As I said, I had no idea at the time what the words were about, except for the fact that despite its title, I was pretty sure it wasn't about Charlie Parker. What draws you in here is simply the dark, descriptive beauty of those words and Patti's brilliant delivery of them. Like I said, it's all about the cadence.
"And then the little boy's face lit up with such naked joy
That the sun burned around his lids and his eyes were like two suns,
White lids, white opals, seeing everything just a little bit too clearly
And he looked around and there was no black ship in sight,
No black funeral cars, nothing except for him the raven
And fell on his knees and looked up and cried out,
“No, daddy, don't leave me here alone,
Take me up, daddy, to the belly of your ship,
Let the ship slide open and I'll go inside of it
Where you're not human, you are not human.”
"Birdland" remains my favorite Patti Smith song to this day, and one of my all-time favorite pieces of music by just about any artist, period. But it was only several years later that I figured out what the song may have been actually about. It would seem to be about any number of things, but chief amongst them would be life, birth, death, and apparently some sort of UFO abduction. (You tell me what else all that stuff about white opals and being carried up into a ship is supposed to mean.)
Horses is an album that only years later would become truly appreciated for the masterpiece that it is. With that album, Patti Smith reset the bar for the role of women in rock, earning her eventual way into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and influencing everyone from Chrissie Hynde to P.J. Harvey along the way.
She then made three others in quick succession, before disappearing for a number of years to become a happily married woman (to punk pioneer Fred "Sonic" Smith, who later died).
The sadly underrated Radio Ethiopia features some of her most off the wall, abstract poetry including the beautifully haunting, yet profane "Pissing In A River." Easter is generally acknowledged as her commercial breakthrough, bringing her an actual hit single in the Springsteen-penned "Because The Night." The Todd Rundgren-produced Wave is regarded by many to be a disappointment, although it does contain one of her best, most often covered songs, "Dancing Barefoot." These four albums — from Horses to Wave — are still thought by most to represent her best, most seminal work.