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Patti Smith – Trampin’

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Lots of people bought their first Patti Smith record back in 1978. Easter was hard to ignore. It had the hit song (“Because The Night”), the provocative cover photo, and a collection of majestic and scary rock & roll (maybe not as scary and majestic as the brilliant John Cale-produced Horses, but still every bit as good as the rock rags suggested.)

So now, all these years later, rock’s punk poet laureate comes out with Trampin’. It’s one brazen slap in the face. What’s immediately noticeable is the sound. The contrast with today’s super-compressed & hermetically sealed bombast could not be more stark. Trampin’ was constructed with all the important parts of the rock food pyramid: guitar, bass, drums, organ. All of ’em unadorned and ready to apply full torque.

“Jubilee” grinds and stomps out of the gate, declaring the need to celebrate life and liberty (and all that that entails.) There’s a short ‘rest period’ with the passionate ode to mothers and motherhood (“Mother Rose”) before the snarling “Kick Out The Jams”-style riff of “Stride Of The Mind”. Who sez gettin’ old has to be boring?!

The scary dirge of “Cartwheels” (think “Venus In Furs” updated) bumps up to two (so far) the count of songs-about-family…and manages to disprove the notion that rockers who have a family must get all mini-van on us. The lyrics (written for Patti’s daughter Jesse Paris Smith) are tender and hopeful, but welded to some ominous sonics.

Ah, but what would a Patti Smith record be without a ‘message’ or two? In truth, much of the album is political…but I suspect that listeners will perceive it as didactic (or not) depending on their particular leanings. In any event, the searching “Gandhi” and the epic “Radio Baghdad” are intense and thought-provoking.

The title track closes the album: a simple piano and voice arrangement of the old spiritual featuring daughter Jesse at the keys. An amazing and inspiring end to a record that pulls no punches while tossing emotions at will: joy, sadness, rage, love and anger. Mix these things together, distill ’em down and you almost come up with the essence of what it means to care about the world…no matter what side you’re on.

(First posted on Mark Is Cranky)

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About Mark Saleski

  • Vern Halen

    PSG was one of my absolutely fave bands of the late 79’s era, along with all the other NYC/CBGB’s crew. I lost track of her during her retirement. When she returned I faithfully bought the new releases, but somehow her music doesn’t appeal to me like it once did. I don’t know if her lay off had anything to do with it – maybe I would’ve grown apart with her music anyway. Having said that, you gotta admire that she still has a desire to pursue her art, whatvever it is and wherever it leads to – that’s more than a lot of artists with successful comeback careers can say.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I have said it here before, but anyone in need of reaffirmation that rock can be a cathartic, joyous racket need only attend a performance by Patti. She is the rock star, as anyone who’s seen her will tell you.

    I’ve always thought it unfair to Patti that she was lumped in with the punks she used to play with in the old days.
    Real punks were trying to tear down rock. Patti was covering “Gloria” and Jimi and Dylan and even “Land of Thousand Dances,” and doing the hard work of making these songs her own, while real punks, if they even bothered, would have sneered their way through them.
    Listen to Wave. It’s mixed like a pop record of the time, with glossy keyboards. Real punks didn’t feature glossy keyboards.

    Patti’s always been a real, old-fashioned rock star, intent on gilding the legacies of Elvis, Lennon, Dylan, Springsteen, Morrison, et al. She’s always been MUCH more Jim Morrison than Johnny Rotten. Go see her play and you’ll understand in a second what I mean.

    Mark’s right about this one sounding great. It’s not up to the standard of Gone Again, to my ears, but it’s another strong one, with muscular tunes and great, passionate singing and lyrics. “My Blakean Year” is particularly prime Patti.

  • Vern Halen

    Well, it’s unfair to all those groups of the time to be lumped in with each other, whether they be “Punk” or “New Wave.” Musically, i thnk they were all quite diverse – yet they all seemed to feed off each others’ energy. For instance, Patti cowrote songs with Blue Oyster Cult, Tom Verlaine played on the first PSG album, etc. I thought Patti had her own thing going, just like many of them did. here was no one else to lump them in with.

    I just read a book called “Please Kill Me: the Oral History of Punk” or something like that. Now I’m going to have to re-read Bokris’ bio of Patti. Like I said, some overlap, but was her devotion to the same rock god of Elvis, Lennon & Springsteen lost to the public’s eye by being in the same temple at the same time as Dee Dee Ramone?

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    “Please Kill Me” is a great book.

    also highly recommended: Our Band Could Be Your Life

  • ClubhouseCancer

    The last two comments are correct, I think.

    Lumping IS bad, Vern, and these bands WERE unique and discrete. I think one thing that separated Patti from them is her veneration of heroes of the past, be they Little Richard or William Burroughs or Rimbaud. Doesn’t seem very punk to me.

    Discussion topic:
    So, what DID Heads, Ramones, Television, Blondie et al share besides a favorite dank rat-breeding cage on Bowery?

  • ClubhouseCancer

    The three books mentioned are all excellent; Please Kill Me is impossible to put down of you care about this stuff.

  • Vern Halen

    What did they share?

    Inspired amateurism vs. technical professionalism.

    I’m really of a mind that in rock music, as many other art forms, your strengths are your weaknesses and your weaknesses are your strengths. When bands are still relatively primitive, they have a distinct & definitive voice that grows our of their unique chemistry. As they get more technically proficient, they tend to approach a point where they either sound similar to others groups or else they’re in a formulaic rut of their own making.

    I think at a time in rock when everyone was watching the technical professionals, the long solos and progressive chord changes, these other bands came up with the opposite approach, and proved that it was equally as valid.

    Now, as for inspired professionals – few and far between. When you find any of those, you’ve got to sit up and pay attention. Maybe Jeff Buckley, for example, would fit that category. Maybe Patti, too, and a handful of others. The best andthe brightest, and often too far ahead of the pack to be overly successful.

    And let’s not forget technical amateurs. Self explanatory – go home & get some guitar lessons.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    I think one thing that separated Patti from them is her veneration of heroes of the past, be they Little Richard or William Burroughs or Rimbaud. Doesn’t seem very punk to me.

    this is/was one of the interesting things about punk. at first, punk was all about doing your own thing and busting up the big,slick rock establishment conservatism.

    not too long after that, punk developed its own brand of conservatism by leaning towards conformity.

    i still think of Patti as punk because she does her own thing….has always done her own thing.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I think that definition is way too broad and simplistic. Lots of people “do their own thing,” whatever that means. Rick Wakeman and Peter Gabriel “did their own thing,” in 1977, too.

    Vern, I think your analysis gets kinda close to it, although of course it’s never that simple. There are too many outliers — Verlaine and Lloyd weren’t amatuers at all. And Dee Dee and the Pistols weren’t technically proficient at all. All of them came up with stuff we call punk.

    Maybe it don’t mean nothin, and that just happened to be a place and time where there were a lot of great rock bands.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    There was an excellent interview of Patti Smith in Rollingstone this month. Happened across it in the Avantgo download on my PDA. I don’t have the URL at hand, but there is good search engine on the site.

  • godoggo

    One thing that tends to be forgotten is that “punk” and “new wave” were once pretty much synonomous. I think the cleavage came about when the English turned the former into a uniform (only to turn around and start playing more diverse stuff that got called “post punk,” and so it goes).