Punk Rock Memoirs To Inspire A Fearless, Creative Life

January is not necessarily going to be the big refreshing escape from the year we’ve had, going by the news and the pandemic numbers. It won’t be the celebratory holidays we may have anticipated months ago. But what hasn’t changed, and what may bring some comfort, is that January is always prime reading time. That brief window – for most of us – between work ending in 2020 and starting up again in 2021 is just enough to get through at least one or two juicy reads that give you the energy and inspiration to return to work without losing your mojo.

Confession: I learnt piano for many years and I was pretty good, but I gave up – mostly to spend all my time smoking and drinking with a ragtag collection of fellow 15-year-olds at whoever’s house was devoid of parents. That’s about as close as I got to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. I never was a girl in a band, but when I think to my life’s inspirations in regards to attitude, fashion, dedication to a creative existence, bravery and originality, they are women in music.

Chances are, if you’re an Audiofemme reader, you too are inspired and influenced by pioneering, persevering women in music. If there’s ever been a time we need to feel inspired by women to overcome the odds, deal with shit and continue to do what they love for the sake of it, it’s now. Consider this a belated Christmas present, then. This is a guide to the best books on modern women in music, in my experience.

Having mentioned girls in bands, let’s start with Kim Gordon’s Girl In A Band, which was released in 2015 and made it to the New York Times Bestseller list. Gordon was the co-founder (and sole female member) of Sonic Youth, a ’90s post-grunge act that fused dreamy fuzz with anthems to teenage lust and frustration. With her slash of red lipstick, tangle of blonde hair and too-cool-for-you attitude, Kim Gordon was the ultimate ’90s alt-rock icon. Girl In A Band covers her childhood, her first creative love – drawing, painting and sculpture – and her days in Sonic Youth, too often stymied by the men around her. She bravely confesses truths about her marriage to the revered Thurston Moore, frontman of Sonic Youth, and the disintegration of their relationship.  

In October 2020 she released No Icon, a curated collection of images and scrapbook-style memoirs of Gordon’s Californian youth in the 1960s and ’70s, Sonic Youth in the 1980s and 1990s. In addition to previously unseen photos, there are also hand-written lyrics, newspaper cuttings and all sorts of Sonic Youth/Kim Gordon paraphernalia that make this a keepsake for fans and a treasure chest of discovery for fans-to-be.

The foreword to No Icon was written by none other than Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein (also of Portlandia, bless). Brownstein’s 2016 memoir Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl was so compelling, I admit I lay in bed reading it all day and had to force myself to leave the last chapter until the next day so that I didn’t miss it too much when it was over. Brownstein is candid in talking about the politics and sometimes fractious nature of working with a group of impassioned women, sharing rooms and weeks on the road in close proximity. Brownstein’s ability to tell a story, with a measured dose of hilarity and awkward truth, was evident in Portlandia, so it was unsurprising that her memoir had the raw, vulnerable truthfulness of a personal diary but the strong narrative of someone who is skilled in telling a story from start to finish without losing the momentum of fascination.

If Sleater-Kinney were the 1990s underground punk-rock phenomenon for so many U.S. girls, then Viv Albertine’s The Slits were the original she-punks. Emerging in the 1970s in the midst of a wave of angry boys on stage, Albertine’s no-holds-barred memoir doesn’t paint a pretty picture of being a girl in a band, nor a woman in the world. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys is the ultimate inspirational read. It made me laugh out loud, take deep, reassuring breaths and reach for the tissues, grip my fingernails so hard into my fist I thought I’d broken skin… it made me react.

For Albertine, growing up in a council home with her single mother and sister, the only reality for her seemed to be watching boys in bands and – at best – dating them. She developed a love affair with the electric guitar, though, and taught herself how to play with the support of her boyfriend at the time. From those early days of hanging out in Vivienne Westwood’s SEX shop, getting raucous with Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious in abandoned squats, and being belittled and degraded by roadies and engineers as inferior to male musicians while on the road with The Slits, the book traverses Albertine’s abortion, her struggles to have a much-wanted child via IVF later in life, her marriage and subsequent divorce, and her return to writing, recording and performing as a solo artist in her 60s. It’s no surprise this brilliant book is being translated into TV.

Memoirs are my favourite way to climb into a musician’s mind and poke about in their memories, finding the nuggets of gold that will sustain my creative soul for life. A good set of essays, or insightful analysis, when written with people and genuine experiences at its core, can also be food for thought. I’m currently reading Revenge of the She-Punks by Vivien Goldman, which was released in 2019. Goldman, now in her 80s, is on the cusp of releasing her first punk album in 2021. Known as “The Punk Professor” due to her transition from a music journalist/band manager/musician/broadcaster/biographer (and more) to adjunct at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, this is a woman who lives, breathes and creates punk rock music. She-Punks looks at the feminist history of punk rock, encompassing The Slits, Bikini Kill, and L7 all the way through to Pussy Riot in the 2000s. Consider her the expert.

Other titles to add to your reading list include Patti Smith’s Just Kids (among others), Poppy Z. Brite’s Courtney Love: The Real Story (as well as her diaries), Debbie Harry’s Face It, Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless: My Life as a Pretender and The Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine’s All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir.

Whether you’re actually a musician or an aspiring one, or women who make brave choices are your spiritual sisters, these books are likely to move you. They’ve certainly moved me, and fundamentally assured me that in my strangeness, my deep need to create, my ability to survive while making mere pennies for a living, are all perfectly valid ways to live in this chaotic, strange world that is not so friendly to women. I hope they’re nourishment for you, too.

Share your favorite punk rock reads with Cat Woods on Twitter or Instagram.

RSVP HERE: Death Valley Girls Stream via Levitation Sessions + MORE

Photo Credit: David Fearn

Looking to unblock your pineal gland with some otherworldly guidance this fall? You’re in luck! Los Angeles proto-punk psych-rock band Death Valley Girls will open your third eye with their new space gospel soaked record Under the Spell of Joy due out October 2nd. Dipping their feet into the Akashic records isn’t new territory for the band, who are brave enough to write their lyrics the morning before they record with the help of spirits from other layers of our universe. Their latest record was inspired from the text of t-shirt that guitarist/vocalist Bonnie Bloomgarden wore every day for five years – its words ‘Under the Spell of Joy’ became a motto and inspiration for Bloomgarden to manifest her desires. With Larry Schemel on guitar, she wrote the record with the intention to bring people together with its hypnotic choirs and chorus’ to chant along to. The next chance to raise your vibration with Death Valley Girls live is the Levitation Sessions livestream via Seated on Saturday, September 5th! We chatted with Bloomgarden about her favorite alien race, connecting to alternate dimensions and the pandemic’s effect on her views of life, death and societal growth.

AF: What experiences, records, and other media forms inspired your upcoming release Under the Spell of Joy?

BB: The main sources of inspiration were studying the dream state, Terrence McKenna, trying to access the akashic records, the Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast, his guest Mitch Horowitz, and learning about Neville Goddard.

AF: After writing a record that channels something from “somewhere in the future,” has your perspective on what the future holds changed?

BB: The more I think about it, I think what we channeled was not necessarily in the future or the past or even time as we understand it at all! I think we just connected to an energy, alternate dimension, or some type of higher being and that gave us access to these songs.

