the wall is high, the black barn, the babe in your arms in her swaddling clothes… have I never told you this one?
I first heard Patti Smith’s Horses when I was in seventh grade. My mom was cat sitting for some hippie guy with a cool record collection and one night I went with her to feed the cat and came home with some albums I borrowed. One if the LPs was Horses. I already had Easter, but I had never heard Horses. In order to hear music you had to have money to buy it or know people who turned you on to it. Well, now I knew someone.
I freaked out when the needle hit the vinyl and 2 chords alternate and this stunning voice started singing “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine..” As a young girl trying to find her peeps, I almost died when my ears experienced this recording. I was speechless. The song ends and the hits just keep coming, Redondo Beach, Kimberly, Land. I recorded it onto a cassette tape.
Every summer my family would join this amazing pool club right there in the Bronx on Broadway around 236th street, The Fieldston Bath and Tennis Club. The high falutin’ name was not a great indicator of the pool club experience. The pool was indeed fantastic and there were clay tennis courts, but the club was populated by predominantly Irish, Jewish, and Italian working class families from the north Bronx area, chilling out, smoking, drinking, cursing, swimming, having a ball.
At a certain time in the day the air took on the dreamy smell of cookies baking from the Stella D’Oro factory next door. I cherish those summers spent swimming all day, running around free like a wild animal, tanned and chlorined, eating french fries and ice cream and playing pinball till 9pm when the sun finally set and the workers threw us out. We could have stayed all night as well.
So it was the summer of 7th grade and I had this Patti Smith Horses cassette and I played it again and again, from my moderate boom box that I dragged on the bus every day and bought batteries for every few days. I manually turned that tape over and over as I lay in my beach chair, lost in the poetry of Patti, my goddess, unconscious of other people’s space or tolerance to sound. I played that tape until it wore out, or until some working class lady with a clumpy body in a matronly one piece would yell in a shrill voice in between cigarette drags, “Turn that thing off for Christ sake.” or “Shut that music off already”. I would get shocked back into my surroundings and sheepishly lower the volume or turn off my precious songs. Until it was safe to turn it back on again.
I write this with such sweet joy, thinking about how I put that music into those ladies’ consciousness. It was the late seventies, so really, there is no other way in hell that any of the folk at that pool club would ever hear those songs. I was born to hear them, dedicated my life to finding music, and still it was a struggle to find. Those folk would have died happily never having heard Patti Smith’s Horses, except they didn’t. And if by chance any of them heard any of those songs again today they would have the strange feeling of knowing it already, knowing every word possibly because I played that tape a million times for them. Viva la Revolution!