There’s something about the month of May that stirs the air. The transition between spring and summer, its unpredictability comes personified as humours, blatantly colouring the season diverse, unexpected, bold, exciting. Along with it come cherries and bonfires, heatwaves and sometimes even the last snow, quick temper flights and schizophrenic winds. Fast loves that turn into free-form eternal romances. Passion and despair, elevated to the anthropocentric status of a fatality, come in waves.
Forty years ago this month came Patti Smith’s last studio album in almost a decade, with the tough task of following up on the established footsteps of Easter which had, unwillingly or not, seen her catapulted to commercial success mostly due to the Springsteen co-written Pop agitation that ‘Because The Night’ proved to be. From her previous LP also came the evocative religious imagery Smith has always demonstrated a preoccupation with, her upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness playing a vital part in her fascination with bible-ridden references. But Jesus died for somebody’s sins, not hers. Where Easter offered vehemence, instigating organised communion and an intriguing connection to the sacred principle of eternal resurrection, Wave was certainty of pure beatitude, of ethereal faith existing in the paradox of the unproven and unprovable. The title-track a reference to John Paul I’s brief papacy by recreating an imagined conversation between Smith and the late head of the Catholic Church, it further denounced her omnipresent fascination with the projection of the spiritual onto the mundane. But where Easter swears, Wave accepts; where Easter fights, Wave rises above; Easter is discourse, Wave is telepathy. Smith’s 1979 album breathes the essence of salvation in its most primitive form, a mix of serenity and infantile disquiet. The body becomes the militance of the soul, openly giving in and making itself available as a tool to a greater energy. She was in love, after all.
From the inebriating ecstasy of ‘Dancing Barefoot’ to the prayer-form of ‘Hymn’, from the puerile love letter to Fred Smith to the revisitation of the Byrds’ ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock n Roll Star’, Wave may seem naive and inconsequential at first. But its enduring importance resides exactly in that thin line between commitment and indifference, a sentiment so rare within the business we sometimes even forget its name: honesty. It’s in Smith’s apparent refusal to panic regarding what to deliver after the somewhat unexpected impact of Easter that her genius dares to gleam in all its glory, as fresh and untarnished as an unbaptised newborn’s soul, scandalously contrasting with the generalised blasé cynicism of an era of post-everything. Wave negates the violence of a crusade: it belongs to the divine not because it succeeded in converting the non-believers but because it made impossible for them not to believe. And if they still don’t, it doesn’t matter either; redemption is not winnable, but instead unavoidable. You don’t need to see the light for it to shine.
Originally published at https://www.thefourohfive.com.