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Dear Patti Smith,
I understand it’s been a big month for you: anniversary performances of Horses, your debut album – 40 years old – and a new book too, a memoir.
A big month makes a good month to go our separate ways, I think. At least as far as the live shows are concerned. The records, your writing – the younger you on the front of Horses, staring out, defiant – they all occupy a separate space.
“Don’t confuse the writer with their writing,” somebody once told me, although they might have substituted, “the artist with their artwork,” or the “singer with their songs”. Rookie errors all.
Arriving at the Roundhouse, I should have read the signs. Some guy was holding court in the bar beforehand. There in 1976, he was. There in that exact spot. Saw your first gig with the Stranglers in support. “Man, you should have been there.” Perhaps he never left.
Sometimes you’ve got to leave. And we’ve had some wonderful moments, you and I. Like the impromptu gig outside a packed Fitzrovia art gallery, when fire chiefs called time on the Mapplethorpe exhibition. In the middle of central London, singing acapella beneath the stars – throwing us all out onto the street was the best thing they could have done.
Then there was the Hyde Park gig at the start of one summer. The night was light, the air warm. I’d just quit a job I hated and couldn’t have been happier.
Another summer, another rendition of Horses, this time along the Southbank with the Thames churning in accompaniment and me clapping so hard I bent my favourite ring.
There’ve been others. We’ve had a glorious run.
Flashback to an earlier time: I hadn’t been long in London. It was somebody’s birthday and a group of us headed to Ronnie Scott’s (a terrible idea for a party venue, but we were young and London was new, what did we know?). We got drunk and made rowdy. Got told to leave. I remember being irate. Twenty years later and I’m totally with the jazz buffs: just shut your mouths and listen. Such a shame I never took to jazz.
The Roundhouse isn’t Ronnie Scott’s. The Roundhouse isn’t even the Roundhouse when royalty’s in town.
This time the stalls were filled with monkey chatter, the kind best saved for down the pub.
And phone wielding photo-snappers making posts for Facebook kudos.
The obligatory “I love you”, shouted from somewhere in the crowd every time the music dipped.
And flailing drunks with ruined rhythm, doused liberally in lavender oil. (Me asking: who wears lavender now, insomniacs aside?)
I couldn’t help noticing Bianca Jagger tweeting her hurrahs from somewhere in the roped-off section. And the noughties pop star Instagramming her aftershow pass.
Starfuckery isn’t to my particular taste.
And playing to the gallery was not to yours, I didn’t think. But what do I know? The writer is not her writing, nor the singer her songs. And the legend isn’t her acolytes, although some exchanges blur the two.
Julian Assange, a “prophet”? Tell that to the Swedish legal system. (Even Bianca wouldn’t go that far, and I assume your prize piece of puffery was meant just for her.)
We all get casual with our hyperbole sometimes. Anniversaries can do that to you.
So can adulation.
(“I LOVE YOU, PATTI.”)
But then there was Sid Vicious. How about dropping him from your long roll-call of music’s glorious dead? The also absent Nancy Spungen must warrant that courtesy, if nothing else.
But back to us, to you, with your Horses set ending where the Horses set began, with its Gloria outro. Redemptive. Super-charged. Anthemic.
“Jesus died for somebody’s sins,” you say. Well, let’s hope so. In the meantime, when it comes to live shows, I’m planning to give the jazz another go.