she is sublimation;
Teenage girls still go through a Patti Smith phase, right? I hope I’m not so old that I’m alone in finding “Gloria”, at least, mandatory listening for the disenfranchised Catholic schoolgirl. You’re probably rolling your eyes at the Captain Obvious-ness of me stating that there is more to the inspirational poet and songwriter’s career than the battered copy of Horses you inherited from your cooler big sister, assuming that you had one; but I didn’t know that one of her biggest hits “Because The Night” was a rewritten outtake from Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town until I saw The Promise documentary ridiculously recently.
Both songs are of course included on Outside Society the first single-CD collection to span Smith’s recording career with chronological selections from her aforementioned 1975 debut right through to 2007′s covers compilation, Twelve. Each track was digitally remastered for the compilation and the track selection was supervised by Smith herself.
The time seems to be right for some kind of Patti Smith re-examination. Just Kids, a memoir of Smith’s friendship with photographer Robert Mappelthorpe has just been released in paperback after winning the National Book Award last year, and she was recently awarded the Polar Music Prize alongside the Kronos String Quartet. Artist Jenny Soep, who you may have seen skulking in the shadows at various Glasgow venues armed with either a sketchbook or (laterly) an iPad before she herself moved to Sweden was in Stockholm for the 2011 ceremony, and was invited along to sketch the talks and performances – she’s very kindly let me share one of her drawings above. Incidentally if you’ve never checked out Soep’s work you should – her gorgeous guerilla drawings contain all the fire and freedom of Smith’s fiercest writings and is an ideal fit.
The compilation’s title is taken from the live version of “Rock N Roll Nigger” which is perhaps its centrepoint and its yowling statement seems appropriate a mission statement as any for a fiercely independent artist. I mean, have you heard that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover, complete with its bizarre spoken-word section and freaked out fiddles of the apocalypse? It’s uncomfortable listening even for someone who loves Smith’s original material as much as I do and yet you cannot argue with its inclusion.
So as an introduction this compilation is the perfect immersion point, but what if you already own all these recordings? The CD version of Outside Society contains Smith’s recollections of each song in the liner notes, which would seem like a pretty decent reason to own it even if the music wasn’t so bloody good. If you’re merely looking for an introduction to the artist’s work then this is as good as it gets.