The InsiderOne Daily Report
Tuesday, January 2, 2000
That Photo Of Patti Smith
InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: The Winter 2000 issue of England's Tate magazine has reached U.S. shores. Its cover features the mesmerizing 1975 photo of Patti Smith by the late Robert Mapplethorpe, the one she used for her debut album, Horses. It's an amazing photograph, visually representing the alternately beautiful, hard, dreamy, revelatory, dark and scary songs on Horses. In the simple, stark black-and-white image, Smith wears black slacks and a white cotton blouse; the ends of the sleeves are fraying slightly. Her hands and fingers are pale and delicate. One hand holds the black sport coat (a pin in the shape of a horse on one lapel) draped over her left shoulder; the other lightly, casually touches a pair of suspender straps. She wears a small watch on her right wrist; a simple band (silver? gold?) on her middle left finger. It's almost a man's outfit; the contrast between Smith and her clothes highlights her elegant, graceful beauty. Her halo of black, henna-dyed hair frames a defiant yet sensitive face she looks young, very young. This is a person, you think, who will stare down anything in her path, who will not let fear or doubt stop her for even a fraction of a second. In this picture, Patti Smith looks every bit the smart, proud art/poet punk-rocker that she was in 1975. A sea of possibilities still stretches before her as she stares at the camera, at Mapplethorpe, at all the people who will see this photograph. She'd already recorded two masterpieces, the independently-released single with her genius song-poem "Piss Factory," and Horses, which immediately shot her to the stratospheric ranks of her heroes, Bob Dylan and Keith Richards. It would take two more albums and a hit song, "Because the Night" (co-written with Bruce Springsteen), before Smith became a popular rock star who could sell out arenas. But it was Horses that convinced rock critics and fans (those who hadn't had the chance to see Smith live with guitarist Lenny Kaye, or the Patti Smith Group) that she was the real deal. I saw Smith perform a number of times when she came to the West Coast in 1975; seeing her live then was a little like seeing Sleater-Kinney live today. Like Corin Tucker, Smith transcended the stage she was on. She was so intense, almost like sex. She was there, before us, and yet somewhere else as well, tapped into the other a conduit for energy charging through her to those lucky enough to bear witness. In a photo taken a quarter century ago, now appearing on the cover of a British art magazine, it's all there.
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Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.