May 6, 2016
‘For a while now, [Patti] Smith has been the sort of feel-good, feels-real celeb…
who gets invited to ‘guest edit’ Vogue when the Dalai Lama is resting.
Oh dear… Guy demonstrates an extrovert’s impatience with introverted Smith’s punk-Mrs-Havisham routine, but I find “nostalgia as a borderline fugue state” something that sounds worth aspiring to at this point.
And I guess the question is: Have we mellowed, or has she?
For the most part, M Train continues in this vein. It reads like the work of someone who has learned to trust her instincts, telling us what she genuinely takes pleasure in rather than what she thinks she ought to be seen referencing.
Once her diaristic poem-texts let us in on her ‘urge to shit voltaire style’; now we get Our Lady of the Cat Litter Tray. A typical diary text of old was: ‘i rummage thru the closet. it takes a long time, but i finally find what i am looking for. a sack of red skin.’ Now, she tells us she spends her days sprawled in front of ITV3 for (hooray!) all-day binges of Inspector Morse, Cracker and A Touch of Frost. (…)
There’s something of this, too, in the way she transforms low-life cruisers like Rimbaud and Mapplethorpe into virtual saints…
Everything she says about [Mapplethorpe] has to be taken on trust, since from the evidence of his work (and Patricia Morrisroe’s eye-opening biography) you get a rather different impression: that of a distinctly un-spiritual man, cold, aloof, a manipulative careerist. You might even argue that if or when his images work, it is because they insist not on the joyously spiritual but on a darker and contrary message: this is flesh, it is nothing else. Mapplethorpe was an artist driven by carnal furies, which is not something you’d ever say of Smith. She’s too, well, nice; our own trendy rock’n’roll vicar. (…)
In many ways, Smith is still the teenage Patti Lee, who stuck texts and pics and reproductions on her New Jersey bedroom wall in a crazy-paved collage of British Invasion pop, Catholic symbology and European art: saints and sinners and sexy English singers. She’s a soul collector, still indulging her artsy teenager’s habit of assuming the implied persona of every new enthusiasm, be it Virginia Woolf, Edie Sedgwick or Joan of Arc. Unfortunately, this risks turning fraught, painful lives into kitschy trinkets, designed to lend the wearer profundity by association.
Doesn’t the deeply ingrained habit of starstruck homage sit uneasily with her occasional Mother Courage posturing and blowsily libertarian, anarchist-lite politics? In a 2003 interview, she described herself as ‘essentially a late 18th-century, early 19th-century kind of person’, and went on: ‘There is a part of me that likes to serve the people. In a different era, I’d have liked to have worked with Thomas Paine.’ A pretty infallible rule of rock thumb is: anyone brandishing the word ‘people’ (there was also her 1988 song, ‘People Have the Power’) no longer considers themselves one of the people, and probably hasn’t for some time. Smith has always seemed to have conceived of rock’n’roll as a particular and solemn form of donning the veil.
He doesn’t really like anything after Horses, but Waves has three great cuts, come on.
PS: Here’s me on Patti Smith in 2014.