"We were going to see the world." There was never a doubt in my mind about the destination. I knew she was going there, and that I was going with her.
My inclination when hearing this latest work was to say "Welcome back, old friend." My feeling about Patti is whenever she turns up it's like a much-loved friend from high school. We need to get a cup of coffee and catch up at the nearest bistro (not Starbucks.)
I first saw Patti on TV on a Sunday night on WWOR channel 9 in the early 1970's referring to subway graffiti as new age Jackson Pollack. It was a black & white documentary of 3 artists speaking on New York City. I noted, "keep on eye on this girl."
Buy the deluxe edition if you can afford it for no other reason than the hardcovered booklet is a beautiful work of art - photographs, Patti's thoughts and process of what went into creating and recording the music, the lyrics. There's no need on my part to try to summarize or interpret. She's done all the heavy lifting. There are moments of the mystical - especially the discovery of the image of "Dream of Constantine." Buy the deluxe edition because it's a BOOK. Kindle will never replace the feeling of turning a page, looking at the images, running your fingers across the page for the first time feeling like silk, opening the book and cracking the spine. It's a gift. The lyrics - poems, really - and the process unfolding are what attracted me to Patti in the first place.
I'm reminded of a moment back in the beginning. I was sitting on the floor of the Gotham Book Mart browsing through Joris Huysman's "Las Bas" first edition. It was pissing down rain. Gotham would never throw you out, even if it was obvious you had no money.
At the front was a small tome, "Seventh Heaven" with Patti's scrawl on front. I bought that instead. I still have it - binding undone, signature fading, much loved and much read. Like "Witt," "Ha Ha Houdini," "Babel." (I got the Huysmans later when I cashed my pay check from E.J. Korvette's down the street where I was Christmas help.) Gotham Book Mart is long gone. Apparently Patti worked there at one point. They were always my "go-to" place for new Patti stuff. Their logo on a small carved wooden sign: "Wise men fish here." (Long live independent book shops!)
Now what about the music? Well, I've now been living with it for a week. It's not left my CD player or iPod. It's been playing non-stop. It's so atmospheric that no one song jumps out. It's a dream scape. It's so intuitive I can't stop listening. It's nearly a concept album - and I'm old enough to remember albums - where you put the needle down on the groove and let it engulf you. "Banga" sinks into your muscles, sinews, spinal column. It's evocative. Like opium.
Patti's music took a turn towards the personal around "Dream of Life," the album recorded in partnership with her late husband Fred "Sonic" Smith. (When the heck is the R&R Hall of Fame going to induct the MC5? Storm the bastille of rock commercialism! The people have the power!) Her song to her Godson, "Seneca," recalls her lullaby to her own son Jackson on "Dream of Life."
With "Gone Again" Patti dealt with the deaths of her husband, her brother, Richard Sohl, and even Kurt Cobain. She needed to write it out, put it out there. There's something akin with "Banga." Cursory reviews have all mentioned deaths and dirges but it's never quite that simple with Patti. She feels deeply, and she shares deeply. Many of the songs do reference loss and love. (Isn't it about time that Maria Schneider got a proper send off?)
Hearing Patti's voice again with new songs transports me back to Max's Kansas City 1974. She'd added a piano player. (Now, that was a good thing, 'cause Patti couldn't sing and Lenny couldn't play, but Richard Sohl COULD. He had an ability to follow her and Lenny and fill in around them as they improvised transporting word scorcery into songs.) I had a little reel-to-reel tape recorder and recorded those sets at Max's. Cassettes hadn't been invented yet. I played those reel-to-reel tapes every morning when I got up until "Horses" came out. My sister, who shared our bedroom, said I ruined her life with it. I wish I still had them. What history! Starting at the beginning, even the Bible starts there, Patti signaled that she was always going to be a work in progress. Many of those classic songs on "Horses" once had completely different lyrics - like "Birdland" which began with part of one of her poems "Bar stools were made for woman like this." I noted: "Keep an eye on this girl."
I sold all my college textbooks. I went to Max's every night she and Television (the opening act with Richard Hell still in the band) for the full week's tenure. There were so few people there, less than I could count on all my fingers and toes, that Max's would let us stay for the late show without paying the cover fee, as long as we ordered the two drink minimum. During "Land" Patti reached down and took a swig of my Heinekin. (If only she knew how much that cost me.)
My relationship with Patti and the band has withstood every way station and change. I saw the band come together bit by bit - first with Jay Dee Dougherty added on the drums. Then Ivan Kral. Nothing will ever come close to "Horses" but then again, nothing should. The genie came out of the bottle. There was no going back. Any other artist might have been intimidated by such a brilliant debut. Rock history is littered with great first albums never to be repeated. From day one, Patti exuded brazen confidence. She simply creates - in any medium.
Another motif running through "Banga" is adventure, explorers, going across oceans, boundaries, time and the planets themselves. I was at the Academy of Music when she announced she wasn't going to tour again "until Ivan Kral gets his citizenship." I thought it was just a plug for the song on "Wave" but she disappeared to marry, raise children, live a life. "Banga" is Patti: a wife, a mother, a friend, now Medicare-eligible. In the course of living, creating, evolving, she is timeless and relevant.
"Banga" may be my favorite song on the album. I love the dog howls. I love dogs. My sister just rescued a labrabull from a shelter. Loyalty and love are themes in Patti's work. They are what define us as humans, who are, after all, like dogs, pack animals. Patti stuck with Lenny after every long-forgotten local punk rock band in NYC passed on him as a guitarist. Lenny has turned into quite the musical collaborator, hasn't he? Each of these songs developed almost telepathically - music written separately, independently, yet somehow the perfect foils for Patti's lyrics.
"Banga" is Patti at her best - great poetry. Evocative music. Personal lyrics. She's an artist to her very core. There's been a 30 year progression of incorporating Middle Eastern music into 3-chord rock and roll. There's an immersion of non-traditional rock instruments. "Mosaic" is hallucinatory. "Constantine's Dream" is ten-minute journey. Reviews that reference Patti's with punk music may actually miss the whole point. She, and the band, were never punk rock. They once said, "we are the last of the hippies." And they are.
You'd have to go waaaaayyy back to find anything that approaches "Banga" - Jim Morrison and the Doors, Arthur Lee and Love, Lou Reed and the Velvets, Grace Slick paraphrasing James Joyce in "rejoyce," the Girl Groups of the Shangrilas and Ronettes. Patti always had a bent towards great pop. "This is the Girl" raises the specter of "We Three," and "Kimberly." The spoken-word section is pure soul music. Back in the day Patti would sometimes do a winsome version of the old Motown hit "The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game." The same girl who covered "Partime Paradise" and danced to "The 81" with Lenny at Bleecker Bob's still lives.
A simple acoustic version of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" slapped me awake from this audio dream. It's spartan, beautiful, and a fitting end with a children's chorus. Ending the deluxe version of the album is a bonus single "Just Kids." It's a song version paraphrasing her book of the same name. I noted: "keep an eye on this girl."
Funny thing. Kinda like "6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon." Patti and I both wrote reviews for Creem back in the day. Now, she's a Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Laureate for America. I write reviews on Amazon. But neither of us ever stopped writing.