AF: Do you feel like the pandemic as a whole will lead to a greater spiritual evolution/awakening for society?

BB: We believe so, because we have to. It is horrible and terrible that anyone has to suffer or that our society seems like it has to completely implode for justice to prevail. However, the only way we can look at this all is as an opportunity for growth. When we grow we become strong and compassionate; this is just part of that journey.

AF: What have you learned in the past few months about yourself as a musician and how you operate as a band?

BB: Mostly the last few months I’ve realized I was only a musician the last few years, not really a human. We were on the road like five tours a year for I think three years. I built no life for myself at all! I basically gave everything I had energetically for a month on tour, then cocooned silently in my room until we had another tour, nothing in between. Now that we don’t have tour I’m learning how to not cocoon (while also quarantining, so that’s pretty far out!). I got my first plant! And got a printer so I can make art. Trying to get excited about stuff like that.

AF: Now that the fall is creeping up on us, do you have any accounts of paranormal activities you’d like to share? Are you partial to any specific alien race?

BB: Haha! I’m not actually a contactee! I’m involved with contactee and abductee support groups, but I’m not one myself. I definitely love the Pleiadians and their message. I would love to hear from them someday!

AF: I read in a past interview that you were kind of excited for end times because you really want to have a compound to be with your friends. Have you created or thought out your apocalypse compound or have any other doomsday plans?

BB: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it non-stop! I lived on a compound-esque farm in upstate New York so I kind of have an idea of what I would want. And if I were alone in the world I would definitely make it happen. But I live with my little nephews now, and being with them and them being safe is the most important thing. Freedom and compound will come when the world is safe for them!

AF: Have these past months in lockdown changed your views on life, death, the afterlife, and spiritual transcendence?

BB: That’s a good question! When I thought about the black plague or other major world altering events I never really thought of the individual people and their experiences. I think this time has given me a new perspective in the sense that we are like caretakers for the earth. We come and go and teach and learn, and in the end hopefully we leave the earth better than we found it.

AF: What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and beyond?

BB: Learn, grow, create, write, sing, fight, love, and on and on…

RSVP HERE for Death Valley Girls via Levitation Sessions on 9/5, 8pm ET. $3.98-100

More great livestreams this week…

9/4 Patti Smith via Murmrr Theatre. RSVP HERE

9/4 Long Neck, Cheekface, Shay, Diners and Pinkshit via Twitch. 7pm ET, RSVP HERE

9/5 Death to Museums: Organizing + Mutual Aid via YouTube. 12 ET, RSVP HERE 

9/5 I’m Talking to White People: Your Role in the Fight For Justice by Kenny A. Burrell. 11am ET, $50, RSVP HERE

9/7 The New Colossus Fest: Blushing, Ceremony East Coast, Elijah Wolf, Jelly Kelly, Michael Rault, Pearl Charles  via YouTube. 5pm ET, RSVP HERE 

9/9 + 9/10 Margo Price via FANS – Live from Brooklyn Bowl Nashville. 8pm ET, RSVP HERE

9/9 Devendra Banhart via Noonchorus. 9pm ET, $15, RSVP HERE

9/10 LA Witch (album release party) via DICE. 10pm ET, $11.30, RSVP HERE

9/10 DEHD via KEXP at home. 4pm ET, RSVP HERE

The Decade’s Best Books by Women in Music

If I hadn’t read Sara Marcus’ Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, I wouldn’t be a rock writer. It was 2013. I had recently graduated art school and was dividing my time between three retail jobs: a liquor store, a grocery store, and a clothing store. One of my friends had recommended it to me, and even though I didn’t think of music as a big part of my identity anymore — something I’d felt pushed out of because I didn’t have the right taste or the correct opinions or the appropriate body of knowledge — I suddenly found myself reading about music a lot.

Maybe it’s because I was hanging out with female DJs. Or I wanted to ably push back when men told me everything that was wrong with what I listened to in break rooms. After four years of honing how my eyes took in information, it’s possible I was trying to improve my ears, too. But when I read Marcus’ 2010 release on long bus rides between cash registers, something in me changed.

Girls to the Front blends passion with criticism, betraying Marcus’ clear love for and intimate experience with riot grrrl while carefully laying out its many skeletons. Male critics love to trot out the feminist punk phenomenon as evidence they remember women play music, too: “I’m not sexist; I’ve heard of Bikini Kill!” But Marcus declares the movement as an important part of music history worthy of critical scrutiny — and hardly a beginning or end point for women in rock. Reading her book turned on a light in me I didn’t realize existed, and made me want to build on her work.

I don’t think I was the only one to react that way, either. In many respects, Girls to the Front anticipated the next 10 years of music books. 2010 to 2019 was a banner time for publishing women writing about rock. And I’m not just saying this as someone who was so inspired by a book about ladies’ sweat-stained expressions of rebellion that I made a slow professional shift; I have the receipts. Not only did this decade give us more women’s stories, but we also witnessed small but meaningful strides in the kinds of stories prioritized (memoirs from the likes of Kim Gordon, Liz Phair, Carrie Brownstein, et al became so ubiquitous they didn’t even fit into this list). What follows is a roving, incomplete list of books — one from each year — that marked small but powerful shifts in the rock ’n’ roll landscape.

2010: Patti Smith’s Just Kids

The 2010 debut from ’70s punk-poet icon set a new standard for memoirs well beyond the rock pantheon. In lyrical prose, Patti Smith describes her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe — its evolution from friendship to romance to creative wellspring. Even more than a eulogy for one of her most formative friendships, though, it’s a love letter to her influences: Jean Genet, Arthur Rimbaud, William Burroughs, and so on. She gives longform life to Rainer Maira Rilke’s romantic ideas of art as a calling. And because of this title’s wild success — it was a bestseller that garnered numerous awards including the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction — Just Kids opened the memoir floodgates for everyone from Kim Gordon to Ani DiFranco.

2011: Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music

Ellen Willis is probably best remembered as a feminist cultural critic who touched on everything from decriminalizing drugs to antisemitism on the Left. Somewhat lesser known is that she began her career as a music writer. In 1968, Ellen Willis became the first pop music critic at The New Yorker — the first ever music critic to write for a national audience. Despite influencing writers such as Griel Marcus and Ann Powers, Willis died in 2006 never seeing her music criticism get its due. In this tome, her daughter, Nona Willis Arnowitz, brings together writing that, while very of its time, was a hugely important landmark for music coverage.

2012: Alice Bag’s Violence Girl

Before she was releasing Christmas tracks about punching nazis or clacking away on typewriters alongside Allison Wolfe and Kathleen Hanna, Alice Bag was screaming with The Bags. She first cemented her punk legacy with a cameo in Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization, but Bag has long proven her stay power. In her book, she describes growing up Latinx in L.A.; unlearning the violence she grew up surrounded by; going hip-to-hip and lip-to-lip with both men and women; and how these experiences shaped her life’s work as an activist, educator, and musician. Early L.A. punk was queer and brown, and it had so many women — and Alice Bag will not let you forget.

