Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 253
Mon. Nov 11, 2013
“Birdland (Live in Los Angeles)”
In her inspirational biography Just Kids, Patti Smith wrote, “Robert [Mapplethorpe] would often use [the word magic] to describe us, about a successful poem or drawing, and ultimately in choosing a photograph on a contact sheet. “That’s the one with the magic,” he would say.” Magic is the perfect word to describes Patti’s “Birdland,” the song she crafted for 1975’s seminal album Horses. Inspired by Peter Reich’s memoir of his father, a counter culture psychoanalyst, Patti’s inspirational improvisational rock and roll tome has brought some peace to my own relationship with my old man. “Birdland” reflects a journey from a son’s perspective trying to connect with his distantly invisible father. More than just another rock song, Patti’s song keeps growing timelessly vibrant and one spin inside this prevalent 2001 version of “Birdland” reflects Smith’s own self-proclaimed, lyrical ‘telegram to a new breed’ of artists and dreamers.
Patti Smith once said, “In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth?” The ironic thing is that “Birdland” defines that statement completely. This Horses cut is delivered with such dramatic and dream like abandoned but is also Birdland’s images are reflected in a stealthy soaring way and balance exquisitely well within the rhythmic canvas of cacophony and beauty brought to life by her “boys” the backing band of Lenny Kaye, Richard Sohl, Ivan Kral and Jay Daugherty and producer John Cale.
Smith told The Observer in 2005 that it was Cale who gave her the space and confidence in the studio to bring out the improvisational and lyrical greatness of “Birdland” on Horses when Patti explained, “My greatest experience, as performer, on Horses’ – if only by getting her so wound up she needed catharsis. The song was inspired by The Book of Dreams, the childhood memoir of Peter Reich, son of radical psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. ‘There’s a section in it where Peter describes a birthday party not long after his father died. He wandered outside and became convinced his father was coming down to get him and take him off in a spaceship.’ But what he thought was a squadron of UFOs revealed itself to be a flock of blackbirds. ‘This story haunted me, and when we recorded “Birdland”, which was totally improvised, that’s where the track went to.’ Starting with the young Reich hallucinating his father at the controls of the flying saucer, there’s a motif running through the song: ‘You are not human’ turns to ‘I am not human’ and then ‘we are not human’. Smith says ‘that’s really talking about myself. From very early on in my childhood – four, five years old – I felt alien to the human race. I felt very comfortable with thinking I was from another planet, because I felt disconnected – I was very tall and skinny, and I didn’t look like anybody else, I didn’t even look like any member of my family.”
I can totally relate to Patti and her song “Birdland” because my father is a prominent psychiatrist and, because of my free-spirited artistic intentions, I historically have had a complicated relationship with my family. They have recently warmed to my poetic voice, but it has taken time, many years of questioning whether I myself was from another family, planet because how different I felt from my brothers and the rest of my family. I guess the only thing that made me different was that I never kept in how I felt. I let my emotions speak louder on the page.
In his 33 1/3 tome on Patti Smith’s Horses, author Philip Shaw expanded on the link between Reich and “Birdland” as he wrote, “When, in 1973, Reich’s son Peter published a memoir of his father, A Book of Dreams, the time was ripe for critical reappraisal of his work. For Patti Smith, however, the efficacy of Reich’s psychological and scientific research paled before the emotionally compelling account between father and son.”
This is why Patti’s “Birdland” reflects and connects so vividly with me. A son trying desperately to reconnect with his absent minded old school father. In many regards, “Birdland” is the story of my own relationship with my dad, who’s living but still distant, geographically and emotionally. It’s thawing and I feel like we’re slowly making new ground, at times it feels like I’m taking one step ahead for being too forward and he dives back into his traditional manly shell of taking twenty-two steps back. I like to think we have a respectful understanding. My Mami tells me, he know boasts to his colleagues about his “son—the poet.” He rarely shares that or any kind of praise with me, because I feel like he doesn’t want me to get complacent. I wish he knew that I inherited my dedicated work ethic from his hard working ways. I know the better I become the more the respect will come from all circles in and out of my family. But part of me has given up trying to please him or anyone and now I’m concentrating on my work and strengthening my own writing voice. With each line I pen, the reflection on my page gives my life more significance and that means more to me than anything else in this world.
Patti Smith once said, “Good news doesn’t necessarily have to be a positive thing. Bringing good news is imparting hope to one’s fellow man.” Hope is all I feel, soaring higher every time I spin “Birdland” from Disc 2 of Land (1975-2002). Recorded live in Los Angeles, this rendition of “Birdland” sounds even more alive, vibrant and connects with Patti’s deeper voiced aged perfectly like the finest lyrical wine. Why is this so rare? Why is it when some rockers get older and try to sing their older songs, these artists seem outdated? But Patti and her songs grow timeless by the year. When Patti sings “Birdland” it’s as if the lyrics are torn from pages she wrote and improvised right before coming to the stage.
When asked by NPR which song best illustrated her mission on Horses, Smith responded, “I think “Birdland” because – for various reasons.”Birdland” was an improvisation – built on an improvisation. It very, it so much exemplifies the communication of my band, especially between Richard, Lenny and I. And it speaks of this new breed, you know, the new generations who will be dreaming in animation, you know, the new generations that will race across the fields no longer presidents but prophets. That was my – it was like my telegram to the new breed.”
Are you ready to receive Patti Smith’s timeless lyrical telegram that is this 2001 live version of “Birdland?” The New York Times Magazine described this Book of Dreams inspired song as, “Patti’s “Birdland” lyrics phosphoresce with a dark glow never before found in any kind of rock” Embrace the beautiful darkened glow while opening your ears and let your imagination flow inside the arms with this classic Horses cut; why fight it? One spin of “Birdland” and Patti Smith’s improvisational wings will definitely set you artists and dreams free tonight.
click on this link to experience:
Patti Smith – “Birdland (Live in Los Angeles 2001 from Land (1975-2002)”