‘Birdland’ by Patti Smith

When I was a teenager, I used to lie on my bed in my room in the dark and listen to John Peel on the radio. One night he played a song called ‘Birdland’. I didn’t realise at the time that it was inspired (just like Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’) by Peter Reich’s memoir of his father, Wilhelm Reich. The first line – “His father died and left him a little farm in New England” – is softly spoken by Patti, over a mournful, sparse piano, and the story is about a boy, at his father’s funeral, who believes he sees a UFO being piloted by his dead dad. There are too many achingly beautiful lines to quote, but I always loved “It was as if someone had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars, ‘cause when he looked up they started to slip…”

I went out and bought Horses the next day. (God, I miss John Peel)

From ‘Horses’, 1975, Arista Records

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