Patti Smith TONY HISS and DAVID McCLELLAND

Start Your Free Trial

Download Patti Smith Study Guide

Subscribe Now

TONY HISS and DAVID McCLELLAND

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Patti's music [is] a unique combination of fairy tales, gleeful excitement, melodic singing, spitting, unshed tears of childhood, hypnotic reiteration, teasing, dancing, masturbatory fantasies, sheet-metal schooldays and chunks of real 50's and 60's hard-rock songs…. (p. 24)

Patti Smith knows she's got it. On stage, she burns like a white filament dressed in black, spitting, crooning, screaming a volcano of lyrics about sex, U.F.O.'s, horses, internal voyages, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, loneliness, adolescence, beaches, possibilities, Arthur Rimbaud. You have to listen hard to Patti Smith, and that's part of her appeal. She's the first legit, published … poet to move her poetry completely into rock 'n' roll, and because rock is now 20 years old, she can play on a wealth of associations that any audience will be bringing to her performances. So she splices phrases like "Do the Watusi!" and "She's so fine" into her intricate and often highly intellectual songs. (p. 26)

Patti's a smart performer. Using techniques similar to those recommended by Antonin Artaud, who created the "Theater of Cruelty," she sets up a powerful dramatic tension by alternately scaring and eliciting protective feelings from an audience. She aims for the groin and the spine, and as soon as people realize she wants them to like her, they usually do, and things start to cook. Energy flows up the spine. The words, Patti's own, are generally very important and occasionally just there to set up a texture of good old straight id material. Patti explains that she tries to work herself into a certain state where she won't know what she's going to say next, but can speak directly from a certain myth-generating part of her mind. She is really an expert at that and can obviously do it under any circumstances….

It's certainly the most literate magic in rock 'n' roll. "Birdland," the song set at Wilhelm Reich's funeral, was written after Patti read Peter Reich's "A Book of Dreams." It is her visionary interpretation of young Reich's experience as a little boy, his experience imagining his father returning for him in a fleet of black flying saucers that looked...

(The entire section is 537 words.)