I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Patti Smith’s Horses. I was hanging out in my pajamas sitting on a standard issue twin extra long dorm bed trading albums with some dorm mates from college .
At one point, one of them said , “Hey Apple, I got this Patti Smith album for Christmas, you’d really like it.”
“Oh”, I shrugged, “I’m not really into female singer songwriters.” At the time, I associated female singer songwriters with folk music, a genre I found boring and passionless.
“I’m putting it on anyways. You’re gonna like it.” My friend said.
It only took the first few notes of piano and the lyrics, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine…” to forever change my opinion of female singer songwriters.
We listened to that album again and again that day. I’d never heard anything like Horses before. At that age I knew I had something to say to the world but I had no idea what it was or how I wanted to say it. I wanted to be anyone but myself. I thought if I just found where I belonged, where I fit in, everything would be fine. Then here was this woman who defied all genres. She was just as much a poet as she was a punk, just as vulnerable as she was a torrent of raw power. She was a tidal wave of seemingly incongruous pieces that didn’t need fitting together. I was attracted to the dissonance because it was something I felt so strongly within myself. However unlike me, her lack of preoccupation with being beautiful, being pleasing, fitting in, was what made her so blindingly magnetic, so powerful. So real. She was the first female musician I’d ever heard that spoke to my experience of what it felt like to be a woman, to be alive, to be me.
It is not an exaggeration to say that my fascination with Patti Smith and her music has played a strong role in who and where I am today. When I was afraid to create, there was Patti, showing me that you don’t need a category to pour yourself into in order to be an artist. When I was afraid to take a step in life, there was Patti, reminding me that passion is infectious and when you put love out into the world, people will recognize it. Listening to Patti taught me to recognize my own courage within me. She is one of my own personal heroes not just because of her music, but because of her simple, unflappable fearlessness in being herself.
So naturally, when I found out one of my personal heroes was playing a one night only show at the Volkshaus in Zürich, I had to go. Here’s an expat protip for you: anytime you get to see a musician you love in a foreign country, do it. There’s just something about seeing an artists you’ve known for most of your life in an unfamiliar place that makes you feel a little more at home wherever you may be. Knowing that Patti Smith can sell out a crowd in a straight-laced city like Zurich makes my heart happy.
This was a very special once in a lifetime show, in which the singer commemorated the 40th anniversary of Horses by playing the entire album from start to finish. I can’t quite describe the feeling of standing in a room listening to my favorite musician perform my favorite album with thousands of other fans who were just as pumped to experience it as I was. I’ve been in a lot of crowds at a lot of rock shows, but this was special. The silence punctured by ecstatic cheers, the vibrations coming up through the floor as she began to perform Horses and we all braced for what was coming next, the utter lack of camera phones brandished in the air for selfies.
Through it all, Patti was Patti, celebrating this momentous occasion with her trademark joy, down to earth banter and utter lack of pretension. She even flubbed up her intro to Horses, laughed it off, then started again. Which of course, only further confirmed my admiration for me. Even when she fucks shit up she’s spectacular.
So, here’s the bit every rock nerd is asking for… THE SET LIST:
- Redondo Beach
- Free Money
- Break it Up
- Land: Horse/Land of A Thousand Dances/ La Mer (de)
- The Velvet Underground: Rock and Roll*
- The Velvet Underground: Waitin’ For The Man
- The Velvet Underground: White Light/ White Heat
- Dancing Barefoot
- Grateful Dead Cover
- Because the Night
- People Have the Power
- My Generation/Gloria Reprise
*Yes, did completely lose my shit when they started playing VU covers, thanks for asking.
(Photo courtesy of www.nzz.ch)