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

“THE MAPPLETHORPE PHOTO SYNTHESIZES MY PASSIONS AND WORLD-VIEW”

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.