May 25, 2013

"Sorry about the smell of cat piss. That's why we have to cover everything in plastic."

Says Patti Smith, leading the Guardian interviewer through her house, which "looks as if it's been squatted by a class of particularly manky art students" and is "dark and dingy and stinks of cat."

Excerpt from the interview, 3 reasons why she gave up music performance and recording in the late 70s:

In 1977, she fell off the stage, fractured her back in four places and broke her skull (she needed 42 stitches in her head). She was never as mobile again. Then she fell in love with Fred "Sonic" Smith and married him. Finally, she says, she found fame too corrosive. "I didn't have time to read, I wasn't studying, wasn't writing. I was basically promoting, going to radio stations, performing, battling bronchitis because there was so much smoke in venues. I thought, I see a lot of potential fame and fortune, but I don't see a lot of human evolution. Nothing will stifle your human evolution more than fame and fortune." How? "It doesn't do a whole lot for making you a better person. I found myself being more demanding, or spoilt." Was she horrible? She balks at the suggestion. "No, just impatient, agitated. The main thing was I didn't think I was producing anything of extraordinary worth."

As Smith talks, I notice she's eating a tub of something. It seems to have appeared out of nowhere. What is that, I ask. "Wakame. Basically seaweed and sesame oil." My stomach's rumbling. I could murder that cup of tea.
ADDED:
Would she like a new Mr Patti Smith? She looks shocked. "I would never have a Mr Patti Smith. To me, I'm happy to have the man as king. I would never consider a man in that position."

Now it's my turn to be shocked. After all, this is Patti Smith, rocker extraordinaire and feminist icon. "I wouldn't care if he was a gardener or plumber or physicist, he wouldn't be in second place in our household." She'd happily be subservient? "I don't mind. I have no problem with a man being in first place. I know who I am. If a man would need to be in first place, what of it?"
AND: I looked up "manky" in the (unlinkable) OED:
Brit. colloq. Bad, inferior, defective; dirty, disgusting, unpleasant.

In quot. 1939 mankey is a play on monkey (cf. monkey nut n.), and may not have any admixture of this sense.

[1939 J. Joyce Finnegans Wake 337 Your hahititahiti licks the mankey nuts!]
1958 F. Norman Bang to Rights iii. 124 He would have to have all his teeth out as it seems that they were all mankey.
1971 B. W. Aldiss Soldier Erect 121 Have you chucked out that dirty manky beer you poisoned me with last time I came?
1973 A. Garner Red Shift 14 That's your manky palate, lad. The dressing and the wine have to balance.
1983 J. Kelman Not not while Giro 163 Away you ya manky swine ye, cried Sammy.
1988 Coarse Fishing Handbk. June–July 48/3 In addition to one really manky dead rabbit, we also netted over 2000 small roach.
1993 Daily Tel. 4 May 14/8 We could have been back in the Seventies—the unfashionably flowing locks, the manky T-shirts, the tight trousers.

76 comments:

Palladian said...

Really difficult to top Horses, one of the most important rock albums in my life as an artist.

Palladian said...

I even did a portrait of Horses.

Palladian said...

Someone needs to get rid of those damned cats for Patti. Toxoplasmosis is dangerous.

Robert Cook said...

HORSES is one of three albums that actually scared me when I first put the needle to the vinyl: the first was Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention's WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH; the second was HORSES; and the third was Pere Ubu's debut album THE MODERN DANCE.

I HATED the Zappa and Pere Ubu albums, but was drawn back to them inexplicably, each time listening to a bit more of each album--as I always had to remove them from the turntable when I could endure no more--always finding them disturbing or annoying or otherwise off-putting...until I found I loved them. HORSES overall was not so off-putting, being more familiar garage-rock fare, (it was Smith's gutteral voice and opening lines of "Gloria" that shocked me: "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine." Not that I was ever hugely religious and have been an atheist for more than half my life, but at the time and at my age--20--it really did scare me.)

I saw Patti Smith in concert in 1978, and it was one of the most glorious shows I've seen, in my top 5 ever. I love her first four albums, but have never returned to her on her return to recording and performing.

I still love that Zappa album, oddly, as I find nearly all of the rest of his ouevre overrated, smug, unfunny and boring, and I think Ubu's THE MODERN DANCE is one of the great masterpieces of not just the punk/post-punk era and "genre," but of all rock music. Most of the rest of their output is also good to great. They stand as one of the giant, if unappreciated, bands of their day.

Robert Cook said...

Nice painting after the cover of HORSES!

Aridog said...

