To celeberate the 40th anniversary of the release of Horses, Patti Smith is planning to perform all of the landmark album that kick-started the punk rock movement at the Primavera Sound Festival.
“Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” It’s one of the best introductory lines in all of rock ‘n’ roll, and maybe in the entire history of artistic expression. With these succinct words, Patti Smith displays the defiance, intelligence and poesy that have set her apart from her contemporaries and imitators, and all within the first 20 seconds of Horses.
For all intents and purposes, the album marks the beginning of punk rock in earnest, coming out a mere three months before the Ramones blasted out their half hour-long premiere. To be sure, Smith’s take on the punk scene that was coalescing around New York City clubs is far more cerebral than anything the Ramones ever could have authored.
But the album pulsates with the unbridled heartbeat of defiant punk–in Lenny Kaye’s protean guitar rock and the rattling, nervy drums of Jay Dee Daugherty and the rumbling, unfiltered bass melodies of Ivan Kral. Richard Sohl even brings in some of punk’s biggest influences with his keyboard lines–touching on everything from “Like a Rolling Stone” to “96 Tears” with his pristine, simplistic lines.
In a way, the keys sum up the album: Smith realizes the dream that Bob Dylan authored on Highway 61 Revisited, shouting her raw and ecstatic poetry over the top of a band that never wants to stop playing songs like “Gloria” and “Land of a Thousand Dances.” And for this brief moment in music history, at least, our concept of geography bent enough that the Pacific Northwest garage and the Soho art gallery were one-and-the-same.
What sets Horses apart from its contemporaries, however, is Smith’s reluctance to stay in any one place for long. Instead of just whaling on three chords, Smith re-appropriates the past freely into her epic structures–displaying equal doses of reckless abandon and religious respect for her influences. “Gloria” is no longer the song that any bar band could butcher and still sound halfway decent on; it’s a religious sacrament that only the most sacred are allowed to approach without looking like blasphemers.
Smith takes this revelation, however, as little more than a springboard for her to incorporate anything and everything else. She throws down reggae with “Redondo Beach” and bouncy pop on “Kimberley” (the album’s two upbeat sounding tracks) without compromising her poetic edge. The Tom Verlaine co-write “Break It Up” is an epic torch song with spidery guitar lines creeping all over its flesh.
But how do you begin to summarize the unrushed jazz of “Elegie?” How can you not be haunted by the avant-garde ghosts of “Birdland?” You can’t. But one fact is clear: if you have a heart and a mind, they are both transformed after hearing Horses.
When it first hit record players 40 years ago, it kick started a thousand personal revolutions for luminaries like Siouxsie Sioux, Michael Stipe, Morrissey and Johnny Marr. In the ensuing years, it’s kick started a thousand more, never loosing the unbridled passion that shoots through listeners like electricity.
And according to Rolling Stone, Smith is planning on celebrating this momentous anniversary. Or, as she explains:
“I think we continue to deliver all of these songs sometimes stronger than when I was young. So I’m going to be happy to celebrate it, to perform the album with happiness, not with any kind of cynicism or a cashing-in thing. It will be a true, proud celebration, so the answer is yes.”
Fortunately for all involved, this includes original musicians Kaye and Daugherty as well as bassist Tony Shanahan, who has supported Smith since she returned to the stage in the 90s. Given the group’s CBGB roots, it’s no surprise that she’s hoping to play in New York November 10th, which will mark the 40th anniversary of the record.
Of course, the big announcement for Spanish music fans (and fans of international festivals alike) is that Patti and co. will be performing all of Horses at the Primavera Sound Festival.
Punk rock’s poet laureate has been busy with other projects in anticipation of her celebratory tour. For instance, she let a huge fan of hers (i.e. Michael Stipe of R.E.M) open for her this past December, which was his first live performance since his old band broke up. She also participated in a live performance of the music from the Cohen Brother’s movie Inside Llewyn Davis on January 13th.
This year, Smith is nominated for an Oscar for her collaboration with San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet, “Mercy Is,” which appears in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. She also performed during a screening of the movie as a way to commemorate the first song she’s ever contributed to a film.