August 2, 2017

"He liked packing up and leaving just like that, going west. He liked getting a role that would take him somewhere he really didn’t want to be..."

"... but where he would wind up taking in its strangeness; lonely fodder for future work.... Sam promised me that one day he’d show me the landscape of the Southwest, for though well-travelled, I’d not seen much of our own country. But Sam was dealt a whole other hand, stricken with a debilitating affliction. He eventually stopped picking up and leaving.... Long, slow days passed.... Sam walked to his bed and lay down and went to sleep, a stoic, noble sleep.... I was far away, standing in the rain before the sleeping lion of Lucerne, a colossal, noble, stoic lion carved from the rock of a low cliff.... A long time ago, Sam sent me a letter. A long one, where he told me of a dream that he had hoped would never end. 'He dreams of horses,' I told the lion. 'Fix it for him, will you? Have Big Red waiting for him, a true champion. He won’t need a saddle, he won’t need anything.'..."

Patti Smith writes about Sam Shepard (in The New Yorker).

It was interesting reading that today. I love both Patti Smith and Sam Shepard, but I was just reading — also in The New Yorker, the July 31st issue — an essay called "Can Poetry Change Your Life?" by Louis Menand that said something pretty mean about Patti Smith's writing:
A writer with a playlist of culture heroes must also have a list of the undeserving, the fake, and the fallen, and [Michael Robbins, in "Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music."] does not disappoint us. He writes of the poet James Wright, “It is easy to feel that, if fetal alcohol syndrome could write poetry, it would write this poetry.” He suggests that Robert Hass “has made a career out of flattering middlebrow sensibilities with cheap mystery.” Of Charles Simic: “If the worst are full of passionate intensity, Simic would seem to be in the clear.”

He calls Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” “wimpy crap.” He says that Patti Smith’s memoir “Just Kids” is “highly acclaimed despite her apparent belief that serious writing is principally a matter of avoiding contractions.” His reaction to Neil Young’s memoir is “It’s depressing to learn that one of your heroes writes like a composition student aiming for the earnest tone of a public service announcement.”
I don't know what you think of that writing in Smith's tribute to Shepard, but I think there are about 13 contractions in that short essay. If I were in the mood to imitate Smith's lofty, arty style, I'd blithely, slyly drift from talking about contractions of the 2-words-are-one-word type to an earnest metaphor involving the contractions of childbirth. But I'm just about never in that mood. I'm more in the mood to look up "the sleeping lion of Lucerne" and see if I can get it in Google Street View.

Yes. Here it is:

48 comments:

buwaya said...

More of a dead lion I think.

ihasch said...

I don't have anything especially against her but Patti Smith was described pretty unflattering in a few accounts as the Courtney Love of the 70s. She was very ambitious and cultivated a number of relationships with more talented men (Sherpard, Mapplethorpe, Rundgren, Lanier et.al.-a collection really) and now seems to make a living remembering them in poetic and romantic terms, still sort of leeching off their fame and careers. Or maybe I am just too cynical.

Virgil Hilts said...

If the worst insult someone could come up with about my writing was under-use of contractions, I would not lose much sleep. I thought Smith's eulogy was fine.
I also like her music. But a few of my playlists have ROCK N ROLL N-word on them (i refuse to remove the song) and every once in a while it will start playing in my office and I have to dive to my computer to turn it off. That song really rocks, but I wonder if it gets any radio play anymore anywhere in the Western hemisphere.

Kate said...

Anyone nowadays -- ANYONE -- who quotes "The Second Coming" is a hack. You know the Harry Potter meme, Read Another F***ing Book? RAFP, for cripes' sake.

Otto said...

Such empty idols.

Xmas said...

Someone dropped the death of Shepard on Matthew McConaughey on the red carpet, catching him completely by surprise:

https://youtu.be/kHMF4LlWgZI

Sebastian said...

Can't say that I consciously heard or read anything by P. Smith. Have no opinion on her.

Did enjoy the Robbins and Menand put-downs, though/because they were "mean." Mea culpa.

Can poetry change your life? Yes. In fact, a poem in the article changed my life: I resolved never to read anything by F. Seidel again.

Here's his poem, as reported by Menand, that changed my life:

“Now”

And you could say we’ve been living in clover
From Walt Whitman to Barack Obama.
Now a dictatorship of vicious spineless slimes
We the people voted in has taken over.
Once we’d abolished slavery, we lived in clover,
From sea to shining sea, even in terrible times.
It’s over.

readering said...

Menand not being mean. He's quoting another writer being mean.

Craig said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Bupq6XRz1M&list=RD5Bupq6XRz1M

Unknown said...

I thought it was a great read, full of writerly moments the two shared. If you have a lit-fan in your life, you know they are like this.

