Patti Smith, Radio Ethiopia and The Muse

When I first saw Patti Smith I was just a teenage dirtbag with her head in a little cellophane wrap of speed and a tiny chunk of illegal Moroccan hashish stuffed into my bra. I looked at her defiant face staring out at me from the music magazine page and thought, “Hey Salome, hey Venus, hey Lilith, hey Patti….you are clearly going my way.”
The damning reviews of Radio Ethiopia by the male luminaries of the music-critic scene only made me want to rush out and empty those unheard tracks into my head. I wanted to pour them into my ear like some kind of divine poison and commune with this kick-ass God/dess who was both androgenous and powerfully feminine at the same time. There were secrets hidden under the veil of her oversized white masculine shirts. There was a mystery in her eyes that echoed those haunted photographs of Rimbaud where he peers out through time as if to say, “Have I shocked you out of your comfortable bourgeois slumber? Good. Let us continue…”
I chased Patti through record store racks until I found the object of my audio desires: Radio Ethiopia. In turn I made my own music, writing broken songs on a cheap child’s guitar. Music does not make it easy for women to break through into commercial success. It is as if men, jealous of our ability to bring forth life into the world, seek to block us from artistically creative pursuits.
When the day is quiet, I pick up a guitar and pick out freedom and rebellion. I pick myself out of the white noise of the mundanity around me. I find who I am within 6 steel strings that force the poetry to flow unimpeded. We all need heroes to provide a blueprint for our endeavors, and Patti became my psychopomp – my guide into the caverns of creativity.
Rock is a Patriarchy that seeks to celebrate potent masculine pursuits. It would be so much better if it was a Patti-riarchy, wth the New York Queen ruling her debauched and fertile dominion with equal amounts of noisy benevolence and fury.
I ditched niceness thanks to Patti Smith. I threw away shame and instead glorified in the power of sexuality and musical creativity freed from the shackles of traditional femininity. Patti unlocked a key in my head, or perhaps conjured up a lever in my brain which stuck around, waiting for me to press it and free myself from the chains of the male gaze.
What the male reviewers didn’t hear in Radio Ethiopia was not as important as what they did hear: the power of the pussy. They heard a woman who simply didn’t care. Not caring is a sin men don’t forgive easily, but that is ok: Patti’s sins are her own. In the tracks of Radio Ethiopia men heard a rebel with more passion and style than any New York punk boy antihero. They heard unbowed female defiance. Lester Bangs and his coterie wrote tough reviews of that which they were afraid of: a powerful, tough, creative woman with an open line to the Goddess.
Patti went to war using words as her sword, flying the flag for female freaks and freethinkers alike. To watch her perform is to hook up to her energy, that white heat white light that flies too close to the sun. Women are rarely allowed to play at being Icarus, instead being forced to remain close to earth, mothers tied to hearth and home. Patti showed me how to soar.
In finding Patti, I found myself and my muse. I can see her out of the corner of my eye, making mischief and poetry. She is off humping on a parking meter wooing Gloria and dissecting herself on stage to see what secrets she might find inside the barefoot and creative musical dancing light of the female divine.

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