2013: Evelyn McDonnell’s Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways

I do a women’s rock history podcast, and my first season is on the Runaways; there may be some heavy bias in this choice. But I’m letting it stand because Evelyn McDonnell has long written about the varied and important ways women have contributed to popular culture, and to me, this is her magnum opus. Queens of Noise provides cultural context while separating fact from fiction for one of rock history’s most storied, undervalued bands. In 2015, the Runaways’ bassist Jackie Fox revealed she was raped by the band’s manager and producer, Kim Fowley. While McDonnell’s book hints at this, she resists outing Fox or even letting Fowley’s predatory, abusive behavior define the band’s legacy. The book is not about what was done to these women; it’s about what these women did for themselves.

2014: Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

While Viv Albertine’s memoir tells the story of being an influential musician at the center of 1970s British punk, it’s also an account of everything that comes after that: marriage, motherhood, cancer, divorce — even relearning how to play the guitar. Among other things, Albertine reveals shrinking her musical past to emotionally accommodate her husband and fighting with her publisher to forego a ghostwriter. Thank the stars she won that fight, because her voice is strong, insightful, and intimate. One of the simple elegances of Albertine’s autobiography is how she marks time in a way familiar to so many women and femme music lovers: what she was wearing in that moment, what she was listening to, and who she was dating.

2015: Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic

When I initially saw this in a bookstore, I actually scoffed. At the time, I was regularly reading so much excellent music criticism from women that my brain couldn’t yet wrap itself around the bold and unfortunate fact of the title. Highlights include Jessica Hopper’s essay on emo (“Where the Girls Aren’t”); Hole fact-checking Wikipedia during an oral history of Live Through This; and an interview with journalist Jim DeRogatis where Hopper unpacks her initial instinct to separate R. Kelly’s art from his abuses and admits that was a mistake.


2016: Laura Jane Grace’s Tranny

Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace uses diaries entries dating back to the third grade to open up about transitioning, which makes it a landmark trans memoir. But beyond what the book means for transgender visibility, Grace also talks about what led her to punk and anarchism; being part of one of the most celebrated punk bands of the aughts; and reconciling her DIY punk past with finding commercial success — and what it meant when early audiences rejected Against Me! for “selling out.”


2017: Jenn Pelly’s The Raincoats – The Raincoats (33 1/3)

Stories of ’70s heroines really came of age this decade, but so did the critics raised on them. If contributing Pitchfork editor Jenn Pelly’s articles are like singles, here was her first LP. Drawing on glimpses into the Raincoats’ personal archives and using interviews from bands such as Sleater-Kinney and Gang of Four, Pelly provides a tender, collage-like account of the Raincoats’ self-titled debut and how its influence lives on. But perhaps as important as the book was its New York launch party, which bridged multiple generations of music. In attendance was a veritable who’s-who of women in rock, and it led to Bikini Kill’s reunion tour.

2018: Michelle Tea’s Against Memoir

Against Memoir is exactly what the title suggests: it’s not a memoir, but it’s not NOT a memoir, either. Which also to say, it’s not a music book, but it’s not NOT a music book. Some writers observe things like how music is made or who it’s made with; Tea chronicles what happens after it’s heard, sandwiching it between myriad other cultural observations and self reflections. The result is a piecemeal queer history of music that resists historicization. Highlights include her “Transmissions from Camp Trans” — Camp Trans being the trans-inclusive music festival that sprung up across the road from trans-exclusionary Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival — and her history of HAGS, a ’90s San Francisco dyke gang orbited by Tribe 8 who kept bands like L7, Lunachicks, and 7 Year Bitch on heavy rotation.

2019: Shawna Potter’s Making Spaces Safer: A Guide to Giving Harassment the Boot

Drawing on over 20 years of experience fronting the hardcore band War on Women, Shawna Potter has been an active voice for improving physical and psychological safety for marginalized people in music spaces. She’s led trainings at large clubs and tiny DIY venues alike, and now she has a book of actionable advice for minimizing and responding to harassment. Potter takes the conversation beyond acknowledging the aggression targeted at so many people in music, especially women and gender-nonconforming people, and declares, “Here’s some things we can do about it.” This, like so many other titles on the list, gives us a glimpse into what the next decade (hopefully) holds: a more inclusive future for women in rock – musicians, fans, and writers alike.

PREMIERE: Renee Holiday Covers Patti Smith’s “People Have The Power”

Patti Smith’s voice is a hammer striking an anvil, her songs often come across as poetry set to a tune. In the era of fake news, Smith’s work has come into the spotlight: she has been nominated for induction into The Songwriters Hall of Fame, performed at Pathway To Paris (a nonprofit trying to bring awareness of climate change), and even called President Trump an “uneducated man.” Written by Smith and her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, 1988’s “People Have The Power” is considered a classic protest song. The perfect song to dust off in the melee that is 2019.

Seattle’s own Renee Holiday teamed up with Nigel Harrison (of Blondie) for a true cover of Smith’s “People Have The Power.” True in the sense that it uses the material in a fresh, subversive way. Patti Smith’s original recording is raw rock n’ roll, while Holiday manages to infuse hope into every note. From the first “I was dreaming,” Holiday’s voice takes the form of a warm trickle of water: smooth, comforting, confidant in its path. While Patti commanded the audience to remember their power, Renee gives a gentle push. And in a world on fire, we could all use a little gentle ribbing.

Watch AudioFemme’s exclusive premiere of “People Have The Power” and read our interview with Renee Holiday below:

AF: Tell us about your childhood. When did you first take an interest in music and how did that lead you to the work you create today?

RH: I grew up in a very musical household so it’s no surprise that I took an interest in singing at a very early age. My family always tells me cute stories of me forcing them to be my audience for at-home concerts and performances. I also clearly remember watching a performance of Sade when I was around the age of 5 or 6, and knowing right away that I wanted to be a like her. I wanted to float around stage while serenading whoever would listen, so that’s what I did!

AF: You’re a Seattle native – what’s the music scene there like nowadays?

RH: The scene in Seattle is pretty eclectic. There’s definitely something for everyone!

AF: You’ve recently changed your stage name from Shaprece to Renee Holiday. What was the catalyst for this change?

RH: I had the idea to change my name years ago but the timing felt right, now. The break from performance that I took allowed time for me to meditate on the idea and when I started working with this new team and label, it felt like the right time to make that decision.

AF: Will the music be altered as well?

RH: The music is still very true to my voice and story but the production and direction has evolved.

AF: Your live performance has an incredible amount of tension to it (we were enthralled with your Sofar performance). How do you ready yourself for performance? Do you have any rituals before a show?

RH: No particular rituals but I do have a tendency to become very quiet and reserved right before a set. I think it’s my mind’s natural way to preserve every ounce of energy for my performance.

AF: You incorporate a variety of instruments into your live performances. When you’re writing songs, do you normally think: “Ok, and here’s a brass section” or “I want a harp to back me up on this one,” or is it something that comes in later during production?

RH: Production is always a collaboration of sorts between myself and my producer(s). Sometimes the producer will place unusual instruments to the production and I’m like woooow, I never would have thought of putting a banjo on this! Sometimes I phantom hear instruments while the track is being made, and suggest adding whatever that may be. It really all depends on the mood and the energy of the song.

AF: How did this “People Have The Power” cover come about?