Patti can write. She can't always speak as well as she can write, but she can preach beautifully at her shows in a rhythmic way that inspires audiences to action.

Do you know what icon wrote like a child even when not obviously engaged in wordplay? John Lennon. (Read some of his letters like they are random posts on the internet.) It is doubly odd because he spoke rather well. And it doesn't take away from what he was able to do when combining his other skills (and collaborators) in music.

Ficta said...

@Virgil Hilts - Re: RNRN. I know, right?

In the "Rock and Roll is a great force for social change" movie at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there's a clip of Patti singing Babelogue, I'm like, I just know where they're going to fade this one down...and...yep, with not a second to spare

exiledonmainstreet said...

"I also like her music. But a few of my playlists have ROCK N ROLL N-word on them (i refuse to remove the song) and every once in a while it will start playing in my office and I have to dive to my computer to turn it off. That song really rocks, but I wonder if it gets any radio play anymore anywhere in the Western hemisphere."

I doubt anybody plays Lennon's "Woman is the N**ger of the World" either.

I loved Smith's album "Horses" but haven't kept up with her.

Mike Sylwester said...

He calls Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” “wimpy crap.”

In my blog about growing up in Seward, Nebraska, I have published an essay I wrote explaining the "Sounds of Silence" lyrics.

http://seward-concordia-neighborhood.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-meaning-of-song-sounds-of-silence.html

The key passages:

Since Simon had grown up in a Jewish family in a Jewish neighborhood, he certainly was familiar with the story of the Jewish religion's major prophet Elijah.

When some Jewish prophets protested against idolatry practiced by their country's aristocracy, Queen Jezebel ordered those prophets to be murdered. Protesting against that order, Elijah stepped forward to participate in a contest against 450 priests of Baal. This contest ended with Elijah murdering all 450 of the priests of Baal. This massacre sparked a religious war, and Elijah fled from Israel, fearing he would be killed.

Elijah fled without any particular destination. At one point, however, an angel appeared to him and gave him some food and water and directed him to travel much further, to Mount Horeb. There, on the mountain top, Elijah waited for divine guidance about what he should do. Elijah tried to understand the divine guidance unsuccessfully in a windstorm, in an earthquake and in a fire storm. Ultimately, however, he understood it only from a slight breeze -- "a gentle whisper" -- in the mountain top's thin air.

These events are told in 1 Kings 19: 8-14:

[....]

"Go out and stand before Me on the mountain," the Lord told Elijah. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by,and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain; it was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind.

After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.

And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his scarf and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. ....

Big Mike said...

The Lion of Lucerne is not sleeping; he is dying from his wounds. It is a monument to the Swiss Guards of Louis XVI, who fought to the last man in order to buy time for the king's futile effort to escape.

Even Mark Twain was moved by the sculpture:

"The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is."

victoria said...

Despite some contradiction, i thought thought the essay about Sam Shepard was breathtaking. Absolutely breathtaking. Patti Smith is a tremendous writer. I think that "Just Kids" is probably the best book, bar none, that i have read in the last 10 years.


Vicki From Pasadena

Mountain Maven said...

Bad, talented people. I'm sick of lionizing ppl just cuz theyre talented or famous

dustbunny said...

Lovely heartfelt eulogy. Smith writes like someone who hasn't gone through the mill of grad school writing workshops. She's an original.
Both Smith and Shepard are Travellers in all senses of the word.

Robert Cook said...

"I don't have anything especially against her but Patti Smith was described pretty unflattering in a few accounts as the Courtney Love of the 70s. She was very ambitious and cultivated a number of relationships with more talented men (Sherpard, Mapplethorpe, Rundgren, Lanier et.al.-a collection really) and now seems to make a living remembering them in poetic and romantic terms, still sort of leeching off their fame and careers. Or maybe I am just too cynical."

I've heard believable unflattering things about Smith, as well, but this does not undermine her very real talent. Her book JUST KIDS is terrific, and the one concert of hers I saw--in 1978, (with a new, fairly unknown Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as opening act)--is in my top five concerts ever. She was charismatic and powerful. (Three of the other five are the Who in 1973, 1975, and 1976. I haven't decided who the fourth might be.)

In short, she might be a grandiose, ambitious success-seeker, but she is also the real thing. As for Mapplethorpe, she and he met and bonded long before he ever had done anything of note or had achieved any success or renown, so it is not accurate to say she "attached herself" to him in some bid to gain from the association. Her association with Shepard also predates his wide fame and success. Todd Rundgren was a favorite of mine in the early and mid-70s, but I saw him perform in 1978 and he was lame. Onstage he lacks charisma and force, and he was entirely forgettable. He is best heard on record.

