Rock'n'roll poetry's high priestess still has the fire

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Finger On The Trigger

Patti Smith

SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE, LONDON

Monday August 11, 2003

It all starts so politely, you could never guess the raw shock that’s coming. When Patti Smith saunters on like a collision between the 17th century and 1976, urchin-shabby in an ill-fitting frock coat, it’s a comforting sight?like we’re with a welcome friend from the old days, an ex-rabble rouser, too sophisticated now to start any more fires.

The first thing that strikes you, in fact, is how much the 56-year-old Smith is a child of the ’50s, bowing to an older bohemian church than any other punk-era performer. “We are all children of Jackson Pollock,” she reads from her folder of poems, before taking patricidal credit for putting the oil-spill on the road that sent Pollock’s car into its fatal spin, an iconic moment lost to history that still burns for her. She also speaks the words of William Blake and what sounds like the Book of Common Prayer, and remains the only rock’n’roller who can legitimately read poems, as if this is still the Beat era. The point is, when Patti starts rolling, we are in a wider historical moment than modern media and music normally admits, a long, rich, dirty post-war drama or dream which hasn’t yet been ended or resolved.

She’s open to everything, too, riffing on Charlotte Bront