“This is gonna be our century and it’ll be whatever we make it.”
It was great news for me to learn that Patti Smith has a new album coming out this month and a brand new website. She has described her music as “Three chord rock merged with the power of the word.”
The new album is callled “Trampin’:
“It is march, a good word, and a good time
to share the making of trampin’.
our terrain stretches from the american
heartland to the streets of baghdad.
our boots are well worn and the sack we toss over
our shoulder is filled with tears and grain.
we unbutton our coats, for spring
is upon us and the air is thick with promise.
let us shake the gold upon the fields
for it is march, a good time for trampin'”
I’m reminded that so much of my rock ‘n’ roll esthetic, and even my overall artisitic esthetic, grows out of Patti Smith’s first three albums – Horses, Radio Ethiopia, Easter – and early live bootlegs (if you’ve ever heard her live version of Lou Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes” or “My Generation” (now a bonus track on Horses) from the mid-70s, you’ll know what I mean) – and, to a surprising extent, her continuing works over the years.
In 1979, I had one of my ultimate musical evenings when we saw Patti Smith live in Indianapolis doing one of her shows touring after the Easter album (I still get chills thinking about that one) and then driving across town to see the Ramones live in a bar. Patti Smith also showed up at the Ramones concert. It was one of the high points of the 70s punk rock scene in Indiana (other than when my friend Emmett and I broadcast the first punk rock radio show in Indiana – a classic tale that included us almost getting kicked off the air).
The new website reminded me of that influence. The opening splash page has a William Blake etching. The site appears to change regularly, but on my first visit there was an image of a great Jackson Pollock painting, giving me a sense of familiarity and recognition.
Some of the artists I like best, Blake, Brancusi, Pollock, grew out of those early albums, as did my movement to U2 and John Coltrane in music.
On my first visit to the site, and unfortunately I couldn’t find the same page today (I believe it was replaced by a great meditation on Lincoln and Easter called the empty chair, was an image of the Declaration of Independence and a short excerpt from the beginning of the D of I. In the context, the words of the declaration are electrifying. Reading it with new eyes is something I definitely recommend.
From a 1998 concert review:
“Left knee twitching out the beat, cheeks flushed, voice agrowl, Patti Smith put on her glasses and put the juice back into words most of us take for granted–“We hold these truths to be self-evident. . .”
It was, quite possibly, the first time the Declaration of Independence had been recited accompanied by guitar feedback.
By the end of it, the audience sounded ready to follow Smith into the streets and straight to Capitol Hill. “This is gonna be our century and it’ll be whatever we make it,” Smith declared, her arms raised, and she had the music, the charisma and the rock ‘n’ roll attitude to back it up.”
I think that one of the more interesting things I’ve ever written was a college paper on William Blake’s poem “America.” It can be found as part of the longer work here. As with all of these things, the paper is probably more about Dennis in 1980 than about the text of the poem, but it always struck me that I touched on something important in that essay.
In introducing the essay, I said, “Blake sees historical events as mythological events that are accompanied by a progressive transformation of imagination and human society.” Blake said, “”I must Create a System or be enslaved by another Man’s.”
Doesn’t it come down to this:
“This is gonna be our century and it’ll be whatever we make it.”