Camille Paglia on the Iconic Cover of Patti Smith’s Horses | Literary Hub

Source: Camille Paglia on the Iconic Cover of Patti Smith’s Horses | Literary Hub


In 1975, Arista Records released Horses, the first rock album by New York bohemian poet Patti Smith. The stark cover photo, taken by someone named Robert Mapplethorpe, was devastatingly original. It was the most electrifying image I had ever seen of a woman of my generation. Now, two decades later, I think that it ranks in art history among a half-dozen supreme images of modern woman since the French Revolution.

I was then teaching at my first job in Vermont and turning my Yale doctoral dissertation, Sexual Personae, into a book. The Horses album cover immediately went up on my living-room wall, as if it were a holy icon. Mapplethorpe’s portrait of Patti Smith symbolized for me not only women’s new liberation but the fusion of high art and popular culture that I was searching for in my own work.

From its rebirth in the late 1960s, the organized women’s movement had been overwhelmingly hostile to rock music, which it called sexist. Patti Smith’s sudden national debut galvanized me with the hope (later proved futile) that hard rock, the revolutionary voice of the counterculture, would also be endorsed by feminism.

Smith herself emerged not from the women’s movement but from the artistic avant-garde as well as the decadent sexual underground, into which her friend and lover Mapplethorpe would plunge ever more deeply after their breakup.

Unlike many feminists, the bisexual Smith did not base her rebellion on a wholesale rejection of men. As an artist, she paid due homage to major male progenitors; she wasn’t interested in neglected foremothers or a second-rate female canon. In Mapplethorpe’s half-transvestite picture, she invokes her primary influences, from Charles Baudelaire and Frank Sinatra to Bob Dylan and Keith Richards, the tormented genius of the Rolling Stones who was her idol and mine.

Before Patti Smith, women in rock had presented themselves in conventional formulas of folk singer, blues shouter, or motorcycle chick. As this photo shows, Smith’s persona was brand new. She was the first to claim both vision and authority, in the dangerously Dionysian style of another poet, Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors. Furthermore, in the competitive field of album-cover design inaugurated in 1964 with Meet the Beatles(the musicians’ dramatically shaded faces are recalled here), no female rocker had ever dominated an image in this aggressive, uncompromising way.

The Mapplethorpe photo synthesizes my passions and world-view. Shot in steely high contrast against an icy white wall, it unites austere European art films with the glamorous, ever-maligned high-fashion magazines. Rumpled, tattered, unkempt, hirsute, Smith defies the rules of femininity. Soulful, haggard and emaciated yet raffish, swaggering and seductive, she is mad saint, ephebe, dandy and troubadour, a complex woman alone and outward bound for culture war.

My European Interail Diary Part 2 Wednesday 8th April

Okay, I’m on a train again this time on the way to Madrid. This is the first of my proper trips using the interail pass and it went quite smoothly. The only problem I had was getting out of my hotel. There was no-one in the reception at 8.30 and the whole place was like Fort Knox. It was as hard to get out of as it was to get in what with three different gates to open with three different keys. I was going to leave the money with a note but then realised I couldn’t get out without the key so I couldn’t do that. Nightmare! Eventually, I banged on a door next to the reception and a bleary eyed man staggered out who couldn’t speak a word of English. He tried to overcharge me but eventually I paid the right amount. I tried to explain about the door situation which you couldn’t open without the key but I’m not sure he understood me. He seemed to think I could just push the door open. So going down four floors I tried to follow his instructions and of course it didn’t work just like I thought it wouldn’t. Fortunately, someone with a key came by and let me out so I didn’t have to go back up the four flights of stairs. When it comes to hotels you probably get what you pay for, and I didn’t  pay very much!

Blues Jam Night at the Harlem Jazz Club, Barcelona. Fantastic night every Tuesday!

Barcelona is great. I stayed two nights instead of one. Last night I went to a really good live music venue called the Harlem Jazz Club. It was blues jam night. The band were brilliant and I bought one of their CDs. I also did two numbers with them on piano and voice. I must have done okay because if they don’t like you you only get to do one number. It wasn’t really like a jam that I usually go to but the place was full and it was a really good night of music. The standard of the musicians was awesome.

