|I Dreamed I Saw Patti Smith ...|
I dreamed I saw Patti Smith last night. I sat her down, and made her a cup of tea. I told her I really had tried to get close to her, and that I often tried to listen to her records. And yet, I explained, they still sound daft to me. I acknowledged lots of people I love would cheerfully die for her. I knew, I said, all about the historical context, and I knew the reference points and the people she mixed with. I held my hands up, and said I know, I know, I know. And yet, I insisted, your songs are daft and I won't even mention the state of the guys that played on your records.
It was a funny old dream, and Patti did not seem to enjoy being in it. It probably didn't help that I still had the recent edition of Time Out by the side of my bed with the Deborah Harry cover. There was some sort of friction there wasn't there? And I guess it was a mistake to point to the new Runaways reissues, and say the Queens of Noise were much more where it 's at than all her pretentious bullying.
Well, come on, it's true, the Runaways are great. They may have been a Kim Fowley fantasy, but they turned out to be a bunch of talented tough cookies. The Runaways sound may have been a trashy glam racket, but occasionally one needs a bit of back-to-basics fun, whether it be the Cramps, the Rich Kids, or whatever.
The Runaways were like a girl gang, like in Joyce Carol Oates' very great Foxfire , running with the wild ones as in Alice Hoffman's Property Of . And this particular girl gang just happened to come up with some of the best teenage anthems ever. Songs like 'Cherry Bomb', 'Queens of Noise', and 'Schooldays' still sound fantastic.
Perhaps the Runaways are better known now as Joan Jett's finishing school (and Lawrence was right to sing about the very, the very great Joan Jett), and we all love her 'I Love Rock'n'Roll' deep down don't we? So that was a cover of the Arrows' lost glam nugget, which was so appropriate because the Runaways at their best were the missing link between punk rock, Suzi Quatro, Sweet, and the Glitter Band. And anyway Suzi was in the Pleasure Seekers once who recorded the awesome '60s punk drinking anthem 'What A Way To Die'.
Now if Kim Fowley had have had his wits about him, he would have got Patti Smith in to front the Runaways. That could have been a combination to kill for. But, alas, all we can do is snigger at Patti's poetry not saying what it should, and admit that the sensitive singer songwriters we used to hear on Radio Two's afternoon delight said more with words, melodies, and emotions than Patti, and more than we were allowed to admit. So here's a toast to Carole King, Helen Reddy and Maria Mulduar and co. Just please allow me to continue to harbour an irrational hatred of Joni Mitchell.
This is a serious point. I really do have this thing at the moment about sensitive singer songwriters, looking like Diane Keaton or someone in some old Woody Allen movie, with an unflattering perm and big specs and a fair isle pullover and a big pile of books. Or a big scarf, and a baker's boy cap.
I blame it on Terry Hall, believe it or not. He was on the radio recently, playing some of his favourite songs. He played Dory Previn's 'Lady With The Braid', and it stopped me in my tracks. Terry admitted to an absolute obsession with Dory, and I got out my laptop and got on to Amazon to see what they had Dory-wise. I got Mythical Kings and Iguanas , Reflections in A Mud Puddle , Marry C Brown and the Hollywood Sign , and On My Way To Where . Terry was right. Dory made some astonishing records, and they are filled with words and words and words. Very clever words, very unsettling words, very striking words, very vulnerable words, very scathing words.
And the history books are filled with words and words and words about the great songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, Neil Young. And the history books are not filled with words on Dory Previn. Which is odd because Dory's 'Lady With The Braid' is a better song than anything any of those guys ever wrote. And to think it is thanks to Terry Hall's odd obsession that we now know the truth.
So if Dory turns out to be one of the greats, it stands to reason that others from that circle of so-called solipsist sisters might just be right up there on the top shelf too. With that in mind, I treated myself to a couple of titles from Cooking Vinyl's Janis Ian reissue programme. And came up trumps of sorts. Janis' is an interesting story in itself. She was a child folk star, who struggled to come to terms with the vagaries of fame. Her re-emergence as a mid-'70s adult artist was with the remarkable Stars , one of the most naked and harrowing treatises on fame and the need to perform. It has to be heard. It goes, in part, like this : "Some women have a body men will want to see. So they put it on display. Some people play a fine guitar. I could listen to them play all day. Some ladies really move across a stage and gee they sure can dance. I guess I could learn how if I gave it half a chance. But I always feel so funny when my body tries to soar and I always seem to worry about missing the next chord. I guess there isn't anything to put out on display except the tunes, and whatever else I say."
Her next LP, the Between The Lines set, too, contains a very, very beautiful song called 'Watercolours', which will make you melt, and cry for all the right reasons. And yet I come back to that enduring myth of maudlin minstrels who (with apologies to the artist we now know as the very great Cave-man) murder ballads. Oh the very people Patti was meant to save us all from. But she can't hold a candle to Dory and Janis, let alone Laura and Bobbie. Yeah, well, I didn't care way back then because I was too busy punching the air along with the Runaways.
© 2003 John Carney