Friday, July 22, 2011

Just Kids

I was fed up with Rock. I hated the music on the radio. The 1970's had turned into a swamp of vapid commercial drivel.  Motown had become a souless commercial monster and slick Philadelphia R&B like the Delphonics and Teddy Prendergast was oozing out of the speakers like puddles of treacle. On the other hand, I liked so much jazz...I had discovered Sun Ra, Carla Bley, Pharoah Saunders, Sonny Sharrock...Mahavishnu, and Larry Coryell. I tried to play reggae on guitar. Of course there was a lot of music that might be considered rock, but was outside of the mainstream.  I was from Detroit. I played rock in a band as a teen. Detroit music was dangerous. The Stooges were still around, but The MC5 had crashed and burned. Hell, Wayne Kramer was in prison. I liked Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, John Cale, Roxy Music and then of course, Brian Eno...but for the most part, it was arid synth driven pablum that poured out of the radio. Toto didn't interest or excite me in the least. I was an art student working for a railroad in a city with no soul. I had to explode, or else!
Then I started to become aware of something called Punk. Loud, obnoxious noise. Bad attitude with three chords badly played, now to me, that was what rock was supposed to be about. I really loved The Ramones and saw them at a sleazy short lived club in Oregon, Ohio. 
I had a friend who was a DJ for the little University Radio Station and sometimes I would go and visit him when he was doing his show. One afternoon, I found a promo copy of Horses, a record by someone I had heard of, Patti Smith. Then I saw that it had been produced by John Cale. The cover had been defiled by a music "critic", who found that it wasn't at all like a Kiss record, so I just had to steal it.
When I got it home, I put it on loud. I was floored, poetry like Rimbaud, free form, three chords with bad attitude. You could smell the sweat from the vinyl...A light went off in my little brain. "I could do that". I got to see and meet Patti a few times when she played in Detroit and in Ohio. I watched a Busby Berkely Movie with her in a hotel room in Detroit...I guess I was kind of a groupie..but more like a friend. The video above is from that period, that inspired me to write this post. 1976 from the British Pop Program, The Old Grey Whistle Test. My wife told me she saw Patti in Paris on the same tour.
Three years later, I was doing that. I was living in The East Village drawing, painting, writing and playing rock music and somehow never really finding time to sleep.
I have to thank Patti Smith for giving me the inspiration to have a dream and act on it. I can't imagine what my life would be if I hadn't. 
I just finished, Just Kids, Patti's very tender book about her relationship with the artist/photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. It sort of covers her life as a child, moving to New York in the 60's and her meeting with Mapplethorpe. He took the portrait that is the cover of Horses. The book finishes with Mapplethorpe's early death from AIDS. I could not recommend reading this book more highly. It's a unique psychic portrait of a time and destiny, but more than that, belief in a dream, in the power of art, and a confirmation that believing in a dream is the biggest step to realizing it. Take my word for it.

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