Chino and the boys. Brilliant band!!
Chino and the Big Beat. Brilliant band!!

During the day I got a travel pass and went round looking at the sights. The old city and Gothic Quarter are lovely but there is a lot of Barcelona that is quite boring and unremarkable. I love the Ramblas though and I went to possibly the best market ever. It’s amazing because in the past I must have visited this area more than five times but it was like I was seeing it for the first time. I never even knew there was a big market there. I suppose it’s the difference between travelling with others and travelling alone. Going solo can be lonely at times but at least you get to do and see what you want. It’s possible to be more spontaneous .They had fruit from everywhere in the world and it was lovely and fresh. I definitely had more than my five a day yesterday.

Fantastic market off the Ramblas, Barcelona

I’ve just stopped at Zaragoza. Will be in Madrid in about an hour.

Infinity Blue a poem/song by Kenny Wilson!

This is a poem/song I wrote in 2005. It was inspired by the name and the view of a restaurant on the island of Skiathos in Greece. I was trying to connect with the space between consciousness and sleep, that space when thoughts drift without any idea of rationality, when words just connect with each other and everything makes sense! I composed a backing that I recently rediscovered and will record it again!


The first time that I saw you
I was dressed in black.
The last time that I saw you
You said you won’t be back.

Oh Infinity Blue

There were times
When I thought I could be with you
To be a real lover
And always be true.

Oh Infinity Blue

The angels came down once
And they spoke to me.
They gave me a message
That would set me free.

Oh Infinity Blue

The sun it was setting
It set in the east.
And somewhere inside me
It unleashed the beast.

Oh Infinity Blue

I walked through the centre line
Of what’s right and wrong.
And I tried to find freedom
In the words of a song!

Oh Infinity Blue

The words they controlled me
They forced me to stand.
When I was lost at sea
They showed me the land.

Oh Infinity Blue

And as I was waiting
For wisdom to come.
The words came and showed me
The warmth of the Sun.

Oh Infinity Blue

Between what is lost
And what cannot be
The words are like diamonds,
The words set you free.

Oh Infinity Blue

I was looking for mercy
I was looking for love
The words they came to me
Like a snowy white dove.

Oh Infinity Blue

I looked in your eyes
And I found mystery
And love, peace and mercy
Was our destiny!

Oh Infinity Blue


Music Review: Bob Dylan’s “Tempest”

Graffiti ad for Bob Dylan’s Tempest. Is this the first time this has been done?

The other day I came across a review of this album on the Guardian web site. Written by Alex Macpherson it is almost totally negative. There is a link to it here:

Bob Dylan’s song about the Titanic makes you wish you’d been on board

The article shows an almost appalling lack of knowledge of one of the most important artists of the 20th Century, but compounds that with a total lack of understanding of what Dylan is saying and how he is saying it. Possibly Macpherson is deliberately being provocative but it is hardly an excuse for such ignorance and stupidity.

No, in my opinion having only heard it a few times, I think it is one of the best albums Dylan has ever made. Sure, his voice is a rasp but it is a supremely expressive and musical rasp. Macpherson implies that the lyrics look better on paper than when they’re sung. I think he can’t be listening to the same album as me because I would say the reverse. In fact, I think the lyrics are amongst the best he’s ever written but they still work best as songs.

At the moment I wouldn’t like to say exactly what many of the songs do mean but they are supremely evocative and conjure up a doom laden scenario with elements of self doubt and black humour. Like the best of Dylan the meanings change and shift with each hearing. At least two of the songs Scarlet Town and Tin Angel draw on traditional folk songs for their inspiration. I absolutely love Scarlet Town which takes the song Barbara Allen and turns it into an almost apocalyptic film scenario but still uses some lyrics from the original song. In some ways it is like an update of Desolation Row. The music and accompaniment to this are superbly atmospheric. Tin Angel uses the song Black Jack Davey and creates a twisted tale of jealousy and deceit that is almost cinematic in quality, again with a brilliant repetitive accompaniment.