For some reason, my favorite Patti Smith song was her cover of "Gloria." Then again..."Gloria" in its many versions is a favorite of mine, don't know why. Top among them is the Doors version on the album "Alive she Cried."

I may be a sick puppy music wise.

R.B. Glennie said...

um, sorry, Patti Smith released an album in 1988 - with `People Have the Power', and has put out several releases in the twenty-first century.

She's hardly `given up performing in the late 1970s.'

I had to double check unless this was a different Patti Smith being profiled...

R.B. Glennie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Palladian said...

She's hardly `given up performing in the late 1970s.'

Yeah, that seemed strange to me too. I saw her perform at Toad's Place in New Haven in 2000.

R.B. Glennie said...

Perhaps it is to say, `She's not as popular as she was in the late 1970s', but that's not really true either, as `People Have the Power' was popular (at least in my corner of the world).

Maybe the writer was talking about Britain only, I don't know.

Palladian said...

Nice painting after the cover of HORSES!

Thanks, Cook!

Oddly enough, as I read your comment about listening to Horses and Zappa, I was listening to Zappa's Burnt Weeny Sandwich. Zappa was also very important to my intellectual development, as I found my uncle's copies of We're Only In It For The Money and Absolutely Free in my grandparent's basement when I was about 11. It was exposure to those albums, along with my concurrent discovery of his cache of dozens of Mad Magazines from the 60s and early 70s that helped me to develop critical thinking at an early age, and a great appreciation for satire.

edutcher said...

Who?

Ann Althouse said...


"um, sorry, Patti Smith released an album in 1988 - with `People Have the Power', and has put out several releases in the twenty-first century."

She was famously out of the picture for a long time.

From the article: "Smith has always been a great live performer – frothing, raging and caressing by turns, and utterly fearless on stage. By 1978, she was heading towards mainstream stardom: Because The Night reached the top five in the UK and her Easter album the top 20. Then she gave it all up. Why?"

But, yes, she's done some comebacks, but you are missing the point.

And don't begin comments with "um." That's really bad form.

Ann Althouse said...

"Yeah, that seemed strange to me too. I saw her perform at Toad's Place in New Haven in 2000."

Again, the significant period was late 70s, and she withdrew in a way that was interesting.

pm317 said...

That was interesting reading about her. I am listening to Horses -- I like it a lot. I wonder why my rock n roll radio station does not play her -- may be they do and I didn't know.

R.B. Glennie said...

"And don't begin comments with "um." That's really bad form."

Really?

Blogger comments, while conveyed in text, have the immediacy of the oral.

Hence, a verbal expression at the top of my comments.

As for `mainstream' or not, I really don't give a rat's tooth about it.

Is that bad form too?

(`People Have the Power' is pretty damn mainstream, I should think, but perhaps that was only in Canada...)

Astro said...

With all the odor-absorbing cat box fillers available these days, and for that matter automatic cat-box cleaners that will scoop the box for you, there is no reason why an apartment should smell of cat piss. There's some kind of 'hoarder' mentality at work that lets the situation get that bad.

Astro said...

Ummmm - I think AA means that should be capital Um. (heh)

El Pollo Raylan said...

I saw her last concert with her original band. It was in Florence. I wrote about it twice: link

Charlie said...

My band opened for her at a Democracy Now event in 2002. She was awful, as was the event.

El Pollo Raylan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
somefeller said...

Great artist, charming person. Those two things don't always go together, but in Patti Smith's case, they do.

somefeller said...

Actually, that last comment implies most great artists aren't charming. From my admittedly limited experience, some are and some aren't, like anyone else. But Smith is both.

tiger said...

What a sad almost shallow person.

As for her being the 'queen of the punks'? Nope.

Michael McNeil said...

Re the availability of cat litter-box cleaners and filters, and therefore supposedly “there is no reason why an apartment should smell of cat piss.” Unfortunately whatever is going on at the litter box doesn't matter if you have a male cat which sprays more generally. That can be a pretty miserable situation unless something is done about it — like getting rid of the cat.

tiger said...

Prof. Althouse said:
'Again, the significant period was late 70s, and she withdrew in a way that was interesting.'

Interesting? Really?

She got married and quit her job just like millions of other women have done - nothing interesting in that.

wyo sis said...

Almost shallow?

Astro said...

@ MM
Good point there.

If she's got plastic up to protect the furniture, though, she could still use Resolve or Fantastic or some other cleaner on the plastic.

Neuter the cat (it helps); hire a maid; burn some scented candles.
Hire a maid to burn the cat with scented candles.