Smith does not need to bask in the glory of any of her former beaus; she has earned her own glory for herself.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Sam Shepard is linked in my mind to Chuck Yeager (having seen The Right Stuff at an early age), and you just don't get any cooler than that.

YT - Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager

YT - Yeager's F104 Crash - Right Stuff

Owen said...

I will say more later but did want to quickly share my sincere opinion:

Fuck Menand and his snarky assassination of people like James Wright and Charles Simic.

You're welcome.

Sebastian said...

"my sincere opinion" Owen, we need more.

I thought "obviously gassy" was a little harsh for Dylan Thomas. At least A Child's Christmas in Wales is not gassy, is it? But then, not Art.

Anyway, most of the snarky stuff is by Robbins, not Menand. The latter gets off some good phrases -- I like "bottled nostalgia." Might be useful in these parts.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

By the way: we have a lion in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta: The Lion of Atlanta

The original Lion of Lucerne honors the Swiss Guards who died defending the French Royal Family (Louis XVI) but ours honors the Confederate dead from the battle of Atlanta (a great number of whom were buried, unknown, under where the lion sits), so ours'll probably be torn down any day now.

victoria said...

Dustbunny, you are so right. Can't even describe how truly amazing her writing is. The tribute to Sam Shepard took my breath away, literally and figuratively.

What a talent.

And, Hoodlum, he was the embodiment of Chuck Yeager. Caught the spirit of the man and the essence of his soul.

Sorry i am waxing so poetic. I absolutely loved Sam Shepard. What a gift.


Vicki from Pasadena

The Godfather said...

I saw the Lion of Lucerne. It would have been moving even if you didn't know the event that it memorialized. In fact, the details of the event aren't what matters: The Swiss Guards died to defend (unsuccessfully) one abomination (the French monarchy) from another abomination (the French revolution). What the sculpture celebrates is doing your duty at great cost.

Owen said...

I should have opened my mourning by addressing the great loss, the talent whose departure we must all regret: Sam Shephard.

Such talent. Expressed as total commitment to whatever character he was invited to imagine. Magic.

Roughcoat said...

Re "Big Red": Is Smith referring to Secretariat?

Sebastian said...

Wondering if I ever saw Shepard in anything, besides The Right Stuff. Not sure, But I now remember he did cowrite Paris, Texas. Loved it, as I recall. The landscape cinematography, the music, Kinski.

Bad Lieutenant said...

This contest ended with Elijah murdering all 450 of the priests of Baal.

I object to your use of the word "murdering."

Quaestor said...

Is Smith referring to Secretariat?

If Smith knows her Thoroughbreds she's referring to Man o' War, another chestnut stallion. Man o' War was known to the turf press as "Big Red".

William said...

It's a shame he died. His flinty independence and macho presence would have made him the ideal actor to play Trump in a biopic.

Quaestor said...

There's a bit of irony in Patti Smith's use of the LIon of Lucerne. The sculpture commemorates the self-sacrifice of mercenaries. Smith has never honored American soldiers in her writings or performances. In fact, she has slandered them as "war criminals".

The fact that Shepard would tolerate her noxious presence was probably just an early manifestation of ALS dementia.

Fuck her.

William said...

If I were a talented poet, I would make it a high priority to befriend some composer. That's where the money, fame and groupies hang out. I think T.S. Eliot wrote Cats as light verse, but that's where the big money in his estate comes from. Burnt Norton never got optioned for the movie rights......Not much money in poetry, but match the lyric with right melody and your fortune's made.

Crazy Jane said...

People like Menand do not name the great poets of a given era. That is the work of generations.

Eliot, poor guy, is badly used by the popularity of "Cats." Serious poets aren't in it for wealth but for the longer game, and he's more relevant today than e.e. cummings, so we can hope.

Patti Smith may be grating, but I like her because she is an original. It's all the imitators who have followed along after her who bug me.

Roughcoat said...

If Smith knows her Thoroughbreds she's referring to Man o' War, another chestnut stallion. Man o' War was known to the turf press as "Big Red".

So was Secretariat. His intimates, especially, called him "Red." In press conferences and whatnot Penny Tweedy called him, as the mood struck her, "Red," "Big Red," "Big Boy," and, of course, "Secretariat."

Surprised you don't know this.

Robert Cook said...

"It's a shame he died. His flinty independence and macho presence would have made him the ideal actor to play Trump in a biopic."

Hahahaha!

Ralph L said...

I can't think of Patti Smith without thinking of Gilda Radner.

S & G have held up better than most music of their era. Doesn't sound dated to me.

Robert Cook said...

