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Amos Lee
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Julius Curcio
"American Pie"
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Spotlights [Issue # 8 ]
Patti Smith: A Good Time For Trampin'

By Peter Vouras


I was driving with a friend of mine recently when the 10,000 Maniacs’ version of “Because The Night” came on the radio. He turned to me and said, “Boy, Natalie Merchant is such a great songwriter.” I felt like pulling the car over, slapping him, and letting him out right there; but instead, I just shook my head in disgust. I informed him that Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen wrote that song and that Smith had a hit with it off her incredible album, Easter, in 1978. He said, “Patti who?” Needless to say, he had to hitch a ride home.

In rock journalist Nick Tosches’ book, The Nick Tosches Reader, he writes about the time Creem Magazine wanted an article written about her. He called her up and she said, “Hell Nick, you know me. Just make it up.” And he did. That’s Patti Smith. It seems a shame that she is not more popular than she is, but in some perverted sense, I think she likes it that way. This 57-year-old punk priestess pioneer’s latest release, Trampin’, is only her ninth album in 30 years and her first with her new label, Columbia. Smith fittingly signed with her new label on the 148th anniversary of the birth of poet Arthur Rimbaud, a longtime inspirational source for her music and lyrics. Smith’s lyrics have always been her forte, delivered in a mixture of spoken word and music. Over the years, Smith had drawn inspiration from various musicians and poets adding more recently William Blake and Marian Anderson to her list. She writes on her web site, “Almost all the songs I record are collaborations but occasionally I write a little song myself. I hear the melody in my head and sit on the floor with my acoustic guitar. After a bit of struggle I work it out and bring it to my band. I have worked on this song for a while reading a lot of William Blake as well as the wonderful Blake biography by Peter Ackroyd. His life was a testament of faith over strife. He suffered poverty, humiliation and misunderstanding yet he continued to do his work and maintained a lifelong belief in his vision. He has served as a good example in facing my own difficulties and feeling a certain satisfaction in doing so.”

On “In My Blakean Year,” she sings, “Boots that tread from track to track. Worn down to the sole. One road is paved in gold. One road is just a road. In my Blakean year, temptation but a hiss. Just a shallow spear. Robed in cowardice.”

On the other end of the spectrum is the title track, “Trampin’,” in which Smith pays homage to and sings an old spiritual that was a staple of American contralto, Marian Anderson, famous for being the first black artist to sing publicly on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. The song also features the debut of her daughter Jesse on piano.

The most stirring track is “Radio Baghdad,” a 12 minute Doors-like rant about the injustices she perceives in the cradle of civilization.

Patti Smith, well into her fourth decade of recording music, continues to create provocative material worth listening to.


Trampin'
Columbia

A Good Time For Trampin' Patti Smith Trampin'


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