Lem said...

...but you are missing the point.

Madonna took time off to have children.

And my point is not to artistically compare Patty Smith and Madonna.

MCD said...

I'm not a cat person, but I've been a Patti Smith fan since I discovered Horses. Loved Gloria. She is who she is, and you don't have to agree with everything she has said or done to respect her integrity. The music industry, and our celebrity culture generally, don't seem to know what to do with artists like her. Our loss.

jr565 said...

From the article:
Mapplethorpe shaped much of Smith's life. He was her muse, she was his. They lived together in squalid conditions, in rooms that smelled of piss – often there would be no toilet, so they kept plastic cups handy.


She becomes famous and still can't escape the smell of piss.

Jonathan Card said...

I do find this interesting. I didn't know about her until I took some kind of Gender and Pop Music class in college. It was very hard to get into, mostly because it was the kind of BS that people took to get easy credits from the music school. We had to review an album every week, I think it was, and it had to be "women in pop". We had to listen to Horses, and it was great (still have it), and Madonna was everything good and pure, but when I couldn't listen to Heart because it wasn't a "women's" group (the Wilson sisters had 3 men with them), but Patti Smith was (who had 4 men with her, I think), I gave up and left the class. I was never going to get a good grade. And the teacher hassled me about waiting until the late admission period was over so someone on the waiting list could get in. I did that much good in this world, at least.

Part of me wants to send this article, and the bit about Mr. Patti Smith, to the Lecturer. That's probably too petty.

Martin said...

Patti Smith - Piss Factory

Ann Althouse said...

Piss Factory is the B-Side of the single about Patty Hearst, which I bought the day it came out.

Strelnikov said...

Do you know how to pony?

R.B. Glennie said...

'Again, the significant period was late 70s, and she withdrew in a way that was interesting.'

I wasn't sure what she meant here... she withdrew, and that was interesting? Or, she withdrew, and that is what is interesting?

Bad form here I think.

But as I said, I don't think she `withdrew' at all.

Luther said...

"Piss Factory is the B-Side of the single about Patty Hearst, which I bought the day it came out."

Aren't you cool.

Emil Blatz said...

One and done.

Browndog said...

Cats....ruin everything!

Aside: I'm kinda surprised how much respect Patti is getting here.

Makes me smile.

phx said...

I was always more Lou Reed than Patti Smith. I'm not dissing Patti at all though.

Robert Cook said...

"But as I said, I don't think she `withdrew' at all."

Given that she stopped making records, stopped performing, and moved to Detroit to raise two children with her husband Fred Smith (of the MC5), and she didn't return to public life or performing or recording until her kids were mainly grown and her husband died prematurely--a period of about 16 years or so--she did withdraw.

Robert Cook said...

"I was always more Lou Reed than Patti Smith. I'm not dissing Patti at all though."

I've never understood the undue regard for Lou Reed. He's written a handful of decent songs, but in the context of his long career, they seem rare gold amid much dross.

And his voice!

The only Reed album I own is METAL MACHINE MUSIC, which has the unique virtue of being the only Lou Reed album on which he does not sing.

Lydia said...

I think it was moving back to NYC that caused the cat piss thing.

Looks like living in St. Clair Shores outside Detroit cleaned her up a bit.

MCD said...

Geez. Enough of the cat piss discussion. Many here are familiar with Ms. Smith's music, history, art interests and politics. Can we limit the olfactory to people who have experienced her home personally?

Browndog said...

Looks like living in St. Clair Shores outside Detroit cleaned her up a bit.

Seriously?

A "friend" just moved there a couple years ago, and never heard that-

It's a small town..

Palladian said...

I've never understood the undue regard for Lou Reed. He's written a handful of decent songs, but in the context of his long career, they seem rare gold amid much dross.

I'm with you 100% on this one. Plus, Lou is a total asshole. I'll never understand what his amazing wife sees in him.

Lydia said...

Browndog -- Sorry, don't follow. You mean she never lived there, or that she didn't clean up a bit?

betamax3000 said...

Barry Manilow Robot says:

"Yesterday's a dream
I face the morning
Crying on a breeze
The pain is calling
Oh Manky
Well, you came and you gave without taking
But I sent you away oh, Manky
Well, you kissed me and stopped me from shaking
And I need you today Oh, Manky
You came and you gave without taking
But I sent you away oh, Manky"

Nini said...

R B Glennie said: `People Have the Power' is pretty damn mainstream, I should think, but perhaps that was only in Canada...)

Tiger said: As for her being the 'queen of the punks'? Nope.