"There's a bit of irony in Patti Smith's use of the LIon of Lucerne. The sculpture commemorates the self-sacrifice of mercenaries. Smith has never honored American soldiers in her writings or performances. In fact, she has slandered them as 'war criminals.'"

I don't know if Smith actually has ever called American soldiers "war criminals," or whether you're imagining it because you want to have a reason to hate her, but some American soldiers have been, indisputably, war criminals. Most are simply being abused by those ordering them to war on lies, and some come back physically or emotionally ruined. By contrast, all or nearly all of our military officers and presidents who have initiated wars are certainly war criminals. The soldiers, in the end, are just the flesh and blood weapons; it is those in Washington whose goals the soldiers serve and they who designate the targets and pull the human triggers.

"The fact that Shepard would tolerate her noxious presence was probably just an early manifestation of ALS dementia."

Well, as you should know if you've read anything about Shephard and Smith, they were once lovers nearly 50 years ago, and have been close ever since.

Quaestor said...

...all or nearly all of our military officers and presidents who have initiated wars are certainly war criminals.

Pure, unadulterated weasel.

Ralph L said...

His intimates, especially, called him "Red."
More likely, OUCH!

Feste said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon Ericson said...

Chrissie Hynde.
Lovely girl, not nearly as nice as mockturtle,
but fierce.

Feste said...

Mike Sylwester said... "a gentle whisper .. The words of the prophets .. my own interpretation .. God's difficulties in communicating through His prophets to human beings. .. Earth's population was approaching a mortal crisis."

Thanks. Thanks for your own interpretation. A new take for me on "Songs of Silence." A worthwhile read.

Malthusian considerations might yet take over populations, and cleric though Malthus was, I’d not count on his clerical collar as any prophetic authority, perhaps his natural observations, and those reworked a bit.

Quaestor said...

Surprised you don't know this.

I do know that. I also know that "Big Red" was so unequivocally associated with Man o' War that sports writers like Heywood Broun only had to say "Big Red" to change the topic at Algonquin Roundtable to racing. The fact that Tweedy hedged around for nicknames was because Secretariat didn't have one the public recognized. The press never used "Big Red" as a moniker for Secretariat, except in descriptive phrases like "the big red colt".

Secretariat was a phenomenal athlete. His performance over 1.5 miles at Belmont was historic. But in 21 starts he failed to win five times. Man o' War won 20 out of 21, his only non-win was a place by a half length. "Big Red" set or tied records twelve times, three of them world records. Secretariat set or tied six. Nor was Secretariat a weight-carrier the likes of Man o' War. Secretariat never carried more than 126. Big Red carried 138 pounds over 1 1/16 miles for his penultimate win. Secretariat was successful at stud, but his accomplishments in that area are minor compared to the progeny of Man o' War. Horsemen who follow dosage rate Man o' War at or near the very top. The last Triple Crown winner had 22 lines to Man o' War

Peggy Tweedy didn't encourage the public to call her horse "Big Red" because it would have been unseemly.

john said...

Thanks to all of the contributors above. This discussion has been most informative and illuminating for me. And I just rented Just Kids.

Feste said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Valentine Smith said...

Just searched for Big Red in the NY Daily News archives:


Filename: 87g0kken.jpg
Photo Date: 06/10/1973
Photographer: Duprey, John
Caption: Around Belmont's clubhouse turn, Sham stays with Secretariat (on rail). In back stretch, Big Red took off...
Location: Elmont, NY

Sportswriters ALL called the nonpareil Secretariat BIG RED

Lucien said...

I saw the dying lion of Lucerne two months ago while in Switzerland on holiday (was I a traveller or a tourist? Beats me). In person it is both beautiful and breathtakingly sad. The Swiss mercenaries have perhaps the greatest monument to slain warriors that exists in the world.

My wife and I first visited in the afternoon, when hordes of Chinese tourists were chattering loudly and taking selfies in front of the memorial. We came back early the next morning to experience it in silence and solitude.

Sarah Rolph said...

Patti Smith is a great writer.

I've never heard of Louis Menand, but it's clear from even just that passage that he is a crappy writer and a very unhappy person.

And I bet he hasn't read much Patti Smith.

That "serious writer" crack makes no sense. He's trying to imply that she isn't one, and that she tries too hard to act like one, but that's completely wrong. First of all, she's a free spirit, she doesn't care if the literary world calls her a Serious Writer. And more to the point, serious is exactly what she is. She has a strong, original voice. Her work plumbs the depths of our humanity, because she is a very sincerely serious person. She is riveting on the page because she gives us her all, questing, as serious artists do, to communicate the essence of her vision in every instance. She takes art seriously and she takes life seriously. I find that very bracing.

Maybe he doesn't like her style, but he's dead wrong about who she is as a writer.