Patti Smith Steve Lake - Essay

Steve Lake

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

You'll find Patti Smith, poetess, in the Gotham Book Mart, New York's hippest bookstore, where her slim volumes of manic poetry nestle snugly between volumes of Burroughs, Ginsberg, Goray and Rimbaud. Patti Smith enjoys a literary reputation. Jerzy Kosinki is one of her fans.

I don't feel particularly qualified to assess her poetry. I've browsed through it and wasn't conscious of being in the presence of greatness, but I'm no Harvard poetry professor, that's for sure.

Better, perhaps, that we leave posterity to hassle over Patti's prosody. But Patti Smith, rock singer, is a subject closer to home….

Her interviews liberally compare her to Jim Morrison, William Burroughs, Iggy Stooge, Verlaine (not the Television guitarist, the other one) and Rimbaud who, she has claimed in moments of monumental banality, "woulda made a great lead guitarist." Of course, the New York press laps all this up and proclaims her the "biggest thing since Bruce Springsteen" (which, by my watch, is only five minutes ago)….

I can't believe that there's any honest listeners left on earth who aren't up to here with calculated decadence and incompetence. And does anybody really need to hear Patti Smith's band [on "Horses"] play appallingly sloppy reggae on "Redondo Beach," or screw up Van Morrison's "Gloria" with the rantings of a Charlie Manson? Or cross-breed "Land Of A Thousand Dances" with "Sister Ray" and hurl in yet more references to Rimbaud for cultural appeal?

The drag is, of course, that half-assed critics with no musical sensibilities whatever will drag their volumes of Freud from dusty top shelves and begin to chunder about Oedipal tendencies and bore us all over again like they once did with Jim Morrison and the Doors. I wouldn't mind at all if Patti Smith was a bona fide nut. But she doesn't even have that distinction.

There's no way that the completely contrived and affected "amateurism" of "Horses" constitutes good rock and roll. That old "so bad it's good" aesthetic has been played to death. "Horses" is just bad. Period.

Steve Lake, "Poet and a No-Man Band …," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), December 13, 1975, p. 52.