“Horses:” A Closer Read

horses-cover_custom-95bd29494bd12ecab828302378aa305f62fb5ccf-s900-c85Before I heard it, I saw it. Stark in its simplicity; a million colors in a few shades of grey. Her gaze holds a certain knowledge, a certain suspicion. Knowledge from a life lived: an abortion, a pilgrimage to New York City, a pornographic photographer. Suspicion as to who I am to hear her story. Her eyes meet mine; she looks through me, not at me. She sees me for who I am. Nothing more, and irrefutably nothing less. Her white shirt is purposefully disheveled; her jacket is draped over her shoulder like an afterthought. She wears no makeup and almost no jewelry, because she doesn’t need it. Her confidence is derived from her craft; it is an inner truth, rather than an outside lie. This isn’t for me; it’s for her. Her art doesn’t need to be understood, or even appreciated, for her to consider it as such: art. “Go ahead. I dare you,” her pursed lips seem to say. This is Patti Smith. This is Horses.

Patti Smith is a musician, but a poet above all else. You listen to her music; you hear her poetry. The instrumentation is merely a vessel for her lyrics. To me, the clear foreshadowing to the impending punk movement is the titular “Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer(de).” The raw, repetitive guitar riff, the anti-charming vocals. It shocks you, unsettles you. Nothing is off-limits: rape, addiction, and eventually, suicide. A boy named Johnny self-destructs, a “butterfly flapping in his throat.” Patti takes something beautiful and forces it to be terrible; she takes a terrible act and forces it to be beautiful. She offers an antidote to the optimistic sexual liberation of the sixties: the truth.

This is not what you want to hear. This is what you need to hear. Horses takes innocence and shatters it, gliding across the result. It will bring tears to your eyes, chills down your spine. If Keith Richards and Rimbaud had a lovechild, this would be it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wssnxfjH-zw — “Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer(de)” (Patti Smith)

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