Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 263
Mon. Dec 16, 2013
With Patti Smith writing the screenplay to her critically acclaimed and national bestseller Just Kids, there’s been industry whispers about Charlotte Gainsbourg playing the punk rock poetess on the silver screen. You can see it, just look at any recent picture of Ms. Gainsbourg and she definitely mirrors the look and the photographic intensity of a very young Patti Smith. It’s no coincidence then that Charlotte has covered the very first song Smith cut to wax, the cover of the Billy Roberts penned song that Jimi Hendrix made famous in 1967.
While “Purple Haze” is the song that most fans remember from Are You Experienced, Hendrix made his name in the UK with “Hey Joe.” According to David Stubbs and his book Jimi Hendrix: The Stories Behind The Songs, the history behind the writing of “Hey Joe” is legendary and a cinematic story itself as Stubbs wrote, “Written by Billy Roberts, who was unexpectedly stricken by his muse on a beach in Maine and scrawled down the words of the song as they came to him with his finger on the sand.” Now someone has to make a movie to cinematically document this moment in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Patti’s version dubbed “Hey Joe” a tribute to Jimi, recorded seven years after Are You Experienced was released, features a spoken word introduction which Smith honors the memory of another famous Patty[sic], Hearst who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army during the seventies when Ms. Hearst was the daughter of one of the most affluent families in America. According to Victor Bockris’ Patti Smith: The Unauthorized Biography, “Patti latched on to the Patty Hearst story, telling a friend that every time she heard Patty’s name on the radio or TV, she wasn’t sure if they were talking about Patty Hearst or Patti Smith.” Channeling the inspiration of both Hearst and Hendrix, talking about how she came to record “Hey Joe,” Smith once famously wrote, “I like the task of drawing on oneself. From one’s ancestors, one’s God, to be a human saxophone.”
Gainsbourg must have been listening to Patti’s version as a child because this year for the soundtrack to Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, the same film she stars in, Charlotte recorded a version produced by her IRM collaborator Beck Hansen. When asked by Time Magazine, why she worked with Beck again, Gainsbourg explained, “I love Beck’s way of writing. I love his language, his vocabulary, his images. It’s like being a character to be able to go into someone else’s world.” Although it was the world made famous by Jimi Hendrix and re-imagined by Patti Smith, Charlotte still felt a kind of symbiotic connection with producer Beck as she told Rolling Stone Magazine, “Beck had a way of guessing what I was thinking and feeling without me telling him. We never discussed these things explicitly.”
Although Beck and Charlotte shared a natural language of music, she still sees herself a stranger to the notion of being a recording artist when Gainsbourg explained to The Telegraph UK, “I don’t think I’m an artist. I don’t have my guts to put out. I really feel that I’m under someone else’s command, willing to be manipulated, like a piece of clay, that’s what I like. To have, sorry, les barrier? To have restraints. And to find my own space inside all those barriers.” Thanks to her musical collaborator Beck, for her cover of “Hey Joe,” the new arrangement mirrors the essence of the Experience’s backing vocals of Jimi’s version; vocally, Gainsbourg has channeled the vulnerability of the punk rock poetess that is Patti Smith, together they created this rendition that made Jimi Hendrix famous a total 21st century recreation.
More than just looking like the author of Horses and Just Kids, Charlotte Gainsbourg has shown the guts and bravery of covering the first song Patti Smith ever recorded, “Hey Joe.” Joining the ranks of these rock ‘n’ roll giants, Charlotte Gainsbourg new rendition from the Nymphomaniac soundtrack may not surpass the original or the 1974 version, at least this French artist proves with her breathy chanteuse like vocal that she should be in the conversation of such fearless musical greats as Patti Smith and Jimi Hendrix. If you’re excitedly craving some “Hey Joe,” with help from Beck Hansen, let Charlotte Gainsbourg, satisfied you’re every one of your lusty lyrical needs.