This week I do not bring you philosophical musings on the transcendence of blues music. I do not bring incisive commentary on the current social and political issues. I bring no answers to the Jekyll/Hyde dichotomy of the 2015 Braves/Barves, nor do I bring a clever emoji string based on the NBA free agency free-for-all earlier this week.
I bring you simply a couple. A musical couple. Not Sonny and Cher. Not Carly Simon and James Taylor. Not Captain and Tennille nor Jack and Diane. I bring you Patti and Tom.
Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith were linked romantically for a while, and have been linked musically off and on for decades. Tom went from angst-ridden rebellious youth to angst-ridden guitarist and front man for the influential rock group Television. Patti went from punk poet laureate to punk rock singer and recorded one of the most important albums in rock history. Television’s classic 1977 debut Marquee Moon clocks in at #130 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the top 500 albums of all time. Patti Smith’s seminal 1975 album Horses deservedly lands at an impressive #44 on said list.
Television was arbitrarily dubbed as “punk”, which is a little misleading. Like their contemporaries Elvis Costello and Talking Heads, they got the “punk” label because nobody knew what the hell else to call them. You be the judge: check out this video of Television performing “Foxhole”, or this rendition of the title track from Marquee Moon.
As for Smith, not only was the punk label appropriate, it validates the fact that Smith single-handedly created and defined the female punk persona. Joan Jett and Debbie Harry look like choir girls next to Smith.
In addition to being a groundbreaking original, Smith is also an excellent cover artist. No doubt you have heard her cover of Springsteen’s “Because the Night”. Smith is one of very few female artists who can convincingly emulate Bob Dylan. On this respectfully restrained cover of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, our friend Tom Verlaine appears as bassist.
Any discussion of all-time great cover versions eventually leads to Hendrix’ rendition of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and Patti Smith’s cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria”. Without altering the basic structure of the song, Smith transforms it into a smoldering primal testimony of frenetic, androgynous passion. As the opening track on Horses, “Gloria” wipes the slate clean and sets the stage not only for the rest of the album, but for every female rocker–punk or otherwise—to follow. Tonight’s featured video is an absolutely stunning performance of “Gloria” in 1979, when Smith was at the very peak of her power as a live performer. I won’t even bother you by mentioning time stamps—almost every second of this video deserves a stamp.