July 2012

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The best I can say in pitiful mitigation of my frequently poor behaviour at the time is that in those days I was not easily embarrassed and usually up for anything, a sorry mix. Anyway, it’s October 1976. Patti Smith’s just released her new album, Radio Ethiopia.

Because her relationship with the British music press has deteriorated badly since Horses, she’s not doing any interviews but will instead be holding a press conference at the Intercontinental Hotel, near Hyde Park. At Melody Maker’s weekly editorial meeting some wag comes up with the fateful wheeze of sending me along with the intention of being as rowdily disruptive as possible, to see what kind of reaction such impoliteness might provoke. Seems like a plan to me. So off I go, getting there early and hitting the bar.

She arrives late, looking like she’s been dragged backwards by the heels through a hedge, her hand bandaged, the result of an accident the previous night at a gig in Paris. Said injury is evidence in her opinion that being in a rock band is like being in the army, which seems fairly preposterous to me. For reasons I can’t recall, we are soon arguing about Blue Öyster Cult, the very mention of whose name has me rolling my eyeballs theatrically and muttering loudly enough for her to hear vague obscenities about poodle-haired short-arses. “My boyfriend’s in Blue Öyster Cult,” she snaps. “So don’t start saying bad shit or I’ll throw my food at you. Except for my boyfriend, they ain’t the best-looking band in the world,” she concedes reluctantly. “But they got the most stamina and heart, and they’ve lived like dogs.”

This makes me laugh derisively and leads to a lot of fractious banter between us including some disparaging remarks about her guitar playing, my description of which as inept she takes raucous exception to. Seething, she picks up the plate of sandwiches in front of her and true to her earlier promise flings it at me. I duck and the plate bounces with an audible clang off the head of the guy sitting behind me, leaving a piece of lettuce on his forehead that he doesn’t notice until I peel it off and slap him with it when he threatens to have me thrown out.

Patti, meanwhile, is loudly defending her new LP. “What do you want from me?” she screeches. “Tell me who you write for and I’ll review the record. ‘Radio Ethiopia’, the cut itself, is a very sensitive, heartfelt and courageous voyage. It’s us improvising alone in a dark studio with a hurricane coming, with the moon shitting on us.”

This is colourful stuff… what else made her such a unique performer?
“Everything I have inside me, whether it’s cosmic or telepathic or my knowledge about Egyptology or having a baby or being raped or beaten up, everything wonderful or horrible that’s ever happened to me. The temple of my experience is my body, and that’s what I use onstage.” She then announces she’s declaring war, presumably on the music press, or that part of it that’s been recently so unkind to her, which makes us all sit up. “Call me the Field Marshall if it makes you feel better,” she shouts. “I’m the Field Marshall of rock’n’roll. And I’m fucking declaring war! My guitar is my machine gun.” And with this, she storms out, faithful retainers scampering in her turbulent slipstream. I’m back at the bar before she gets to the door.

As ever, enjoy the issue and if you want to get in touch you can email me at the usual address: allan_jones@ipcmedia.com

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