by patti smith
[from CREEM, June 1975]
I was at this party but nothing was happening at all, a lot of chicks were leaning over a pale neon wurlitzer jukebox. the way dead voice boxes rolled up it came on like a coffin. it was the kind of party to leave behind. 8 millimeter footage of Jimi Hendrix jacking his strat. girls sobbing and measuring the spaces between his fingers. I went out in the hallway and stood there drinking a glass of tea. "riders on the storm" was rolling from a local transistor. the boy slipped on some soap and the radio fell in the bathtub. I gulped my tea too fast and some of it went up my nose it made me choke and stammer and my lungs started pumping like erratic water wings . . .
I woke up and the room was gone the radio was playing "riders on the storm" and the dj cut in and said that Jim Morrison was dead. I reached over for my air rifle and took shaky aim. ducks with musical notes etched in their little wax skulls were revolving on the ceiling. Camus said that it's death which give gambling and heroism their true meaning. but me I prefer another french saying -- better a live scoundrel than a dead miracle. I kicked the shit outa the radio and when looking for a heavy handed game of chance. local bingo -- fascination -- or when the chips are down handle some poker . . .
Johnny Ace was cool he came east from texas to knock "just a dream" off the charts with "pledging my love." "dream" was tender but who could imagine humping it up to Jimmy Clanton? all the girls would oil their nylons when Johnny came to town. white girls. there were no black girls in the fifties. flashes of pony tail hair. girls with chiffon triangles tied tight around their hot soft throats. girls with flesh like wonder bread. and Johnny Ace sang for them. a hero with no R & B no spanish blood no sweat. ballads tender as boston lettuce, more soft spots than a baby's head. until he pushed his own finger in. one christmas eve the black velvet Sinatra was a little long backstage. Ace was playing solitaire. he took a 45 calibre outa his tux rolled the barrel like his own hit record and blew his brains out.
some say Vladimir Mayakovski was the first rock n roll star. russian poet adolescent anarchist handsome 22 years old rushing the streets howling blue face. a guy with huge piano teeth and a marshall amp installed in his chest. he was always crashing church meets bars parties pool halls. were there pool halls in russia? who knows. but if there were he hit them all. he was the seven feet tall poet bully with the amazing megaphone mouth. did god know about revolution rhythm of the painful promise of a poem? well Mayakovski knew and thousands of kids rocked in russian behind him.
until one mornin while the crowds were waiting our hero was penning his last booming aria; "me and life are quits" he write. and like our own Johnny Ace he held the wild card. he put on a clean shirt swaggered to the window maybe glanced in the mirror russia's Marlon Brando cocked the lever pulled the trigger and blew his heart out. russian lit was in the red. the funeral was like after the pop festival. you know -- those last shots of monterey -- no sound -- minds blown. all the women wore black cloaks. russia was a rainy nunnery. cause Mayakovski -- a god unto himself to say nothing of his fans -- had pulled the rug from his own life.
you take a chance when you put your stakes on somebody else. like a horse race it often pays but sooner or later you're gonna be left standing in the rain. genius is meant to peak and pull out or be wiped out permanently. we is a fickle lot. the champ ain't champ unless he keeps on winning. the minute some flash knocks him outa the ring or outa the charts he's thru. like pabst beer says "ya don't get the blue ribbon for being second."
see it's like this. first let me move outa metaphor. there was no poker game I'm lousy at cards. there was the dream though and I got splattered. we been creamed up the ass since Buddy Holly Kennedy. platinum porches miniature airplanes switchblades poisons saturday night specials motorcycles hypodermics pills thrills old fords. ever see Jackson Pollock in motion. that bull ballet and dipping blue poles. premeditation was his action he didn't believe in accidents. his blood spattered like his own pain cause like most heroes he was a crazy driver. it's okay though it was the rules of an old game. and me I got to admit I like the photographs. the twisted steel the outstretched hand the broken neck of a fender. the instant replay of Lee Harvey Oswald getting dead live on television. they were the assassinating rhythms of our generation.
but rhythms like rules shift. something new is coming down and we got to be alert to feel it happening. something new and totally ecstatic. the politics of ecstasy move all around me. I refuse to believe Hendrix had the last possessed hand that Joplin had the last drunken throat that Morrison had the last enlightened mind. they didn't slip their skins and split forever for us to hibernate in posthumous jukeboxes.
they are gone and we're still moving. I went to Jim Morrison's grave and there was nothing. a dirt site in section 6. I sat like some jack ass sobbing in the mud all alone in paris when there is so much work to do so much flesh to consume. there is nothing there -- not headstone no vibration no flowers no feeling. just a little plastic plaque with the word AMI friend the only thing Jim Morrison ever wanted.
I went to paris to exorcise some demons. some kind of dread I harbored of moving forward. I went with this poetic conceit that we would meet in some melody hovering over his grave. but there was nothing. it was pouring rain and I sat there trying to conjure up some kind of grief or madness. I remembered this dream I had. I came in a clearing and saw a man on a marble slab. it was Morrison and he was human. but his wings were merging with the marble. he was struggling to get free but like Prometheus freedom was beyond him.
I sat there for a couple hours. I was covering with mud and afraid to move. then it was all over. it just didn't matter anymore. racing thru my skull were new plans new dreams voyages symphonies colors. I just wanted to get the hell outa there and go home and do my own work. to focus my floodlight on the rhythm within. I straightened my skirt and said good-bye to him. an old woman in black spoke to me in broken english. look at this grave how sad! why do you americans not honor your poets?
my mind moved before my mouth. I finished the dream. the stone dissolved and he flew away. I brushed the feathers off my raincoat and answered:
because we don't look back.
Copyright © Patti Smith 1975