Happiness

Classic Album covers : Horses - Patti Smith

Horses is the debut album by Patti Smith, released on December 13, 1975 on  Arista Records

Bono, who so happily mistakes record buyers for constituents and hates poverty as much as he does taxes, is often viewed, mostly by himself, as some kind of saint, saving the world from poverty and disease while selling records by the million

So you would it would think it would have come as some honour when in 1997 Bono introduced Smith at a music magazine award ceremony as a “sister, lover, and mother”. Instead, accepting the award she said: “I’m not your mother, Bono. Do your own dirty work. Fuck you.” She later told NME that she found the statement “presumptuous”

This formidable attitude is embodied by the cover of Horses. It’s an album that contains the unforgettable opening gambit: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” and forever cemented her reputation as the godmother of punk

A keen proponent of independent theatre and performance poetry, she moved to New York in the late 60’s. Shortly afterwards she met art student Robert Mapplethorpe and by 1970 they were sharing the smallest room in the legendary Chelsea Hotel

Mapplethorpe had only just acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and started taking photographs of his friends and acquaintances. His benefactor, Sam Wagstaff, had just bought a penthouse on Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. Since it was bare and painted white Mapplethorpe sometimes used it as a photographic studio

On the day of the shoot Mappletorpe noticed that the afternoon sun formed a perfect triangle on one wall. he lined up Smith’s body so that the tip of the triangle juts out from her collarbone like an angel’s wing.  “Don’t you want to use a comb?” Mapplethorpe asked Smith, but she refused. Instead she flung an old second hand jacket over one shoulder ina Frank Sinatra pose and imagined she was the French actress Anna Karina being filmed by Godard

The record company were appalled by the end result. ‘Girl singers’ were supposed to look pretty and feminine. Not only was Smith wearing a man’s shirt and tie, but she hadn’t even bothered to put on makeup. Smith refused to change the cover, even declining to airbrush out her moustache, saying that it would be “like having plastic surgery or something”

While the cover does seem to challenge gender norm, the man’s suit and defensive posture work at contrast with the confidence of Smith’s gaze and the delicacy of her hands to create something new. This isn’t the glam, make-up wearing, cross-dressing androgyny that Bowie had popularised

There’s also an electric sense that this was the last moment of quiet before both Mapplethorpe and Smith lost their anonymity. They would both see plenty more hotel rooms in their high-profile lives, but never the shared poverty, intimacy and inspiration of the Chelsea Hotel

Mapplethorpe photographed Patti Smith again, for her album Dream Of Life, shortly before he died died of AIDS complications in 1989. In 1996 Smith wrote a book called The Coral Sea dedicated to her dear friend

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July 26, 2012

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