RH: I was catching a flight to New York for a vocal session, and I met a very eccentric man by the name of Roger Greenwalt. He was dancing around the back of the plane with noise cancelling headphones and I just knew we would get along! I ended up moving seats next to him for the remainder of the flight, and we quickly found that we both have grand ideas when it comes to creating music. Next thing I know, he invited me to sing on a compilation album for his label Petaluma Records (which is now my label home). He explained to me that the compilation was a collection of protest songs and of course, I was immediately interested. When I showed up to his studio later in the week, Nigel Harrison of Blondie was there working on the track as well. I felt so honored that they both trusted me to carry the power of this song.

AF: Have you always been a Patti Smith fan?

RH: Actually, I didn’t realize how much of a fan I was until I was asked to perform the cover. I had so many jaw dropping a-ha moments once I traveled down the Patti Smith rabbit hole. She’s a legend!

AF: What was it like working with Nigel Harrison?

RH: He is so kind, and such an encouraging person to work with! He complimented me on my professionalism, ability to learn a song on the spot, and perform it with confidence. I was majorly flattered and appreciative to get that sort of feedback from Rock Royalty. He has written some majorly ICONIC songs that I absolutely love so needless to say, I was honored to be working with both Nigel and Roger!

AF: If you did an album of covers as Renee Holiday, what would be your top tracks?

RH: I can’t pinpoint exact tracks because I have so many favorites but I can say that there would definitely be some Amy Winehouse, Bjork, Sade, Minnie Riperton, Stevie Wonder, Radiohead, Bill Withers, Jazmin Sullivan…

AF: Is a Renee Holiday album in the works?

RH: Definitely. Stay tuned!

AF: When and where can we see you live?

RH: If you happen to be in Seattle between November 7th and December 1st, you can catch me at the Can Can Culinary Cabaret in historic Pike Place market for my residency, “Beautiful.” The show’s concept is based on life transformation and rebirth which is definitely something that we can all relate to. I’m excited to showcase the transition from Shaprece to Renee Holiday through song, stunning visuals, and an incredible dance team!

A portion of “People Have The Power” proceeds will go to headcount.org.

ONLY NOISE: Touching Modigliani – My Patti Smith Pilgrimage

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Jennavieve McClelland tours Patti Smith’s New York City in a post-graduate stupor, looking for tangible inspiration from punk’s poet laureate.

All photos by Jennavieve McClelland

I sought my kind & found none. How you rescued me, your peasant hands reaching through time,
wrapping my young heart, your poems found in the stall by the greyhound station.

Patti Smith, “Une Saison en Enfer”

In Dream of Life, the 2013 documentary that took Patti Smith and Steven Sebring 10 years to shoot, she notes: “I like to feel the skin of a canvas. I know it’s not right to touch paintings. You know, when you go to museums, first time I got yelled at I was a teenager, touching Modigliani. I just had to feel the texture, just the way the paint [trails off, touching her own painting]… It’s like, I almost have to put mittens on.”

Smith moves beyond sight into that which can be felt, feeling for the granular effect of the paints used by Modigliani and De Kooning – and in doing so, the auras and energies of the subject that is bridged in moving closer. Seeing is not believing: Smith lies with her muses as she moves into the Chelsea Hotel, “next door to the room where Dylan Thomas had written his last words;” as she “comb[s] the city [of Paris] in search of where Piaf had sung, Gerard de Nerval had slept, and Baudelaire was buried;” as she studies photos of Keith Richards in rock magazines to style her own hair, managing to “machete [her] way out of the folk era.” Smith leaves minimal room between her and her beloveds.

I dogged, dreaming of escape, words I could not comprehend & yet deciphered by blood illuminated adolescence.
I wrote with the image of you above my work table, vowing one day to trace your steps,
dressed in the watch cap & coat of my present self.

I discovered Patti Smith on a family trip to a furniture warehouse called The Brick when I was thirteen. My father was in search of a couch he could install in his new bachelor pad, in the basement apartment of his friend’s townhouse. I sat on the first pleather couch I saw, fixed in front of a huge plasma screen TV. It was playing muted concert footage of a tall, lanky woman with spidery black hair, screaming into the microphone. My dad interrupted the sales associate he was chatting with, tapped my shoulder and leaned down: That’s the godmother of punk, he whispered.

This was appealing to me at exactly this moment in time because a) my parents had just shared the news that they would be filing for divorce, which meant b) I wanted to scare any potential new romantic partners of theirs from penetrating our now vulnerable circle. Punk was going to give me the escapism I needed, a treehouse in the backyard of my distended domestic space. Punk would also clothe me in the armour I needed to stay on land when escapism wasn’t possible. Punk was abrasive, and punk was healing. I had received Mojo Magazine’s Punk: The Whole Story for Christmas a few days before our furnishing excursion, a Bible of a book and my new holy scripture for a philosophy that I did not have access to in my own sleepy suburb. My parents continued their tour of the warehouse while I sat and stared at my new heroine.

This morning pulling into your town, I walked the streets that you despised.
The streets I love for you having despised them. I will go to the train station in Rouche.
I will touch the remains of the walls of the farmhouse where you wept.

You’re not an artist until you are published, an acquaintance once told me. I had met him at a local Smiths DJ night. It turned out that he worked for a visual arts professor I had in university, the one who urged me to leave the arts behind. The class was called “Time-Based Arts,” and for our first assignment I created an audio piece to emulate the sound and feeling of waves through the use of an electric tambura, guitar loops, accordion and my wailing voice. I was asked to redo my piece after my professor found out that I often worked in the audio/sound medium. Every week after class, I would wait to talk to the professor and make a new argument for my piece, refusing to write another one on the basis of my musical history. Finally, agreeing to disagree, my professor let me off with a 60% – and a warning that the arts were probably not for me. I thanked him for his opinion – but in my l’esprit de l’escalier I gave him all kinds of hell. I made my way silently through the rest of the visual arts program, unparticipatory and mouse-like.


I graduated from my bachelor’s as winter arrived. This was my first time out of school since junior kindergarten. I remember being in shock, leaving my 8:30 A.M. alarm wakeups from my library days scheduled on my clock out of pure confusion. I gave myself readings even after I no longer had an official syllabus, unsure if I was ready to bargain with the art world outside of my bedroom walls without more Rainer Maria Rilke, more Anaïs Nin. I continued to study the selfportraits of Frida Kahlo, trying to orient myself within her painful mandala. Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes America had just been published, and I tagged along in the backseat of his cross-country journey. Waters had predicted the best and worst outcomes he could anticipate of his travels, ending with the true story, what really happened, which was less eventful than his visions and required him to spend mild hours waiting on the side of the road for friendly passersby for the majority of his trip. My Apollonian trajectory, investigating the artists who gave me my only motivation, brought me to my office – a café called Loveless across the street – by 9am every day.

Just Kids – Smith’s first memoir – was on my personal syllabus through my post-graduation haze, and I spent my mornings with her and Robert Mapplethorpe until noon released me back into my abyss (AM to PM signaled a necessary change of pace for me). Smith’s was a story of conscious living, of connecting to another plane of being, entirely her own, and channeling it into a hot, magnetic flash of raw sound and poetry. Smith recognized at a young age that she needed more than what traditional 9-5 work could offer, and a burning obsession with freedom drove her to find fulfillment through writing and, eventually, the visceral performance of her writing through music. After my furniture warehouse introduction, I had “Land” on repeat for almost a decade until I read her memoir and delved a little deeper into her personal geography.

