Patti Smith, Penetrating into the Heroic and Magical

Author: Marcus Gordon

‘In his heartlessness he had ignored nature and how heartless nature was in return,’
– Patti Smith, The Coral Sea

‘Land’ commences with Lenny Kaye palm-muting a heartbeat, generatin’ a rhythm, the orientation of the sound is engineered to drag like a stroke of paint across the theatre. This is the point of the performance where Patti Smith embodies the magician and guides Sydney into a seance.

Easter Friday, a day after seeing Patti play again in Byron Bay. My partner Amanda and I are driving where car windows are incapable of framing scenes that don’t remind of catastrophe. Two weeks after the floods and in Murwillumbah you’ll see garbage bins entangled in tree canopies, houses stained up to their necks in scum and exhibitions of memory dumped on the street. We took the Patti Smith concert as an excuse to escape Sydney and attempt to redignify ourselves in the countryside, but in the wake of the floods we are condescended by another kind of immensity, one that dwarfs us as much as city buildings. Amanda immerses herself in the humility of it all and I attempt subterfuge in memory…

‘The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea’ Patti’s words were hieroglyphic, engraved into Lenny’s guitar, forged of it’s dizzying undulation but monumental in the intelligent shapes they make.  The form of the 40-something year old poem was broken by the reflexes of the author’s heart, demonstrated in detours where Patti postponed ‘Johnny’s hysterical laughter’ to ventilate the dirty air of present-day corruption and remind her audience to never overlook joy and the importance of celebrating life. It’s in the moments where Patti made a palimpsest of ‘Horses’, effacing its poetry with protests to modern atrocity, that Sydney started to share her intelligence of magic.

‘Come over here, come get me motherfucker, I’m ready’, Patti’s boney hands waved in all the world’s bullshit for a beating, Lenny’s riff climbed to more troubled tempos, Patti taunted some more and motherfucker’d some more and something asleep was awoken, ‘Horses, Horses, Horses’ the drums arrived and the awoken force stampeded, it penetrated a highway in the theatre as it stormed upon the stage…

Amanda and I were turned away by some ranger men at the foot of Mt. Warning, the hiking trail had been closed due to the system being unstable. We pulled over at Mavis’ Kitchen to order coffee and formulate a new plan. Drinking the coffee, in a car parked beside a tomb which used to be a creek, the dead gum trees entrenched in horizontal piles, winding down the ditch to make a familiar scene. I’ve seen this highway before, the carved trail of impossible animals, rushing headlong. As tragic as it is, I’m moved by nature’s power to overturn entire systems overnight, especially ones as old and looming as forests. I know nature has this strength in it, yet I only remember it does in the mysterious events where it is exercised, as if the events take place to remind the fact. Watching Patti Smith, I was reminded of a similar transformative power, but the one that belongs to human nature; the spirit of change. In a mysterious event of rock and roll, the heroic and magical was penetrated and the power people have to wrestle the earth from fools seemed to wake up and stampede for a moment.

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