and peers, including her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, her brother Todd, Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Sohl, and Kurt Cobain with whom Smith had sympathized. In addition to this, Gone Again also features the last studio performance of Jeff Buckley, who died less than a year later.

On September 30, 1997, Patti Smith released Peace and Noise.


Uncut magazine ranked Peace and Noise as the 21st best album of the year. The song ‘1959’ was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1998.

On March 21, 2000 Patti Smith, released Gung Ho.

The song ‘New Party’ was used as the official song for the 2000 Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign. The song ‘Glitter in Their Eyes’ was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 2001.

On June 18, 1996 Patti Smith released The Patti Smith Masters box set.

The box set contains 20-bit digitally remastered CD versions of the first 5 Patti Smith’s albums with bonus tracks, and a 6th disc, Selected Songs.


March 19, 2002, Patti Smith released Land, a two disc compilation album.

Land contains a collection of recordings from Smith’s 8 previous albums on the first disc, along with B-sides and unreleased songs on the second disc. The album ranked number 8 in Mojo’s ‘Best Box Sets & Compilations of 2002’.It is dedicated to the memory of Richard Sohl.

April 27, 2004, Patti Smith released Trampin’.

Trampin’ was the first album Smith released on the Columbia Records label. Rolling Stone magazine placed the record on its list of ‘The Top 50 Albums of 2004’. Tracks include ‘In My Blakean Year’, ‘Gandhi’, and ‘Peaceable Kingdom’.


On June 25, 2005, Patti Smith recorded a concert in which she performed Horses in its entirety. The performance was recorded live as part of the ‘30th Anniversary’ in Royal Festival Hall at the Meltdown festival, which Smith curated. The concert set follows the same running order as the original release of Horses, and features Tom Verlaine on guitar and Flea on bass guitar.

It was released on November 8, 2005 under the title Horses/Horses.

Horses/Horses is a double CD, with the digitally remastered studio version of the original 1975 album (with the bonus track ‘My Generation’) on the first disc, and a live recording of the entire album on the second disc.



The Coral Sea is a live recording of two performances by Patti Smith and Kevin Shields.

The recording is of two performances by Smith and Shields from 2005 and 2006 respectively. The set consists of Smith’s homage to the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, her friend and former lover, and consists of the text of her epic 1996 poem of the same title. Shields accompanies in an improvisational manner on guitar.

On April 17, 2007, Patti Smith released Twelve.

As Twelve’s title suggests, the album contains twelve tracks, all of which are cover versions. It debuted on Billboard 200 at number 60, with 11,000 copies sold in its first week. A promotional EP entitled Two More was also released, featuring two tracks that are not on the album: ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed and ‘Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect’ by The Decemberists. Tracks on Twelve include: ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘When Doves Cry’, and ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’.



Patti Smith: Dream of Life is a 2008 documentary film about Patti Smith directed by Steven Sebring. It was presented at Berlin International Film Festival. It won the ‘Excellence in Cinematography Award: Documentary’ at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival:

Patti Smith has also written several books of poetry and lyrics. They are:


Seventh Heaven (1972)

Early Morning Dream (1972)

Witt (1973)

Ha! Ha! Houdini! (1977)

Babel (1978)

Woolgathering (1992)

Early Work (1994)

The Coral Sea (1996)

Patti Smith Complete (1998)

Strange Messenger (2003)

Auguries of Innocence (2005)

Poems by William Blake. (Edited by and with introduction by Patti Smith) (2007)

Land 250 (2008)

Trois (2008)

In 2005, Patti Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture.


In 2007, Patti Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Here is a link to Patti Smith’s website:

The King Pearl Divers by R J Dent

December 13, 2009




My title refers to a small group of people who, here on Hawaii, dive for ‘King Pearls’. These rare pearls are a bluish-grey colour and are about twice the size and value of the largest one on your Auntie Winnie’s favourite pearl necklace. Last year, oceanographers predicted that the king pearl oysters would settle in the territorial waters of Hawaii in December, ready to be harvested at the beginning of this year. January in Hawaii is hot.

I arranged an interview with one of the King Pearl divers. Despite my reservations, it was scheduled to take place on a desolate beach at an ungodly hour of the morning. I arrived early, sat and watched the sunrise, then saw my interviewee arrive. He was Lukie, a 19 year old who had been a King Pearl diver since he was 10. Although he had agreed to the interview, I noticed that he was, at first, slightly reticent. When I asked him if this was because of pre-dive nerves, his face broke into a huge grin and he suddenly looked ten years old again.

“There’s no such thing,” he said. Sometimes, when particularly animated, he managed to look very young. At other times, especially when talking about some of the other King Pearl divers, he seemed to age by about twenty years. I asked him what the attraction of diving for the King Pearls held for him. Read more…


The King Pearl Divers

Copyright © R J Dent (2009 & 2016)


Painting: The Pearl Diver by Carol UK

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