Smith begins her memoir in rural South Jersey, finding solace in a copy of Rimbaud’s Illuminations that would deliver her from the isolation of factory life, later crossing the ocean to explore the Charleville that Rimbaud was born and buried in between his own border crossings. Rimbaud’s “d’encre de Chine” – Chinese ink – illustrates the blackest of all inks, a blackness which is proof of the beginning of the experiment, a time of melancholy and dissolution, but of hope as well. Only when the blackness appears can the first stage of the alchemic practice begin, and the possibility of gold be discovered. Submerged in my own shades of black from a lack of cohesion in my familial and artistic life, my need to retrace Smith’s steps (just as she’d done with Rimbaud) fostered in me an incredible desperation. My escapist fantasies became my only thoughts. It was time to act, to erase the cage I had drawn myself. Two days later, I got on an eleven hour bus ride to New York City.

I will be there at the train station. I will piss in the urinal you pissed in.
A young man cursing existence & then a dying man.
I will squat & rise. I will stand. I will give you my limbs, no longer young but sturdy all the same.

I traveled to New York with the guise of a literary tourist, using Just Kids as my guide through the spaces that had fostered Smith through her formative years: my Patti Smith Pilgrimage. Smith’s was the first voice to rebuild what had been unsettled by my external world, a screaming reminder of my youth, my fire, and my “gradations of gold” (to use the language of Rimbaud). I wanted to connect with more than the pages of the books I had been clinging to; I wanted to touch the paint. I went to New York City to experience Patti Smith’s youthful impulses in lieu of my own.

I walked Patti’s map of the city, gliding through Tompkins Square Park (where Smith’s friend Robert Mapplethorp saved Patti from an awkward date), buying an egg cream at the Gem Spa (where he took her after), then moved further away, taking a Sunday trip to Coney Island and buying hot dogs from Nathan’s (which has either suffered from inflation or was always crazy expensive), walking down the boardwalk and catching Coney Island folk mid-fashion shoot.

Patti’s previous workplaces, where she spent her minimum wage days: the Strand bookstore, and the art deco beauty that is the old Charles Scribner’s Sons bookstore which has since transformed into a Sephora but still boasts the watermark on the side of the building as well as the gorgeous black and gold engravings. I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art – finding more solace behind the building, where I took a nap on the grass and the fallen pale pink petals of the magnolia trees, than I did inside with the hustle of students and teachers – though frequent trips to the bathroom, located through the collection of ancient Egyptian mummies, had a way of reminding me of life. I visited the Museum of Modern Art where I felt something for Duchamp’s alter ego Rrose Sélavy. I visited the NYC Public Library and spent the rest of my American money on a beer in Bryant Park where I read Rimbaud’s letters and wrote some of my own. I visited Electric Lady Studio, where Patti first met Jimi Hendrix when she was still an unknown poetess, both feeling socially awkward at its opening celebration. I visited the Chelsea Hotel, walking inside to see the foyer that Patti sat, wrote, and drew in, where Salvador Dalí christened her his gothic crow. The concierge eyed me hard, probably knowing my business would not end in any financial transaction.

Ay Rimbaud, the rat poet laureate. A rat is all I have been, scurrying through the streets of the city of brotherly love.
I am where you were & I feel as if I could find you waiting.

Shadowing Patti’s ascent, I am where you were, is that first light of creation; culture is no longer a shield when one finds the doorways to communion. The deficit I encountered in my post-collegiate days now appears to me as a necessary gaze inward. This gaze, in its present moment, appeared in hues of escapism, a thin skin distant from something much more insidious: that of nihilism. The abrasion of punk is twofold – it is destruction, and it is creation. It is the blank generation, it is the void sublimated; it is absolute freedom, it is that nutrient which offers illumination, it is filling (fill me! fill me!).

Patti Smith offered an entrance, opening a world that I wanted to live in, reflecting light, colour, and sound that welcomed me into its foreign arms. I stayed in New York City a week, waking early enough on my seventh day to see the sun rise and with it, the last licks of night life, still with whiskey in hand. To touch heightened myth – with our fingertips! – is a brush with the artist’s divinity.

On the bus home I returned to playing “Horses” on repeat, the beginning and the end: Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.


NEWS ROUNDUP: Killer Mike’s NRA Interview, New R. Kelly Doc & More

NEWS ROUNDUP: Killer Mike, R. Kelly & More

By Jasmine Williams

Killer Mike ❤’s the NRA

While country musicians are distancing themselves from the National Rifle Association, the pro-gun lobby is getting support from an unlikely ally – Killer Mike. As half of explosive rap duo Run The Jewels the musician has never been known for his subtlety; however, he still managed to catch his fans off-guard earlier this week when he was the featured subject of an NRA interview. The NRATV segment was broadcast on March 22nd, two days before the March for Our Lives. During the 42-minute Q&A, Mike backs up the NRA, criticizes student gun-reform activists and attempts to link civil rights to the right to bear arms.

To be fair, Killer Mike has defended black gun ownership in the past so his arguments weren’t completely new and he did bring up some interesting points about the disparity in the treatment of black versus white activists. However, to choose NRATV to air his opinions was confusing and unacceptable to many; critics pointed out that his partnership with the gun lobbyists undermines some of the core arguments he makes in the interview. In fact, one of the only times that the NRA backed gun reform was in 1967 when it helped get the Mulford Gun Ban Act through. The law banned the open carrying of guns in California. It’s not a coincidence that the act was passed during the same period that the Black Panthers were rising to prominence.

Killer Mike has since apologized for some of his statements and the timing of his interview.

Is R. Kelly the Harvey Weinstein of the music industry?

Compared to the movie industry, the music world has been slow to catch onto the #MeToo movement. Case in point? R. Kelly. For years we’ve known that the R&B hitmaker was a sexual predator. He supposedly married Aaliyah at the ripe old age of fifteen and has since been accused of myriad forms of sexual abuse, starting a cult, and holding women at his home against their will. Recently released BBC documentary, R . Kelly: Sex, Girls and Videotapes has added more disturbing allegations to the musician’s list. The film features interviews with ex-girlfriend Kitti Jones, who describes how she was forced to engage with Kelly and others in a “sex dungeon” and his disturbing practice of “grooming” underaged girls.

Kelly has paid various court settlements to women over the years but has yet to be convicted of any crimes. He is currently on tour.

In other shitty-men-in-the-music-industry news: Charlie Walk is officially out at Republic Group. The record executive is the subject of an ongoing sexual misconduct investigation.

That New New:

Next month the Tribeca Film Festival will screen a new Patti Smith documentary. Horses: Patti Smith and her Band features the final concert of her 2016 tour which honored the 40-year anniversary of her 1975 album. Garbage will also celebrate an impressive milestone with a new-old release. The 20th anniversary of the band’s sophomore album, Version 2.0, will be commemorated with a reissue of the album on June 22nd.

Soul, psych, chill-out queen, Kadhja Bonet released a new track, “Mother Maybe.” It’s the first single off of her upcoming album, Childqueen, out June 8th.

