They say it’s a man’s world, but is it, really? You’d have to convince me that this is true; it’s not been my experience. I am 16 years old, and strong, independent women have surrounded me all my life. As such, it was perhaps inevitable that Patti Smith was going to be a huge role model for me. Thanks to my parent’s extensive record collection, I grew up with Patti playing in the background of my childhood. Patti, Bob Dylan, David Bowie and the Jesus and Mary Chain have been the soundtrack of every significant event in my life so far. Whilst other kids could recite the 5 times table, or sing you a nursery rhyme, I could name the million dollar quartet on the Sun record label and I knew my Beatles from my Stones by the beginning of secondary school. What I did realise however, is that for all those records, there weren’t many that were by women. They were mostly boys, singing about boy things.
I can still remember the first time I properly heard Patti. She cut through the dad rock on New Year’s Eve, 2003. It was really late and almost everyone had gone to bed, but three of us were left dancing: my mum’s friends Stacy and Jo and me. And then I heard the words.
“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine…” The whole room changed. These few words slurred out of the speakers, and everyone was on their feet, glass- eyed and swaying. I was hooked.
Legendary NME writer Charles Shaar Murray said of Patti’s 1975 debut album: “Horses will shake you and move you as little else can do”, and it’s true, whether your dancing around to it in your living room or hearing its songs at a Patti gig, there’s just a feeling that resonates within your core. Horses encapsulates a passion that I don’t think I’ve found in any other artist. There’s anger and hunger in Patti’s music. She’s never been content to be the girlfriend or a female version of a rock god, she wants to be the god herself. Patti looked at Brian Jones of the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Dylan and she didn’t say, “I want to be with you,” she said, “I want to be you.”
Every time I listen to Horses I hear a different story. If I’m honest, I don’t understand some of the lyrics. I’m still discovering what it means to be a Patti Smith fan; the mystery is one of the things that really draws me to her. She develops as I do. Each time I go through a different experience, I relate to what she’s saying in a new way, and I understand the lyrics more and more.
The first time I saw Patti live was in Manchester and she was playing a Horses gig. I was really nervous; what was she going to be like? Would she sound as good live? What would she look like? It’s safe to say, when she came out on stage, I’ve never been as in awe of someone. I was in the record. She was that good.
The next time I saw her was at the Mechanics Theatre, in Burnley, a town usually some way off the usual rock tour map. She was playing there because she and her sister, Kimberly, were doing a “Bronte Country” tour. I think the show was paying for the literary holiday.
It was such an intimate gig; it felt like I was talking to her in her living room. I remember that it was a school night and my mum was ready to take me home straight after the show had finished. I was having absolutely none of it, this was supposed to be rock’n’roll, after all. So I stood in this back alley behind Burnley Mechanics for about an hour, with a few other fans, waiting for her to emerge. All the men were my dad’s age, with stuff for her to sign. They were showing off about how many times they’d seen her play. They ignored me, but Patti didn’t. When she finally came out of the stage door, I wasn’t disappointed; she’s as inspiring in real life as she is on record. It’s not often I’m lost for words, but all I could manage to mutter was “you’re my hero.”
She looked at me and then looked at my dad, who was waiting behind the car for me, and she asked him why I wasn’t wearing a coat. She didn’t speak to anyone else and my dad took a photo of Patti and I standing together in the Burnley rain. On a school night!
After meeting Patti I started collecting records, magazines, anything I could get my hands on. I asked a shop assistant in Afflex Palace, Manchester, if they had any posters of Patti. He said he did, and showed me one. He said, “This one’s quite scary.” It was an image of Patti, with no make up, in an army shirt, staring out defiantly. I know some men are scared of strong women, but I was absolutely enraged; how dare he think Patti was there to submit to him, to appear timid and meek to make him feel superior. The way I see it, every time Patti steps out onto a stage, or a girl plays Horses in her bedroom, it becomes less and less of a man’s world.
I bought the ‘scary’ poster. It stops me from being scared.