Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 255
Wed. Nov 13, 2013
“Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer(de)”
I felt the
Patti Smith’s early life as a recording artist thrived with her uncompromising nature to live in the moment of inspiration. But the way that Smith told it in her book Just Kids, it was playwright Sam Shepherd who gave her the confidence to follow her creative instincts of inspiration when she wrote:
“When we got to the part where we had to improvise an argument in a poetic language, I got cold feet. “I can’t do this,” I said. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Say anything,” he said. “You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.”
“What if I mess it up? What if I screw up the rhythm?”
“You can’t,” he said. “It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.”
In this simple exchange, Sam taught me the secret of improvisation, one that I have accessed my whole life.”
No other song captures the magic of Patti Smith living within the moment of her words and lyrics than the centerpiece and opus of her debut album Horses, “Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer(de).” Smith described her masterpiece of “Land” as “The dream, life, death, resurrection and soap opera of Johnny in the hallway.” Told through the metaphysical lyrical protagonist called Johnny, “Land” is an poetic elegy to Smith’s rock ‘n’ roll heroes, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison who all died before their time.
In Philip Shaw’s most excellent 33 1/3 tome, [Editors Note: if you don’t have Shaw’s treatise on Patti Smith’s Horses, go order it from Amazon or run to your nearest bookstore and purchase this essential book… right now] on Patti Smith’s Horses, has a magnificently illuminating passage by Tony Glover who was a witness to “Land’s” creation in studio, as Glover recounted, “Patti snuck into the booth that night, a haunted warp time of day. On the first take Patti did the singing part fine but when it came to do the poetry, Patti, went blank and just drew out occasional words, or urged the boys on, saying, “let it come down,, come down, “ or screaming “built it! build it! build it!” After the take, Patti would just overdub the vocal. She went back into the studio, and as the boys and I sprawled on the floor pillows and Cale hunched over the board, a super-strange flow came into the air.”
If I could go back in time, I would love to be a spectator in Electric Lady in New York when “Land” came to life. Just wait until you read what Glover described in Shaw’s 33 1/3 book as Tony continued his timeless true story on the recording of “Land” as he explained, “On the second take something weird happened,” Patti said later. “The Mexican boys and spaceships were gone—instead there was a black horse, and all those electrical wires and a sea—a “Sea of possibilities”—I didn’t know what direction the song was taking, there was all this strange imagery I didn’t understand.” When the take ended it was as if the whole room was holding it’s breath and they rolled the tape one more time. “…but it felt like it was The Exorcist, or somebody else was talking through my voice.” It was as if all the confidence that Shepherd inspired in Smith was fated to be unleashed at the very moment of “Land’s” lyrical creation at Electric Lady Studios. Smith life as a poet merged with her dream of being a rock and roll lyricist and she instantly became the warrior bard that we know and love today.
There are people how ask me about Patti Smith all the time, what’s the deal with Horses? Some just don’t want to take the time or just aren’t ready to dive into a work of art that becomes a reflection of themselves. I believe the best description of Horses comes from author Philip Shaw himself as he eloquently wrote in his outstanding 33 1/3 book on Patti Smith’s first album, “Horses, then, is about thinking, or it is about allowing oneself to be though, in the sense of an object of cognition. But above all, perhaps, it is about giving way to the violent impulses of the shadow self so that one may become a voyant. To do so, as Smith suggests, one must intensify the ego to the point of “me” drowns into the sea (la mer) of possibility.”
Thank you for the possibilities, Patti, for those of you who want to take the time to understand the infinite complexities of Smith’s masterpiece from Horses, press play and discover the song that inspired Michael Stipe, Morrissey, Johnny Marr and a legion of other artists, like me, to rise above all the doubting naysayers and dip our pens into the fire like stories in each of our creative destinies. Rediscover the beauty of “Land” today—and I guarantee after 9:25 you will be changed.
Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 255