I'm listening now to "People have the Power and Horses", and I agree she's no queen of punk. I find her songs boring. Sometimes a musician becomes a "queen" from the power of hype.

Browndog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
phx said...

I'm with you 100% on this one. Plus, Lou is a total asshole. I'll never understand what his amazing wife sees in him.

Wow, you guys will argue hard with me about anything.

phx said...

Patti's competent though. She's to Lou probably what Bruce is to Dylan. She's good. She's okay.

Browndog said...

Patti Smith is the "queen" of punk.

The science is clear, there is no debate.

phx said...

You read Friends you can't help be charmed. She's really sweet.

phx said...

Yes she belongs more to American punk. New wave. I know. She's a poet.

Browndog said...

More than a poet-a musician.

Defied conventional melodies, which became known as punk.

phx said...

Well I was being a tad snarky about her to mess around with Cook and Palladian.

I don't really have anything other than respect for her body of work. But it's true I'm more a Lou Reed guy.

Robert Cook said...

The Dictators nailed Lou Reed way back in 1975 on their debut album THE DICTATORS GO GIRL CRAZY where they sing "I'm just a clown walking down the street; I think Lou Reed is a creep!"

R.B. Glennie said...

"Given that she stopped making records, stopped performing, and moved to Detroit" for "a period of about 16 years or so".

I'm sorry, I hate to be picky about this.

There is no `16 year gap' that I'm seeing anywhere.

She released an album in 1979, another which was popular enough, in 1988, and then several over the next 25 plus years.

Perhaps its the `moving to Detroit' thing, which you and prof Althouse are fixated upon?

btw, perhaps the reason you don't like Lou Reed is precisely because you've only heard `Metal Machine Music'...?

phx said...

The Dictators nailed Lou Reed way back in 1975

Of course the Dictators accomplishments in the field will always be remembered.

jr565 said...

In regards to Lou Reed, I actually enjoy him on the Velvet Underground a lot. on his solo career he is ok to terrible. The problem is, he doesn't know what to,do,with his songs. He redid some of his VU songs as a solo artist and every one of them sucked balls. meaning, I think it was the accompanying musicians that made the VU great, and not necessarily Lou himself.
In limited doses I think his voice is great. If he's doing the hipster swagger thing on say I'm Waiting for my Man then it works. But that's all he can really do. He can't actually sing well.
So, to sum up, The Velvet Underground is a great band. As a solo artist Lou needs an arranger or producer to achieve decency. When he teamed up with David Bowie for example, he put out a decent album. Because Bowie knows how to make pop,records. When left to his own devices, he's one note.

jr565 said...

And Doug Yule gets crap for being a boytoy who didn't really understand Lou's songs. But if singing needed to be done, he was far better at it than Lou Reed.
I once had a discussion with someone about the Velvet Underground when I first he'd them, and they said "Lou can't sing". And I said, he doesn't sing much now, but on some of the Velvet Underground songs he sings more and Is not bad at it.

What I didn't realize is that most of those singing parts that I was referencing (who love's the sun, candy says) are actually Doug Yule.

jr565 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
El Pollo Raylan said...

I'm sorry, I hate to be picky about this.

There is no `16 year gap' that I'm seeing anywhere.


Patti's latter and intermittent work is deemed of lesser importance than her earlier work, perhaps because it wasn't associated with St. Robert, but rather by pedestrian straight romance. See the difference?

As an aside (but related)--there are people out there who still don't take a certain era of Bob Dylan's career seriously because it doesn't comport with their overall vision of the artist. I think those people are missing something and makes me suspect their selective opinions & pontifications on other matters. People should recognize the whole of something--not just the parts which fit.

Ann Althouse said...

"She got married and quit her job just like millions of other women have done - nothing interesting in that."

No, that's one reason why it was interesting.

bikerbob said...

Lou Reeds compatriot John Cale put out much more interesting work. And some very bad work. But always trying to do something different.

The_Dread_Pirate_Roberts said...

I began college in Manhattan in the Fall of 1973. New York was a mess and a JD's playground. Pomp rock was the rage and a lot of us were alienated.

Listening to Beefheart and Zappa in HS prepared the way for the next. Zappa used the compositional toolbox while Beefheart invented new tweaks and jinks. Bowie and his Space Oddity persona were glam and weirdness.

Somewhere late in '74 or early '75 I first heard about CBGB's. Alphabet City was incredibly lowdown but there was a Ukrainian club/restaurant we went to. CBGB's was the next logical extension.

