Always On A Tightrope: The Power of Contradiction and the Beauty of Rock Music as Seen Through The Idea of the Night and the Work of Patti Smith

by Laci

Because the Night

How it should be done

Smith and Feminism/Gender

Smith’s Contradictions As Seen Through Bakhtin

The Romantic Night

Why it matters

Why I’m doing this

The State of Rock Music Criticism


2 thoughts on “Always On A Tightrope: The Power of Contradiction and the Beauty of Rock Music as Seen Through The Idea of the Night and the Work of Patti Smith

  1. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of “Because the Night” or any of Patti Smith’s rock anthems. I never paid much attention to the lyrics, and instead was quick to judge Smith’s chosen musical direction in “Easter.” I couldn’t fathom why she would transition from such soul impacting melodies to this loud, obvious, and almost tasteless arena-rock sound. I would note this song as Smith’s lowest point. But then you presented your case for Smith, and spoke about her lyrics (which I had not once acknowledged) in the once ‘two thumbs down’ rated song in my head’s musical directory, and what I had once overlooked changed my entire opinion of Smith and “Because the Night.”
    You explained that her voice and sound in the song clearly express pleas– after reading the lyrics, I found this to be true. But then listening to the song and already informed of the lyrics, I understood the urgency this anthem rock music offered standing next to Smith’s strong, poetic lyrics. Although I still don’t really like the song, I now have respect for it, and I understand it. It took shining a spot light on the lyrics for me to realize that there were other factors to a song I don’t like beside its cookie-cutter 80’s rock sound– factors which make me realize this is a good song. And that’s a large part of your project, emphasizing the power in duality of music (music/lyrics). And, also, that there is some good in all music. I really enjoyed this project, Laci!

    Kristine Reyna

  2. Laci,

    I appreciate your passion for your subject and the amount of work you have put into this project. My main critique is presentation, which is hard to follow without a guide or links to push your reader through the project. Each section feels atomized in a way that doesn’t add up to a larger experience.

    For instance, the section on the state of rock music criticism jumps in to talking about an equation that is undefined. It would be stronger to start off with your view (and an explanation of Nehring and the others) and then go back to talk about how such an approach would change the way you read rock music, specifically Patti Smith. You write:

    “Simply put, rock music is not poetry. Coupled with its roots in exclusionary modernist aesthetics, this kind of academic elitism also obscures the fact that one does not have to be an academic to feel something, especially something about a rock and roll song.”

    This is solid, although I would encourage you to spend less energy attacking what you think is wrong with other approaches and more time defining your own approach. In this sense, the “How it should be done” section should either be incorporated into the state of rock criticism section, or that section should be broken up into parts and the duality expressed both in the form and content of your analysis.

    I may have belabored the point throughout the semester, but considering the form of your argument (structure, paragraph structure, etc.) matters. For example, this line is excellent…and buried: “One way of understanding the presence of such contradictory aspects is to concede that Patti Smith, as an autodidact, notoriously misappropriates the (largely male and modernist) sources of her ideas toward art.” The issue of modernist aesthetics would be a way to connect with the class subject.

    Similarly, this quote would be worth connecting with some larger cultural themes of representation as we have discussed (or at least hinted at) in class: “Regardless of what she says on paper, it is not ludicrous to see Smith’s work as performing a feminist function based solely on how she represents and enacts a dual notion of gender in both still photographs (Horses being the notable, but certainly not sole example) and, especially, in live performance.” It might be helpful in framing this question to look at some theoretical work on 3rd wave feminism and queer theory. Smith’s quotes seem to be a rejection of 2nd wave feminism but to fit fairly easily in with some more recent theory on gender.

    Finally, I would like to hear more about how this project connects with this class. I am missing the link that connects Patti Smith to our class subjects, which I think you could do in any number of ways. This might be one point:

    “What I am really asking for here is not a privileging of feeling over intellect or vice versa, but merely the acknowledgement that meaningful knowledge is gained when we try to add to our understanding in new ways, when allow ourselves to exist within the contradictions of ideas instead of asserting one way of understanding at the expense of all others. Why is all of this important? What drives us in life – or what should drive us? I think the answer is passion, and feeling”

    I think you could apply this line of argument to the study of literature in general in useful ways, in provocative ways. You might connect it with Chris’s discussion of Barthelme, when he talks about “the tyranny of great expectations” versus the mystery that resists interpretations: “What is magical about the object is that it an once invites and resists interpretation. Its artistic worth is measurable by the degree to which it remains, after interpretation, vital…” (20).



    p.s. Here is one of my favorite songs by a band clearly influenced by Smith:

    ps. Please include citations in your project. And a works cited page. These are required. Thanks.

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