Fire of Unknown Origin

Her voice is a funny old thing, holding a slight rasp to it yet still sounding smooth and calm like a beach pebble.  That is Patti Smith, punk artist and poet extraordinaire.  Her presence in the radio interview was that of a free-spirit. Her ideas were a work of art.

The interview pertained to her career and her relationship with her soul mate Robert Mapplethorpe. Both had a love for art, but it was Smith who touched fame first with the help of a photo taken by him.  Proof of their natural affinity was abundant – Smith’s first words of the man were of his rescue of her.  This particular rescue dated back to the first months of their relationship, where Mapplethorpe pretended to be Smith’s boyfriend to help her ward off the advances from her then-boss.

Smith wrote a song about death with a reference to Hotel Chelsea.  In the song, there is a plea from an individual for something of value back, for a rescue, almost. The title is called “Fire of Unknown Origin”, and it is unknown in that it is unpredictable because the prose of the lyrics are not typical and do not fit in the verse-verse-chorus-repeat model.

Interestingly, the Hotel Chelsea experienced cycles of death and life. Its first purpose was as a co-opt building. Then the H.C went bankrupt because the theatres around it relocated. In 1905 it reopened as a hotel, but quickly went back into bankruptcy. The Hotel Chelsea was finally repurchased by a group of wealthy men and managed as a hotel until the 1970s.

Hotel Chelsea

While listening to “Fire of Unknown Origin” I found it difficult to understand what Smith was saying during her songs, if only for the incoherence in her pronunciation of consonants. Nevertheless, it was stimulating to hear a hybrid of poetry and music. After all, it was her mission to “merge poetry and rock and roll, and to reach out to other disenfranchised people.”

-Megan P. Low

1 thought on “Fire of Unknown Origin

  1. When I first listen to the interview, I thought her raspy voice was really unique. Not a lot of people have that voice and can still be so energetic and sing. She really is amazing. I also found her songs to be interesting. They are originally poems that she had no intention of making into songs. I had the same situation as you. I could not make out the lyrics of her song, but I believe that is what makes her song special. Although she admits that her voice isn’t the best it is amazing how she became a music innovator of her time. I believe she did accomplish her goal through the hybrid.

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