Monday Feature: Michaela Kahn on Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg

Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!

 

I came to Patti Smith pretty late … I didn’t get “Horses” or “Easter” until after I graduated High School. As soon as I heard them, though, I was hooked. There was a rawness, energy, an edge of danger in her voice and music which appealed to me. Her songs were poetry and rock ‘n roll at the same time. They tasted like night and felt like a desert horizon.

In September 1997, Smith’s “Peace and Noise” came out – which I got sometime that fall, along with the then newly published “Allen Ginsberg Selected Poems 1947-1995”. Ginsberg had died only about 5 months before, and I was in the process of applying to the writing program he had founded in 1974 with Anne Waldman at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado.

I had read Ginsberg’s “Howl” before, but never owned a copy of the poem. There’s something about being able to go back again and again to a poem, especially one as long and complicated as “Howl.”  The poem, which before I had dismissed before for some reason, knocked me over. I was amazed to discover that in “Peace and Noise” Patti Smith had taken Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl” and used it as a spoken-word song under the title “Spell.”

I listened to it over and over. And over. Her gritty voice, the low whir of bass strings in the background, the guitar line like a ticking clock, the surprising sax squeal, and the relentless repetition of holy, holy, holy, holy …

 

Something about the past week has brought that song, and the poem, to mind. Sometimes I need a reminder, not only that “The world is holy. The soul is holy. The skin is holy.” But also  that “Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets” and “holy the angel in Moloch.” Holy, holy, holy, holy. Everything is holy. Everybody’s holy.

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Here is a link to Patti’s Smith’s “Spell”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0hRSCzUcio&list=RDv0hRSCzUcio#t=0