Frankie Cosmos has a new album out this weekend. Vessel is Greta Kline’s third LP.

Phoenix, Real Estate, Nils Frahm, Ty Segall, and Cut Copy have all announced new tour dates.

The festival lineup for the Brooklyn edition of Afropunk is here! Erykah Badu, Miguel, The Internet, Janelle Monae, Ibeyi and many more will play Commodore Barry Park on August 25th and 26th.

A Tribe Called Quest has released their final video. Erykah Badu, Questlove, Common, Janelle Monae and many more guests pop up in “The Space Program,” an eight-minute Afro-futuristic journey that celebrates the seminal hip-hop group’s history while maintaining Tribe’s usual dose of political commentary. Audiofemme faves, Wax Idols, also have a new video out. Watch Mausoleum here and look out for their upcoming album, Happy Ending, out May 16th.

For more new music clips, check out Desdemona Dallas’ new Audiofemme column, Video of the Week.

More Music News:

  • At the beginning of this week, Chance The Rapper put attention on an incredibly racist advertisement for Heineken Light and brought up an interesting point by tweeting “I think some companies are purposely putting out noticeably racist ads so they can get more views.” He might be right – in this age of increasing political correctness and social media sharing, cultural controversies often go viral. Maybe advertisement firms are using this as a strategy; after all, no one has ever touted the industry for its upstanding morality. Heineken has since pulled the commercial but on Thursday, the beer company’s stock was up.
  • On Monday, The Associated Press reported that a toxicology report from Prince’s death reveals that he had an “exceedingly high” concentration of fetanyl in his body. The synthetic painkiller is 50 times more powerful than heroin and is a key facet of the current opioid crisis in the United States. The investigation in to the music legend’s passing remains open.
  • The Bushwick building that hosts soon-to-close venue, Silent Barn, may become the headquarters of Educated Little Monsters. ELM is a “local grassroots youth program and movement dedicated to providing artistic outlets and economic opportunity to native-Brooklyn youth of color.” The organization has launched a fundraiser to raise $50,000 to take over the space. Read ELM’s full statement and donate here.

ONLY NOISE: One More Cup of Coffee

I’ve stopped counting the number of times “coffee” is mentioned in Patti Smith’s M Train. The short answer is: a lot; coffee is the lifeblood coursing through the entire book. Coffee is the daily elixir of Smith’s life, and she finds great poetry in every sip – from hand-selected, highland grown beans in Veracruz, to the charred offerings of Styrofoam deli cups – she wants “to write an aria to coffee.” Yet, quite surprisingly, the poet and songwriter never did. Smith’s connotations with coffee result from her caffeine-fueled memoirs and New York coffee shop patronage, and she is therefore one of the artists I most strongly associate with those bitter brown beans. I imagine that her version of heaven is an eternal corner table in her favorite café, where the brown bread and olive oil never run out and the coffee flows black and hot.

Considering today is National Coffee Day, I can’t help but think about the decades, even centuries long relationship between music and coffee. Who are the musicians who’ve paid homage to the drink named Joe? And which artists, like Smith, evoke coffee shop romanticism without needing to sing of a single sip?

Since Smith never wrote her aria di caffè, I can only speculate what coffee represents to her. In M Train it signifies ritual; each day of import is commenced with a description of her coffee and breakfast regimen, but not in an Instagram diary manner. Smith isn’t keeping a food journal for fitness purposes. Rather, it seems that every sip of coffee transports her back in time, where she can commune with her beloved Beat poets, and sit in Mohammed Mrabet’s fictional The Beach Café for a little while. Surely it must also evoke her greatest influence, Bob Dylan, and his early days at the Gaslight Café.

Coffee pairs with Bob Dylan just as well as cigarettes (a classic duo we’ll get to in a moment.) From his Greenwich Village coffee shop days and his caffeinated delivery on songs like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Talkin’ New York,” to his 1975 ballad “One More Cup of Coffee,” Dylan and java go hand-in-hand. In fact, because of his proximity to the Beats, Dylan was one of the musicians who pioneered the image of a rock n’ roll poet holed up in a café, dousing themselves with free refills and stamping out smokes while scribbling lyrics. Smith merely conjured her idols, and eventually became one herself.

Like Patti Smith, Tom Waits never wrote a song with the word “coffee” in the title – but can you think of a musician more at home on the pleather booth seats of a 24-hour diner? Waits is seemingly made of coffee grounds, burger grease, and cigarette tar. The same year that Dylan released “One More Cup of Coffee,” Waits recorded his iconic live album Nighthawks at the Diner, a jazz-beat-opera to the greasy spoon lifestyle. The most caffeinated track on Nighthawks has to be “Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson),” which relays the deadbeat clientele and menu options of a roadside-dining joint. “…There’s a rendezvous/of strangers around the coffee urn tonight/all the gypsy hacks, the insomniacs…/eggs and sausage and a side of toast/coffee and a roll, has browns over easy…/it’s a graveyard charade, a late shift masquerade.”

If Bob Dylan and Patti Smith claimed cafés for the poets, Waits reclaimed them for their rightful patrons: nightshift gas station attendants, prostitutes, and aimless drunks. When bars are only open until 4am (2am if you are on the West Coast like Waits), where is one to go in the wee and in between hours? The diner of course, where coffee flows cheaply and liberally. That is the beauty of coffee shops and canteens: they offer refuge for those who don’t have an office or a studio, and can’t afford to wash themselves in fine wine or dine out on the regular. In the coffee shop, you can purchase a single item (a cup of coffee) and sit for hours on end working, reading, or simply sipping. And not too long ago, you could also smoke.

It’s no coincidence that Waits sings of “cold caffeine in a nicotine cloud” in “Eggs And Sausage.” The narcotic pair has been canonized in literature, music, and film for years. Jim Jarmusch’s 2003 flick Coffee and Cigarettes plumbs the eternal relationship between the two vices, and whom does he turn to for much of his cast? Musicians, naturally. Coffee and Cigarettes is comprised of eleven short scenes revolving around the titular pleasures. Three of these scenes involve famous musicians, the most memorable being Somewhere In California, featuring Iggy Pop and, you guessed it, Tom Waits.

The rock icons meet in a corner booth, sipping black coffee and making awkward conversation. Though Pop and Waits both quit smoking long ago, a mysterious pack of Marlboros sits on the table. The marriage of coffee and cigarettes (and coffee and rock n’ roll and cigarettes) is so undeniable, that the smokes have just magically appeared. After realizing that since they’ve already quit, they can now partake every once in a while, Waits and Pop light up and bask in nicotine. “Hey, cigarettes and coffee man…that’s a combination,” says Iggy. Waits nods in agreement. “You know, we’re really like the coffee-and-cigarettes generation, when you think about it,” he says. “Well I mean, in the ‘40s it was the pie-and-coffee generation…”

When Otis Redding recorded “Cigarettes and Coffee” for The Soul Album in 1966, the substances seemed to represent domestic bliss as well as stimulating conversation. “It’s early in the morning/About a quarter till three,” sings Redding, “I’m sittin’ here talkin’ with my baby/Over cigarettes and coffee, now.” Perhaps Redding’s positioning of coffee in rock n’ roll is the most honest – suggesting that its warmth and ceremonial nature recalls home.

