Friday, March 23, 2007

People Have The Power

(This post is about Rock and/or Roll, and is therefore, very likely, NSFW)

When I was sixteen, I wrote a poem contemplating what it would like to be an old punk... at the time I think 25 seemed liked it would a pretty ancient age for a punker... back then, I was attending a Fine Arts Magnet High School. One of my classmates, whom I soon came to greatly respect was Stacey Mackey. Stacey came from a good Southern religious home, and both of her brothers, older and younger, went to our school as well. All the Mackey's were friendly, personable, and intelligent kids, but Stacey was something special. I remember at one point, when she was still a fervently practicing Christian, she confided in me that she thought George Bush (the first) might be possessed by a demon. And as she got older, graduated, and came into her own, she only became more amazing.
I mean, I could tell you some stories about Stacey. Like the time her and her long-time boyfriend stayed with my mother and I, because their apartment had burned down, and her parents wouldn't accept her back home, because Vic, the aforementioned BF and quite a mover and shaker in the Little Rock punk scene in his own right, was black. But the thing is, I only have a limited perspective. I knew her coming up, and despite my respect and affection for her, our interaction since High School, has mostly been limited to that of friendly acquaintances. But still, I have had the privilege of watching this fine young woman grow.
Somehow, I didn't discover Patti Smith until years after High School, which makes me sentimental and sad. I have imaginative nostalgic fantasies about what it would have been like to listen to Patti Smith with Stacey Mackey, and maybe cajole her into smoking pot for the first time, whilst discussing the music. Because I know, that some day Stacey will be receiving similar recognition for her accomplishments as a poet, songwriter, and muscian. When I see Patti Smith, as this fiery, rebellious, intelligent woman and artist, who has stuck to her guns throughout the years, I see Stacey Mackey, thirty years from now, articulate, self-effacing, inspiring, and inflamatory. Stacey Mackey is a Rock and Roll Nigger.

This post was initially inspired by some great gushing over Patti Smith that appeared on bOINGbOING recently. Their impetus was this NYT op-ed piece by Patti on her recent induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Should an artist working within the revolutionary landscape of rock accept laurels from an institution? Should laurels be offered? Am I a worthy recipient?
I have wrestled with these questions and my conscience leads me back to Fred and those like him — the maverick souls who may never be afforded such honors. Thus in his name I will accept with gratitude. Fred Sonic Smith was of the people, and I am none but him: one who has loved rock ’n’ roll and crawled from the ranks to the stage, to salute history and plant seeds for the erratic magic landscape of the new guard.

Ultimately, both here and her acceptance speech, she mentions accepting the recognition for Fred Sonic Smith, of Grandpa proto-punk band the MC5. (I highly recommend that you click the title link of this post to view her acceptance speach and performances from that night.) It is worth checking out her acceptance speech for an inspiring example of how punkrock piss-and-vinegar can age and mature into real class without betraying the ideals and righteous indignation of youth. Zach de la Rocha, of Rage Against the Machine, delivered a sincere and respectful induction speech, in which he mentions Smith as "one of the sparks that started the punk prairie fire," as well as "Patti Smith, the poet, revealed truth regardless of the social and political consequences," "Fearless when she put Bush and his administration up on the poetic firing line for this illegal war and pulled the trigger," describing the initial experience of exposure to her genius as "then you hear that voice, and you think nothing could be this haunting and nothing could be this healing, at the same time," and mostly simply and eloquently mentioning her "outsider's dignity."

Those two words come the closest to capturing my respect for this woman. Her emotional acceptance speech was extremely humble, and humbling. I am not ashamed to admit that my eyes watered several times watching this and her performances. The one performance most likely to turn on the faucet is the final All-Star Jam which features Grand Master Flash, REM, Ronnie Spector, Eddie Vedder, Stephen Stills, Keith Richards, Sammy Hagar, Paul Schaeffer, and Ms. Smith of "People have the Power." This performance alone makes me thank the Great Spirit for allowing me to live in the same time as this damn fine woman. Who else could inspire such a spirited performance from such a rich cast of talent, of such a deep Rock and Roll political truth.
Her other performances are "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones which she describes as a "great anti-war song,", accompaning REM on a rendition of Iggy and the Stooges "Now I wanna be your Dog," "Because the Night," "Rock & Roll Nigger" which she prefaces as being the song her mother's deathbed request when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: "When you do sing your mother's favorite song, the one I like to vacuum to." She starts the song out with "I haven't fucked much with the past, but I fuck plenty with the future, and the Future is NOW!" Right on, Patti. Right the fuck on.
While I find the "N-word," as offensive as the next bloke, I find the concept that a certain segment of humanity is lesser than any other segment, more offensive. And to me, that is much of the philosophical underpinnings of punk. At least in the American south, where I first embraced punk, to be punk, cast you as being the same as being African-American in many people's eyes. Ms. Smith's usage of the "N-word" is similar to the Icon of Fudo Myo as embodiment of the Bodhisattvic ideal. It is a voluntary renouciation of privilege, a renuncitation of the values of privilege, and an embracing of the values of the gut, of feeling, of intuition. An embracing of the concept that the value of a person was based on the content of their character, and nothing else. Not the color of their skin, not the color of their hair, nothing. And what could be more Democratic than that?
I am going to go out on a critical limb here, and declare that Patti Smith was not just a proto-punk, but that she was the Mother of Punk. Horses is a documentation of her labor pains to the child first fertilized when she heard the spasming aural ejaculations of the MC5 kicking out the jams. Watching her on stage, I didn't feel like a burnt out old punk, I felt like an enthusiastic, pissed off young punk, with a lot to live up to. Thanks, Patti, and Congratulations.
I'll leave you with some choice quotes from Ms. Smith, from this historic occasion.
"We have joy, we have reason to celebrate, take that positive energy and make change in our world right now. We can start right now. We can build a new world. Tonight! "

"Do you like the world around you? Are ready to behave?"

"That the people have the power to redeem the work of fools...Don't forget it, USE YOUR VOTES!"

The Dragon says, "Rocketh Onth!"


Anonymous said...

In your blog, you recommend watching the enclosed video link to Patti Smith's acceptance speech at the R&R Hall of Fame. I am looking for that. Missed the show; heard about her, and i really would like to see it. However, i could not find a link for it on your site. Can you tell me where to go online to see it? Thanks.

Honky-Tonk Dragon said...

Well, when I first posted this, the title link would take you there, I think.
Now it just takes you to photos from the ceremony.
You might try searching youtube...