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Land by Patti Smith

Album: HorsesReleased: 1975
  • This three-part song cycle comprises "Horses," "Land of a 1000 Dances," and "La Mer (de)." The track started out as a poem about the relationship between a murderer and victim. Once Patti Smith recruited her backing group, it became a rambling epic journey incorporating the first verse of Chris Kenner's 1960s soul anthem "Land of 1000 Dances."

    Patti Smith recalled to Penthouse: "At first it was just me and Lenny Kaye on electric guitar farting around at poetry readings. Then it started to gather force. We advertised for a piano player. We were really just bluffing, y'know? And all these guys would come in and say, 'Hey, wanna boogie?' Me and Lenny were stoned, trying to talk all this cosmic bulls--t to them like, 'Well, what we want to do is go over the edge.' And finally Richard Sohl came in wearing a sailor suit, and he was totally stoned and totally pompous. We said, 'This guy's f--ked up.' Lenny gave him the big cosmic spiel and Sohl said, 'Look, buddy, just play.' So we just brought him in.

    And then we started looking for another guitarist. We had days and days of guitar players, all sort of maniac baby geniuses from Long Island, kids with $900 guitars who couldn't play anything. Mother had sent them – in a cab! We'd make them do forty minutes of 'Gloria.' I'd go off on this long poem about a blue T-bird smashing into a wall of sound or some s--t like that and Lenny would keep the same three chords going, louder and louder. And we'd see who dropped out first. If the guy auditioning dropped out first, that meant he wasn't any good. These kids couldn't believe it, they thought we were nuts. So finally Ivan Kral came in. This little Czechoslovakian would-be rock star. So we did 'Land of a Thousand Dances' and it went on so long I thought I was gonna puke. But Ivan was so nervous he wouldn't stop, and we figured that was really cool. He ain't no genius, but he's got a lotta heart, Ivan does.

    Now it's at the point where I really love the group. I did a solo reading the other week in Philadelphia. I went great, but I was so lonely. I read 'Land Without Music,' and right away I'm thinking, Here's the part where Lenny always f--ks up; Here's where I'd look at Sohl and tell him to stop sleeping on the keyboard. I missed them so much I didn't want to ever again perform without them. They give me tremendous energy. I get like a little kid, and it's beautiful."
  • Smith told an interviewer that Johnny, the boy personified in "Land," is a "pre-punk rock kid." She added: "He's entering the world, ready to take it on. It's a metaphor for the birth of rock 'n' roll."
  • The lyric "In the sheets… there was a man" is about Jimi Hendrix's death in Notting Hill in 1970. Smith explained to The Observer: "That's Jimi, 'cos sadly he died in his sleep."
  • The song contains a tribute to Patti Smith's idol, French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891, when she promises to fill her "nose with snow. And go Rimbaud."

    Rimbaud is a recurring reference in Smith's work. 1973's "Dream of Rimbaud," for instance, describes her dreams of journeying to Abyssinia with the doomed poet to make love and smoke cigarettes. Speaking in 1996 Smith recalled her teenage years when she, "devoted so much of my girlish daydreams to Rimbaud. Rimbaud was like my boyfriend."
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