Other than booze and blood, coffee has to be the most romantic liquid in the Western Song Book. Cowboys and rappers like it black (unless you’re the Beastie Boys, and must have your “sugar with coffee and cream.”) Blur has it with TV, Squeeze drinks it in bed, and Kate Bush wants it homeground. And in the 1970s, Patti Smith ventured to all the way to Mexico is search of the ideal brew. “It was February 14,” she recalls in M Train, “and I was about to give my heart to a perfect cup of coffee.”

ONLY NOISE: Cover to Cover


“What a drug this little book is; to imbibe it is to find oneself presuming his process.” In her latest memoir M Train, Patti Smith speaks of W.G. Sebald’s After Nature with bibliophilic hunger. She is seeking inspiration and therefore turns to a favorite work. Smith continues:

“I read and feel the same compulsion; the desire to possess what he has written, which can only be subdued by writing something myself. It is not mere envy but a delusional quickening in the blood.”

As I read her book with a similar hunger, I realize that I’ve felt this way before, in the precise way she has described it – when I listen to the music I love. “The desire to possess” what has been written, played, and sung. This desire is so strong that it ventures upon wish fulfillment; I often feel as though I am taking communion with the music…eating it, so to speak. For a split second, I near convince myself that I have written it. That it is mine.

I often wonder if this is a personal quirk (a hallucination) or if others experience the same phenomenon. I wonder if it is perhaps the subconscious impetus to cover songs, even. What if instead of mere flattery, or tribute, possession also informed Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” or Jimi Hendrix’s take on “All Along the Watchtower?” They certainly made both songs their own. I do not mean a jealous possession, necessarily, but an attempt to be “one with” the song, at the risk of sounding faux-metaphysical.

Cover songs as a genre get a bad rep, it seems. Covers = karaoke, or worse, Covers = Cover Bands. It was after all a throng of home-recorded cover songs that launched Justin Bieber’s career. But cover songs lead a double life. In their pop/rock identity, it is often considered a lowbrow, unoriginal form – sometimes even an attempt at latching onto the search engine optimization of the artists being covered. But in a cover song’s blues/folk/country life it goes by another name: a traditional. Throughout countless genres that could be filed under the umbrella of “folk” or “roots” music, artists recorded their own versions of songs passed down by performers before them.

Much like the poems and fables of oral history, it was common for the original authors of traditional songs to remain unknown. Take for instance the trad number “Goodnight, Irene,” which was first recorded by Lead Belly in 1933, and by many others thereafter. But the original songwriter has been obscured from music history. There are allusions to the song dating back to 1892, but no specifics on who penned the version Lead Belly recorded.

Lead Belly claimed to have learned the song from his uncles in 1908, who presumably heard it elsewhere. “Goodnight, Irene” was subsequently covered by The Weavers (1950), Frank Sinatra (1950, one month after The Weavers’ version), Ernest Tubb & Red Foley (1950 again), Jimmy Reed (1962) and Tom Waits (2006) to name but a few.

The reason so many artists (I only listed a couple) covered “Goodnight, Irene” in 1950 was because that was the way of the music biz back then. If someone had a hit record – like The Weavers, who went to #1 on the Billboard Best Seller chart – it was in the best interest of other musicians to cash in on the trend while it was hot by recording their version of the single. Not as common today of course, but in a time when session musicians were rarely credited and hits were penned by paid teams instead of performers, it made sense.

The history of traditional folk songs or “standards” is a fascinating one because it is like a musical game of telephone. The songs’ arrangement and lyrics change with the times, the performer, and the context. And that same model of change can be applied to both the artist’s motive for covering certain music, and the listener’s reaction to it.

For years I quickly dismissed cover songs, finding them boring at best and unbearable at worst. But in my recent quest to become more open-minded, I have revisited many covers…and become a bit obsessed in the process. The first cover song to move me was The Slits’ version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” which in itself is a pop traditional as it has been covered by everyone from Marvin Gaye, to Creedence Clearwater Revival, to The Miracles. Gaye’s version is the most widely recognized, however, making The Slits’ rendition all the more fascinating. Their 1979 stab at the Motown classic was what taught me that a cover song could be more than just a karaoke version of something. It can become a completely new medium of expression when the artist tears the original apart and stitches the pieces into a new form. The Slits did this so effectively, to the point that theirs and Gaye’s versions are incomparable.

The Stranglers achieved a similar result by reconfiguring the Dionne Warwick classic “Walk On By” in 1978, morphing the lounge-y original into a six-minute swirl of organ-infused punk. Another master of pop modification was the one-and-only Nina Simone, who somehow took the already perfect “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen and managed to make it…perfecter. I remember a friend playing this cut for me three and a half years ago, and I haven’t gone so much as a week without putting it on since. Nina’s phrasing can make Dylan’s seem predictable, and she dances through Cohen’s poetry in a way that astonishes me to this day, no matter how many times I’ve heard it. I feel that her version is, dare I say, better than the original, though I love both dearly.

But of course, not all covers exist for the purpose of possession. Sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one: that a cover is an opportunity to pay tribute, not ironically, but with reverence. Of course, even artists performing the best reverent covers make the songs their own. Take Smog’s version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Beautiful Child,” which is such a gorgeous recording that I was heartbroken to learn it was a cover, and disappointed upon hearing the original. Ditto Bill Callahan’s more recent take on Kath Bloom’s “The Breeze/My Baby Cries.” Bloom’s take isn’t short on oddball, winsome charm, but Callahan brings a barge full of sorrow, which always wins in my book.

In similar form, Robert Wyatt somehow out-Costello’d Elvis Costello when he covered “Shipbuilding” in 1982, which reaches another dimension of despair with Wyatt’s wavering vocal performance. Another favorite is Morrissey’s interpretation of “Redondo Beach,” an oddly bouncy rendition by the King of Sad.

Though I once turned my nose up at cover songs, I seem to fanatically collect them now. I often dream up cover song commissions that will likely never come to fruition: Cat Power singing Bob Dylan’s “Most of the Time” or King Krule doing “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes. I’d pay them to do it myself if I could damn well afford to. Until then, let the covers of others stoke your desire to possess.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Ghost Ship Tragedy, Venue News & Meg White


  • Ghost Ship Death Toll Rises To 36

    Last week, a fire broke out at an Oakland warehouse and loft that housed a DIY space called the Ghost Ship. Described as “a center of the Oakland community,” the space was hosting an electronic music show that night, leading many to jump to conclusions that the victims were irresponsible ravers partying in a dangerous building. In reality, if blame is to be placed anywhere it’s on the housing crisis in Oakland. Artists simply can’t afford to rent proper spaces to house DIY venues, which often double as safe spaces for marginalized groups. And it’s not limited to Oakland; as this article by Meredith Isaksen states, “The economic trends in Oakland and the circumstances leading to the Ghost Ship fire are a magnification of what many are experiencing across the country.” Read it here, and watch Patti Smith dedicate a song to the victims of the fire below.

