Friday night, after the boy’s basketball game, we were walking in the Village on our way to get dinner. The boy was hungry and boisterous (and, like his mother, a bit unfocused) and he nearly ran headlong into this woman who dodged him at the last second.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said.
“’s okay,” she mumbled in a husky, somehow familiar voice.
I looked into her face as she was walking away and nearly peed.
“Honey,” I said to the boy. “You just nearly took out Patti Smith.”
His eyes got wide, because he has been indoctrinated, and he said, “Should we go after her?”

Yes. Yes, honey. We didn’t get her the first time so we should run and TACKLE the rock goddess. I have taught you well, grasshopper. There are no other lessons I can impart. You are free to go.

“No,” I say, resisting the urge to do just that. “She’s having her life. But that was cool, huh?”

In my head, I’m singing, Horses, horses, horses, horses…

I run up to my husband. “OMG, that was Patti Smith! PATTI EFFING SMITH!
“Really? Cool,” he says, demonstrating the appropriate adult enthusiasm.
Does he not understand? The woman who snarled “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” almost got run over by our offspring. Our DNA touched hers for a nanosecond.

“Jen,” I say breathlessly to my pal “That was Patti Smith!”
“Oh,” she says, in her flat Midwestern twang. “Yeah, I’ve met her.”
This is the part in the movie where the needle scratches across the album and the party stops.
“What?” I say.
“Yeah, she was a parent at my school. I’ve met her.” Just like that. Like she could be saying, “Yeah, I had the lamb vindaloo. It was pretty good. Try it with the dahl.” Jen is from Michigan. It takes a lot to impress her.

The boy and I are like, “Patti Smith, man! Patti ‘I Am a Rock Legend’ Smith. Dude.” And that’s when I realize that he’s ten and I’m not. Technically.

Horses, horses, horses, horses…

Jen’s hubby Phil joins us for dinner. He’s a librarian, like Jen, and an artist, and we talked about Kara Walker, whose exhibit at the Whitney I wish I had seen, and the fact that Andrew Wyeth had just died. Christina’s World was one of those paintings that, when I was a kid, was fascinating to me. I think there is some art that kids just “get” on some primal level and that was one of those paintings. A few years ago, I took in a Wyeth exhibit in Philly. I wasn’t ever really a fan of his, but seeing this show, I came to appreciate the art in a new way. We had a debate about it last night—was he nostalgic, like a Norman Rockwell, or did his art go deeper? I argued that the cumulative effect of seeing his work was to feel (for me, at least) a sense of isolation and the inevitability of death. It’s like each landscape said, “You’re not gonna weasel out of it. No passes given. Here’s some more snow.” In October, while in Vienna, my very thoughtful publisher and my lovely interpreter took me to the Albertina to see the Van Gogh exhibit. Once again, I was struck by the power of seeing something from start to finish, of appreciating the art as part of a narrative. Of course, I’ve seen Starry Night or Sunflowers of his self-portrait. I’ve seen them reprinted as office posters and mouse pads. But to take two hours and go through Van Gogh’s life’s work, to see the progression, was a completely different, transformative experience. By the time I got to the paintings he did after his self-mutilation, when he was in an asylum, I felt a bit mad, too. I felt the fear and isolation, the extreme distress and anxiety on the canvases. At the end, I just sat quietly for a while. It was pretty amazing.

And that brings me back to music. If you listen to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or the Flaming Lips At War with the Mystics or Radiohead’s OK Computer or Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak or Patti Smith’s Horses all the way through, there is a powerful force that exerts itself over that hour or so. It transcendent. The songs form a story that takes you somewhere, and when it’s over, all your little atoms are in a slightly different place than they were before. You come back into the living room squinting at the lights and the TV and the chairs like you can’t believe their generic normalcy exists in the same time/space as that music.

Now, I’m as guilty as anyone of cherry picking my music from iTunes—“I’ll have a little Iggy Pop with some Led Zeppelin, oh and maybe a side of James Brown. Can I get extra New Wave sauce with that? Thanks.” When I write, I always put together a playlist of songs for that particular piece of writing, something that helps me get into the piece–a sort of aural sense-memory exercise. And the argument could be made that when we do that, when we put together our own playlists, we are trying to form our own musical narratives. Nothing wrong with that. It’s fun.

But it’s not the same thing. It’s not the same as opening yourself to an artistic experience that you do not control, one that allows discovery and is not a “greatest hits” of emotion, kind of like the b-mods of Robin Wasserman’s excellent SKINNED. Something is lost by not having the soup-to-nuts musical experience of listening to the entire album, of exploring it completely and coming out changed.

Horses, horses, horses, horses…

What album does that for you?
Is there a CD that takes you somewhere else, that is transformative in some way?
What does it make you feel?
I’d love to know.

Also, censorship has reared its ugly head again. Will be blogging about that later in the week. Oh, and two more days till we have a new president. Will you watch the inauguration?

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