Saturday, August 23, 2008

Leftism for Punks (plus Chinese Democracy)

patti-smith.jpg + axl-rose.jpg = cobain-closeup.jpg

I talked about Ralph Nader in yesterday’s entry, and that reminds me that I actually went to a Nader speech at Princeton three years ago — because proto-punk singer Patti Smith was opening for him. If that’s not a reminder that (a) alternative rock, obviously, leans left and (b) not everyone in the audience shares the performers’ political views, I don’t what is.

The swell and (fittingly) dreamlike documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life, which I saw last weekend, showed a split-second glimpse of a Nader/Smith poster and lengthier footage of her reading the Declaration of Independence but climaxing it with a list of reasons Bush should be impeached.

I don’t think I’ll be converting Patti Smith to any form of conservatism — not even libertarianism, since it centers on property rights, and an article in the New York Daily News, about a book surveying some odd moments in rock history, mentions that she was apparently a shoplifter back when she worked at a New York bookstore in the hippie days (another reminder the hippies were evil, lest we forget).


The article also notes that Kurt Cobain’s animosity toward Axl Rose prevented a Nirvana-Metallica-Guns N’ Roses combo tour from happening, which makes me very sad because I’m pretty sure I saw a show at RFK stadium on what would have been that tour — but instead of Nirvana, it featured Faith No More, which is hardly the same thing. That show also left me slightly sick from an oddly grey stadium hotdog and taught me that when you aren’t enthusiastic about one of the opening acts (Metallica), encores that push the band’s stage time to three hours are no cause for celebration.

(With me at that concert were future professors Christine Caldwell and Chris Nugent, the latter of whom thereby made up for missing a Guns N’ Roses concert I saw a few months earlier at Madison Square Garden that combined four of Chris’s favorite things at the time, as if the cruel fates were mocking him: G N’ R, opening act Soundgarden [CORRECTION: See Responses below], the Godfather theme song [performed solo by Slash, which was beautiful], and footage of Winona Ryder, up on the big overhead screen to distract the crowd during downtime.)

On a more positive Guns N’ Roses note, there’s once more been talk of finally releasing the fourteen-mentally-ill-years-in-the-making album Chinese Democracy. Would, though, that it had come out in time for the undemocratic Beijing Olympics.


Four positive thoughts (among many) about the Patti Smith documentary, lest I make it sound like all I noticed was the politics (Note to Scott and Dave: you’ve read this part already):

(1) Smith’s son, about ten years ago or so, looked and sounded so much like her (when he was about twelve) that it was hilarious: same spindly body, exactly the same face, same demeanor and downbeat/weird outlook on life, same hair, same haircut, same outfit. It was like they just shrunk her.

(2) Smith’s parents looked like utterly normal middle-class rural New Jersey residents with beer bellies, a dog, and a nice little run of the mill house — and she gets along just fine with them despite dad saying he lost hearing in one ear from going to her shows.

(3) Since CBGB’s was for poets as well as rockers back in the day, William S. Burroughs was apparently central to its milieu, which I have to admit I hadn’t realized, and she was close to him (being more poet than rocker in some ways herself — if only we could put her lyrics to Patty Smyth’s melodies!).

So in both Burroughs and Michael Moorcock (who wrote a fictionalized, official account of the Sex Pistols back in the day — which will be the June 2009 Book Selection on this blog, for those planning ahead), we have actual punk/proto-cyberpunk overlaps.

And the Burroughs/Smith connection means I need to learn more about the beatniks one of these days, I suppose. Or I can just drink and wander lonely streets, perhaps.

(4) In one funny bit of the documentary, Sam Shepard was trying to teach her “You Are My Sunshine” on the guitar, and she was having a pretty hard time with what seemed (to my untrained eye) relatively simple parts, and in the midst of this quiet, serious, black-and-white, arty-seeming film moment, Shepard asked (quietly and with humor but also with some genuine frustration, it seemed), “How many records have you made?”


Christopher said...

For the record, I was never a Soundgarden fan. Don’t know where that belief came from.

Winona 4 Ever!

Todd Seavey said...

Oh! So sorry. I think we may all just have enthused about their song “Big Dumb Sex,” and since (I at least would argue) they kept getting better and more sophisticated after that (which may not be hard), I wrongly thought I recalled you being onboard.

For my part, I will add I also really, really liked Chris Cornell’s solo album with “Flutter Girl” and “Can’t Change Me” — the latter one of the most can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head-once-it’s-there songs of the past couple decades. Forgive me if I was projecting a bit in my recollections.

They went from being sometimes gratingly headbanging in the early days to near-Zep-worthy by the end, and I have rarely been so disappointed to see a band break up in its prime (the Police come to mind — not to mention the more unplanned end of Nirvana and the sad suspended animation of G N’ R).

David said...

You could put me down as a conflicted Soundgarden fan. I liked them least when they tried to be Led Zeppelin, and most when they sounded like semiotics students playing commentary on Led Zeppelin. See “Rusty Cage” and “Loud Love.”