Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.
Spoiler alert, y'all: There aren't any horses. But that's okay! We didn't come for horses!
Patti Smith is a name I know, and I even have an idea of her stature, her intellectual throne, that she was cool-kid friends with all the other cool kids of her eras—and it seems like she had more than one era, each cooler than the last, maybe.
But this is original Patti Smith. She's staring back from the cover, narrow and severe, a dare in her eyes, dressed mannishly and with no makeup. She is not about to lie down on some blankets with roses and shit, okay? She is here to brain you.
The first words are "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine." Her voice is assertive, sassing and seducing everyone. It takes a while to realize the song, which is called "Gloria," is of course that "G-L-O-R-I-A Glooooooooria" song. So the very first track seems like it must be such a Patti Smith–ed thing: Make a six-minute song out of a little three-minute song by sort of dissecting it, tearing it apart, blowing up its best parts, and adding a bunch of weird sex and Jesus. And, of course, cover a song originally by dudes and do it so much better. It feels transgressive, if only because this album is decades old—she's here in her suspenders with no caveats to tell the world how totally hot Gloria is. The way she says the A is dirty magic. The climax of "Gloria" is aggressive and repetitive.
The whole reason this works, although the music is great, is her voice. Smith won me over a syllable into the album and kept going. She growls and squeaks and talk-sings and goes from poem to shout phrase by phrase. She opens her voice up like an instrument and slips it around things, nimble and supple.
I don't love everything. She likes to talk a lot, poetry-reading-style, and it just sounds like she's wearing a terrible beret. However, even when she's silly jazz/poem talking, her voice is interesting, and depending on your patience, it's enough to keep you.
There's a bunch of tiny hidden genius; you should listen to it over and over and find your own best parts. My favorite moment of the whole album is just a few seconds, three-quarters of the way through "Birdland," just her screeching "I'm going up/Take me up/Up up up up up." (Three-quarters through is the best part of her songs.)
And guess what? DAVE SEGAL IS BACK, Y'ALL! He's here to do another rare edition of the best idea ever: Heard of 'Em by Dave Segal. So I have some questions for you, Dave: (1) Do you only like musicians whose average song length is more than five minutes? (2) Are you 100 percent sure Patti Smith is human? (3) Can you pleeeease drop some knowledge? Because I'm ready for PhD-level Smith.
I give this a "holy SHIT, you guys!" out of 10.
Dave Segal literally "knows everything about music." For this column, he gladly relistened to a record by an artist considered to be important by himself: The Stranger's biggest music nerd.
(1) No, Anna. I also love many songs on Wire's Pink Flag that don't even last a minute and dig the Residents' Commercial Album, which is full of 60-second joints. (2) Ninety-eight percent sure. She is definitely one of the most highly evolved androgynes ever to subvert gender stereotypes, even if she did collaborate with Springsteen that one time. (3) Like one of her heroes, Jim Morrison, Patti Smith made the id intellectual in a rock context—something very few had done up to the mid '70s. Horses proves that Smith was one of rock's ultimate enemies of malaise (even during the languid "Birdland"), an eloquent, Rimbaud-lovin' rabble-rouser. Before she entered the music biz, she was a poet and a rock critic steeped in the music's mythos, but her words were so musical that she easily slipped into the role of catalytic frontwoman. Some called Smith the "godmother of punk," but most punks couldn't touch her lyrical dexterity and depth with a 10-foot loogie. Her guitarist was Lenny Kaye, one of rock's great scholars, and the Patti Smith Band became the rare unit who transformed their nerdy record knowledge into high-IQ'd songs to fight and fuck to. Horses is a perfect storm of heroic, long-form rock, Dionysian poetry, loosely regimented jamming, and emotion in extremis (see "Break It Up," whose guitars cry gorgeous rivers). Improbably, the album boasts one of my favorite reggae songs: "Redondo Beach." In Patti Smithland, Horses rides you .