Most know Patti Smith first as a rock ‘n’ roller, second as an author and third as a poet. But it’s the latter that feeds the others infinitely more than they do it.
For Smith, before there was rock ‘n’ roll there was poetry and a intense love of literature. As she puts it, she got “sidetracked” by music, and wandered down a path through which she could fuse her love of Rimbaud and the Beats with her adoration for Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Jim Morrison.
Listen to Patti Smith read the collection of poetry that would become Horses at a reading at Columbia University in 1975.
Her seminal 1975 album Horses, she says, “evolved organically” from her first poetry reading, four years earlier in 1971, at St. Mark’s Church, alongside Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and others.
As she remembers, the night was unusual and quite controversial. Not only did she read in poems in her usual acerbic, articulate manner, but she also played an electric guitar and sang a few songs.
As she tells it an interview with NME called My First Gig: Desecrating a Church with Electric Guitar: “I was quite young, in my early 20s, with extreme amounts of agitated energy. I wasn’t content to just stand there and read poetry. I wanted to perform my poetry in the way that I was learning from Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix or the great Beat poets, and also I liked to sing a little, so I injected a little song within my poems.”
These poems would go on to comprise the lyrical base of Horses. And while there is no known recording of Smith’s first reading at St. Mark’s Church, there is a video of Smith doing a reading in 1975 at Columbia University with many of the same poems.
Watch it below.