  • New Venue, Brooklyn Steel, Announced

    The Bowery Presents has announced a new venue, Brooklyn Steel, which will open in Williamsburg at 319 Frost Street. With a capacity of 1,800, that will make it the “largest general admission venue in Brooklyn.” Bowery Presents partners John Moore and Jim Glancy promised “easy access to bars and restrooms, to unobstructed sightlines and state-of-the-art sound and acoustics” in a statement on the Bowery Presents website. 40 bathrooms and a good view of the bands sound nice, but can we get Glasslands back too?

    Some of the first artists to perform at the new venue include The Decemberists, Pixies, PJ Harvey, Two Door Cinema Club, Animal Collective, Perfume Genius, Whitney, Tycho and The Black Angels. More details here.

  • Read This: Why We Can’t Forget About Meg White

    Remember all of those debates about whether or not Meg White was a good drummer? I never found any problems with her playing; she had a simple style that fit well with the type of music The White Stripes played. So why did so many people insist on tearing her down? Kayleigh Hughes breaks down the meaning behind all of those “pervasive, heavily gendered critiques of whether or not Meg White is a good drummer” in this excellent Watt article.

  • Elvis Guesthouse Closing After NYE

    2016: the year of venue closures. We’ve already lost Palisades, Manhattan Inn, Aviv, and Market Hotel (temporarily). Now, the owners of Elvis Guesthouse, a bar that’s the Manhattan counterpart to BK’s Baby’s All Right, have announced it will be closing at the end of December. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Insert joke about Elvis leaving the building].


NEWS ROUNDUP: Palisades, Deerhoof, & Patti Smith’s Nico Tribute


  • Palisades Shut Down For The Summer

    Hopefully it’s temporary; during last weekend’s Northside Festival, the DIY space Palisades was shut down by police and the venue’s shows have been moved to other locations. Management tweeted that it would be closed for a few days, but it’ll be more like most of the summer after the NYC Department of Buildings gave them a complaint for problems like “GROUND FL OPERATED AS A CABARET WITHOUT A SPRINKLER SYSTEM CELLAR WORK W/O PERMITS & FAILURE TO MAINTAIN PREMISES.”

  • Patti Smith to Release Nico Tribute

    Patti Smith recorded a tribute to the late Velvet Underground singer, with Smith’s daughter contributing as well. “Killer Road” is inspired by Nico’s own poetry, her harmonium is used on the track. It sounds kind of like Nick Cave decided to take a shot at ambient music: chilling and foreboding with whispers in the background alluding to death. The track will be officially released on the Soundwalk Collective’s Killer Road, coming September 2nd. Listen below:


  • Deerhoof’s The Magic Now Streaming on NPR

    The unpredictable band recorded The Magic by renting an abandoned New Mexico office building and recording for a week with no prepared material. NPR describes the result as a “tense, visceral, unpredictable sound that doesn’t let listeners get comfortable for very long.” Stream The Magic here, and watch the video for “Criminals Of The Dream,” which appears on the album, below:



I’m finally home. After a two week stint on the road with JR JR I’m attempting to readjust and realign, and in doing so found that I was home sick all along. While traveling I was lucky to explore parts of the country I never thought I would see, and feel things yet to be categorized and safely stored. Even so, the sensation of being home is disturbingly strange. While I stumble to transition from being driven to driving myself (that’s actually pretty heavy if you think about it), I decided to channel Detroit artists singing about our beautifully complicated city. (And for the record, I really wanted to put Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” on this list, but I think you’re better off just looking up “mom’s spaghetti” memes.)

1. The White Stripes “The Big Three Killed My Baby”

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My dad has worked for Ford Motor Company for 39 years. My dad also raised me single handedly. Detroit royalty, The White Stripes’ shrill and thrashing anthem, acknowledging the complexities between the city and its industry, hits home with me. While on the road, my dad called me with the news of his early retirement. I imagine on his last day we will set fire to something in a field and scream along with Jack and Meg.

2. Mayer Hawthorne “A Long Time”

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Released in 2011, just two years before Detroit filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, this track about Detroit’s most desperate hour is bittersweet today in the age of the city’s rebirth. Hawthorne’s reputation for being a sincere channel between the sounds of Motown and modern swagger shines here with heart and hope.

3. MC5 “Motor City Is Burning” 

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I’m not sure how they’re perceived around the country, other than seeing shitty faux vintage t-shirts at Urban Outfitters, but in Detroit MC5 are a major thread in our rock ‘n’ roll fabric. In wake of the race riots of 1967, their 1969 debut album Kick Out The Jams included this track, a Dylan-esque retaliation and retelling of this pinnacle piece of our city’s history.

4. Patti Smith “25th Floor”

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Okay, okay. Patti Smith isn’t from Detroit. But she is my favorite person and she did live in Detroit and various Michigan suburbs from 1976 to the mid 90’s after meeting and marrying the late Fred Smith (beloved guitarist of the aforementioned MC5.) Her latest book, M-Train, details this very life which was first expressed in 1978 via this purging and poetic love letter that is as gritty as the city itself.

5. Sixto Rodriguez “Inner City Blues”

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Rodriguez has an interesting story.  If you saw the Oscar winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man then you know what I’m talking about. Having made music with luke warm reception in the states in the 1970’s (with mild success in Australia) Rodrieguez’s career shaped up to be short lived. Unknowingly to him, his music found its way to South Africa where his record sales outnumbered those of Elvis Presley. Rumors of his death circulated. In attempt to find the truth (spoiler alert: he’s alive) the documentary was made and released in 2012. This song is reflective of his roots and helps illustrate the mysterious life of this local legend with sweeping simplicity.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]


patti smith

I was surfing the internet for vintage Patti Smith videos the other day when I came across this gem. I was so excited that I decided to dedicate my newest installment of Flashback Friday solely to this video, which is a 1979 performance of Patti Smith’s “My Generation” at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag…

The clip begins with Smith reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance” (She even put her hand over her heart)  over a Hendrix-esque “Star Spangled Banner” guitar solo. You can see an American Flag plastered in the background. With her back to the stage, she finishes the pledge. The room then fills with discordant noise coming from the guitars, drums and amplifiers. Once the chaos dissipates, the drummer signals the beginning of the song by striking his sticks together to define the beat. Then it begins.

It is no secret that punk rock poet Patti Smith is a dynamic musician who is full of energy and character, but watching her perform live and listening to her recordings are like night and day.  With no shoes on her feet, hair awry and a presence that generally suggests dishevelment, Smith completely lets loose on stage. According to Smith, this experience is just as important as the music. Smith prefers expression to accuracy, and often strays from the key, rhythm or melody in order to fully express herself within the music. The performance is spontaneous and seemingly genuine.

The song breaks down right before the end. She turns her back to the stage while the music escalates in speed and volume. The drums are pushed over onto their sides, the guitarist puts down his guitar, and Smith is left playing alone. She seems entranced as she strums randomly on the guitar and overworks the whammy. The music gradually becomes more esoteric as she crouches and kneels with the instrument, even shaking it at times to produce a piercing tone. After a couple of minutes, the band members return to the stage. Smith walks over to interact with the bassist, who begins to hit the guitar with his microphone.

She then returns to center stage, faces the audience, and recites one final impromptu verse:  

“Here I am

Empty warrior

Here I am

Back on the straight and narrow

here I am

with my broken arrow”

While Patti Smith still performs fairly often in the NYC area, it is still exciting to see old footage of her from back in the day.  Enjoy.