Monday, February 4, 2008

Do You Know How To Pony?

I didn't have time today to write a real post, so here's some more queer music from the 70s, "Land" from Patti Smith's first album, Horses (1975). Aside from her own playing with gender, she was best buds with Robert Mapplethorpe (who took this great photo for the lp cover), hung out with William S. Burroughs, and had a fetishistic fascination with Arthur Rimbaud. I'd already heard of her as a poet before she began doing music, and had read her record reviews in Creem magazine. For all her apparent spaciness, she was always tough-minded, and when she signed with Arista she demanded and got artistic control, even writing her own ad copy.

"Land" is Smith's version of "Land of a Thousand Dances", spun out into almost ten minutes of improvised poetry and singing, beginning with a male-on-male rape in a school hallway. I saw her do it live (in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1976), and other live versions have been recorded, including videos on YouTube, but I prefer this studio version. Producer John Cale had Smith record her vocal three times, and the vocal tracks are mixed together, sometimes proceeding independently, sometimes coming together ("the boy looked at Johnny" still gives me chills), sometimes just exhorting the band ("Build it! Build it! Build it!"). It's a great solution to the problem of recording an improvisatory concert piece, and it's an incredibly powerful piece of music.

For this clip, someone edited together some strange video material (note especially the aerobic poodles) to accompany the music. It's quite disturbing in its surrealism -- you wouldn't want to watch this in an altered state of consciousness -- but very well done. My only wish is that the video were better synchronized with the music, instead of lagging a bit behind the beat, but it's still effective.