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Mar 6

Written by: Diana West
Thursday, March 06, 2008 10:59 AM 

This reverential review of Patti Smith singing American standards by the NYT's Stephen Holden caught my eye. It begins:

For some musicians the ordinary rules just don't apply. I would call the intangible quality that makes ignoring them possible [sic] purity of soul. More than artistic integrity, it has a mystical component and requires the listener to make a leap of faith.

In other words, the concert, which closed out Lincoln Center's American Songbook series, must have sounded bloody awful.

I read on, transfixed by the thought of (Holden's words) "the shamanistic poet, proto-punk rocker and voice in the wilderness"--again, must have sounded bloody awful--singing popular standards in her "quavering, ragged-but-stalwart voice" that  "suggested the spiritual call to committment of a rock 'n' roll Joan of Arc...."

Oh, spare us.

The point here is that Patti Smith serves as a symbol of the musical (word loosely used) revolution that completely overturned, junked and burned the Great American Songbook as compiled by bona fide American musicial geniuses incuding Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren, Jimmy van Heusen, Johnny Burke, Dorothy Fields, Dietz and Schwartz, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Green and others.

Now 61, the lady has the gall to sing "Star Dust,"  "My Funny Valentine" and "I'll Be Seeing You"--albeit with "the fervent rock intensity she imparted to several of her best-known songs."

Having missed her heyday, I wondered what these songs were. At Wikipedia, I found out about her first single "Hey Joe/Piss Factory," (financed by Robert Mapplethorpe). 

The A-side was a version of the rock standard with the addition of a spoken word piece about fugitive heiress Patty Heart ("Patty Hearst, you're standing there in front of the Symbionese Liberation Army flag with your legs spread, I was wondering were you gettin' it every night from a black revolutionary man and his women...")

That was enough.

Funny to find such a person now singing the songbook. By coincidence, I recently heard Smith interviewed as a guest host or something on an opera broadcast, declaring her love of opera. This is  all very nice and everything, but I always  wonder about these rock 'n' rollers who long ago brought the house down--Rod Stewart is another one who comes to mind--and now, without a word of comprehension or regret, want to take their place under the charred rafters. 

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