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Jesca Hoop's Five Essential Patti Smith Songs

Jesca Hoop (photo by Josh Wool, PR)

Jesca Hoop (photo by Josh Wool, PR)

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As a longtime solo artist and now as one half of a duo with Iron and Wine's Sam Beam, Jesca Hoop has always been a fearless, insightful lyricist. She has deftly broached tough subjects in her songs: illness, death, grief, self-doubt, and spirituality. Her imagery is vivid and visceral—as on 2010's Hunting My Dress or 2012's devastating The House That Jack Built— a quality which inspired Beam to collaborate with her on their exquisite 2016 album, Love Letter For Fire (listen to Hoop and Beam's sublime FUV Live concert at Rockwood Music Hall).

So as lyricist to lyricist and musician to musician, it's not surprising that Hoop found an early kinship with our FUV Essentials artist Patti Smith. Like Smith, Hoop confronts hard truths with empathy and strength—and in her perceptive picks for "Five Essential Patti Smith Songs," it's clear that the Smith was an early guide for a young Hoop, finding her way and her words in California.

Jesca Hoops' Five Essential Patti Smith Songs:

"Kimberly," Horses
"Kimberly" was the first song I heard by Patti Smith. I was sixteen. It was a time of great change for me, as one might expect, in the natural breaking away from my nuclear family. As it cracked and boomed into oblivion, I shot off like a rocket ship. So entered Patti Smith into my bursting, brave new world of music.

Having been raised by dyed-in-the-wool Mormon parents, my musical influences were narrow. I was raised on folk. Folk, Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand. There was no such thing as punk. I did not know what to think when "Kimberly" came up on a mixed tape that my new atheist best friend made for me. The words "misplaced Joan of Arc" perked my myth-thirsty ears right up, and "something will make it go crack" scratched a deeply frustrated and curious itch in me. At very first I was both turned off by her voice and turned on too. She was no child of "god" I'd ever heard before. So I listened, over and over, 'til I was devoted to her.

"Land," Horses
Patti Smith worships through rock 'n' roll in a way that you don't see these days. She is conjuring in the act and raising very specific energies. Transcendence and transformation is a common theme in her work as it appears here in the song "Land." I love and adore that just after Johnny has been severely beaten down, he is delivered mythical horses, renewed strength, and his medal through these classic, ritual, rock 'n' roll dances. He does the "mash potato," "the alligator," and "the Watusi" to shake it off. He moves through waste lands to the sea, or wherever else she decides to send him, for his rebirth. Sounds like life. This song is sublime madness with a very clear intention and its meaning delivers itself slowly from listen to listen.

"Privilege (Set Me Free)," Easter
If I am to devote myself to a singer, they must lay it bare; they cannot play it cool or keep it safe. Patti is very generous in what she offers emotionally, from her whole body, through to her voice and tongue. Straight from her gut her songs spring—and not without spits of venom. She is a great good witch. She is desperation and triumph at once here in this song and her throat is a winged boa constrictor.

"Dancing Barefoot," Wave
"Dancing Barefoot" smokes the kind of cool that you can't "try" for. I would love to see the Patti Smith recipe revealed: the ingredients and measurements that make up the genuine article. What are the fire-to-water and the earth-to-air ratios? This tune, "Dancing Barefoot," has the best kind of pop sensibility; it is possessed, dark, weird, lustful and hooky.

"25th Floor," Easter
I love the genderless freedom in Patti's music and how she harnesses the aggression, fury, vulgarity, and sexual expression that is most usually claimed by men. Where others waited for permission, Patti seemed to simply just enter. Just like she uses "the men's room" and makes vows here on the "25th Floor." In her natural expression, she rebels and rules in a realm that could be perceived as freedom. Patti is one of the most powerful ones to ever dare to rock.

- Jesca Hoop
August 2016

Read more of FUV's Five Essentials.

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