You could stand 3' from Tina Weymouth or Patti Smith or Tom Verlaine and the place just rocked with the most basic garage sounds, but with massive potential as these artists grew.The Mudd Club was the other venue. Blondie was there and The Ramones and Handsome Dick Manitoba and a freaky David Sylvain.

And then uptown with my tagger friends, rap was just happening. It was very disconcerting at times being one of the only white kids in the house.

As I reflect now, just when things were worst in the outside world we had something to hold onto.

Most of us have moved on, as Patti has. It was a time of experimentation and neat little tags didn't fit.

jr565 said...

Here's the Wiki article about Patti describing her semi retirement and her Reemergence.

1980–1995: Marriage

Before the release of Wave (1979), Smith, now separated from long-time partner Allen Lanier, met Fred "Sonic" Smith, former guitar player for Detroit rock band MC5 and his own Sonic's Rendezvous Band, who adored poetry as much as she did. (Wave's "Dancing Barefoot" and "Frederick" were both dedicated to him.)[23] The running joke at the time was that she married Fred only because she would not have to change her name.[24] They had a son, Jackson (b. 1982) who would go on to marry The White Stripes drummer, Meg White in 2009;[25] and a daughter, Jesse (b. 1987). Through most of the 1980s Patti Smith was in semi-retirement from music, living with her family north of Detroit in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. In June 1988, she released the album Dream of Life, which included the song "People Have the Power". Fred Smith died on November 4, 1994, of a heart attack. Shortly afterward, Patti faced the unexpected death of her brother Todd[8] and original keyboard player Richard Sohl. When her son Jackson turned 14, Smith decided to move back to New York. After the impact of these deaths, her friends Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Allen Ginsberg (whom she had known since her early years in New York) urged her to go back out on the road. She toured briefly with Bob Dylan in December 1995 (chronicled in a book of photographs by Stipe).[14]

1996–2003: Re-emergence In 1996, Smith worked with her long-time colleagues to record Gone Again, featuring "About a Boy", a tribute to Kurt Cobain. That same year she collaborated with Stipe on "E-Bow the Letter", a song on R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which she has also performed live with the band.[26] After release of Gone Again, Patti Smith had recorded two new albums: Peace and Noise in 1997 (with the single "1959", about the invasion of Tibet) and Gung Ho in 2000 (with songs about Ho Chi Minh and Smith's late father). Songs "1959" and "Glitter in Their Eyes" were nominated for Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.[27] A box set of her work up to that time, The Patti Smith Masters, came out in 1996, and 2002 saw the release of Land (1975–2002), a two-CD compilation that includes a memorable cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry". Smith's solo art exhibition Strange Messenger was hosted at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh on September 28, 2002.[28]



So, yeah. She basically retired from 1979 - 1988, and then only intermittently put out records or appeared on records since then.

Robert Cook said...

"btw, perhaps the reason you don't like Lou Reed is precisely because you've only heard `Metal Machine Music'...?"

Oh, no...I've heard plenty of Lou Reed. I like METAL MACHINE MUSIC.

Robert Cook said...

"Of course the Dictators accomplishments in the field will always be remembered."

By those of discernment, yes.

Issob Morocco said...

Ahh, that would be heroin addiction as the reason why.

mr_oni said...

Oddly enough, as I read your comment about listening to Horses and Zappa, I was listening to Zappa's Burnt Weeny Sandwich.

Oddly enough, I was pissing in a cup.

Issob Morocco said...

Robert Cook how about Non-Alignment Pact by Pere Ubu that is at least decent.

Methadras said...

Meh, she was a drech back then too.

Robert Cook said...

"Robert Cook how about Non-Alignment Pact by Pere Ubu that is at least decent."

"Non-Alignment Pact" is terrific! The whole album THE MODERN DANCE is brilliant, one of the greatest from that era. Ubu's entire early oeuvre towers over the work of most of their contemporaries, and even their later body of work is, if not as mind-blowingly great, worth hearing.

El Pollo Raylan said...

The girls won't touch me
'Cause I've got a misdirection
Living at night isn't helping my complexion
The signs all saying it's a social infection
A little bit of fun's never been an insurrection

Mamma threw me out till I get some pants that fit
She just won't approve of my strange kind of wit
I get so excited, always gotta lose
Man that send me off
Let them take the cure

Don't need a cure
Need a final solution

Buy me a ticket to a sonic reduction
Guitars gonna sound like a nuclear destruction
Seems I'm a victim of natural selection
Meet me on the other side, another direction

Don't need a cure
Need a final solution


Final Solution, Pere Ubu (1976)