I think it’s time the Dylan Can’t Sing Brigade pulled there head out of the sand and stopped complaining. Dylan is possible the most unique performer of the past sixty years who single-handedly changed what a pop song can be about! His position is unassailable and his new album is a towering achievement.

Reflections and Recollections

Have been back a week now and have decided to write about my feelings about visiting New York.

The reason I went was to fulfil a long ambition to visit a place that figured large in my imagination and was a place where many things happened that were an influence on me. In my mind at times it was a place I should have been. But I never went and, in fact, never visited America until now. Why was that? Well, chiefly it was financial. I simply couldn’t afford it. But I am sure I could have found a way if I had really wanted to. Money never stopped me from doing other things I wanted to do. I think the main reason was fear of disillusionment. That it would not live up to my idea of what it was. That all the things that I found attractive were not there any more or that I would not find it or fit in to it. And also fear of leaving my comfort zone and what I was familiar with. In many ways all these fears applied to me on my recent trip, it was just money that was no longer a problem!

I spoke to a friend last week who was enthusiatic, perhaps too enthusiastic, about my recent trip. He said I was living the dream. He’s the second person who has said that. He was raving about how I had done what Bob Dylan did and how I was an inspiration to him. I know this is quite a compliment but it is not really true. When Bob Dylan went to New York he was young, poor and ambitious. I was old and relatively well off and not ambitious in the same way. I wasn’t seeking fame and fortune, it was more an act of redemption! At the same time I think I probably felt some of the things that Bob felt. It is a scary thing to go to a big city where you don’t know anyone and you have no idea what is going to happen.  On the other hand, we were both driven, in our own way, to do this. I’m very glad I did. The experience has been better than my most optimistic scenario. I met lots of nice, interesting people and felt I achieved something special doing the rounds of open mics and jam sessions. In fact, I felt accepted in a way I never expected to.

Another more recent influence was reading Patti Smith’s book “Just Kids”. I thoroughly recommend this book. In it she chronicles how she went to New York in a similar spirit to Bob Dylan. She slept rough and on subway trains and eventually had great success as a poet and singer. Inspirational. I can particularly relate to her description of visiting Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. I’ve done the same thing. You’ve got to step out of yourself to find yourself.

The New York scene is not the same as it was in the 60s or 70s. The same focus is not there. But, I think, that is the same everywhere (as far as I know). Music has become far more diverse and there is not the same audience for live music as there was. On the other hand, interest and desire to play and write music is possibly even higher than it was. New York is full of great musicians and song writers and other acts. There is a vibrant poetry and spoken word community. In fact, you can find more than one place to perform any day of the week. On top of that busking is accepted in parks and subway stations. The general standard is pretty high! There is also a strong community feel amongst performers, they are supportive and interested in each other. From my first open mic spot onwards I was invited to many events and was even offered a job in a band as a lead guitarist! I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

There are many places to play. Bars and cafes offer one hour slots through the night. There tends to be no official pay but a bucket is passed round at the end of the set. Where there’s a decent crowd people tend to be generous and it is possible to make a reasonable amount of money. People are also more inclined to buy CDs than here. I took thirty and came back with none. Should have taken more!

My favourite place was Penny’s Open Mic on St. Mark’s Place. There was an amazing variety of acts and they were all incredibly good (well, nearly all). I’d go back to New York just to go there! But there are lots of others. Path Cafe is good and that is where I made most of my contacts. It was also, conveniently, just round the corner from where I was staying. The spoken word event on 116 MacDougal Street is worth going to. I was the only musician but they liked my song so much they videoed me and put it on their web site. They were very encouraging and the poetry was brilliant. Paddy Reilly’s and National Underground were good for jam sessions and I also made lots of contacts there. By the end of my time in New York I felt like a part of the local scene which like everywhere, considering the size of the city, is really quite small.

One of the good things about New York is the public transport. For $29 you can buy an unlimited ticket that you can use on any bus or subway train. This can take you to any part of the city including Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx, and they run all night. The Staten Island ferry is free! No excuses not to go anywhere. There are many places and things I didn’t see but I had such a good time I’m sure I’ll be back.