Patti Smith, “Free Money”

Written by January 24th, 2011 at 11:15 am

Patti Smith’s debut album, 1975′s Horses, is often considered a masterpiece for fusing poetry and rock and roll, but lyrics didn’t come easily for the 29-year-old songwriter. “I find, in the past decade, I don’t struggle with lyrics as much as I did in the ‘70s,” says Smith in our Jan/Feb issue’s Legends interview with Paul Zollo. “I think that’s partially because, you know, I came out of nowhere. I wasn’t a songwriter. A lot of Horses was based on poems that I had written.” Smith found plenty of musical partners who were willing to help the young songwriter flesh her poetry out into songs. Tom Verlaine, of the New Wave band Television, co-wrote Horses’ “Break It Up,” and also played on the album, while Blue Öyster Cult’s Allen Lanier also helped co-write and played on the album. Horses was brought to life by John Cale, the former-Velvet Underground founding member, who felt equally comfortable playing celesta, viola, and harmonium on Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter as he did exploring musical boundaries with John Cage. Patti Smith must have sparked both creative sides of Cale – and the combination of her beginner musical instincts and natural feel for lyricism would prove a powerful mix.

Smith’s band members like guitarist Lenny Kaye and bassist Ivan Kral were also tapped to help Smith develop a song from it’s rough, poetic state. “‘Free Money’ came to me walking down St. Mark’s at three in the morning,” Smith says in our interview. “It was pre-dawn, but it was so light in New York City, and it came to me and I sang it to Lenny. He structured it and found the proper chords, and we made a song. It was one of our earliest songs.” The song, and lines like “Scoop the pearls up from the sea/ Cash them in and buy you all the things you need,” could be a reference to her lover and roommate in New York at the time, Robert Mapplethorpe, though many songs on Horses also reflect on family members and Smith’s childhood in New Jersey, such as “Kimberly,” written for her youngest sister. At a lecture in New Orleans last April to discuss a series of photographs that Smith donated to the New Orleans Museum Of Art, Smith talked about how she supported Mapplethorpe with her meager earnings working at bookstore, which is also recounted in Smith’s book, Just Kids. In the song, Smith portrays herself as a dreamer – “We’ll dream it, dream it for free, free money” – and the song is especially poignant for anyone who’s been broke in New York.

“Free Money”

Every night before I go to sleep
Find a ticket, win a lottery,
Scoop the pearls up from the sea
Cash them in and buy you all the things you need.

Every night before I rest my head
See those dollar bills go swirling ’round my bed.
I know they’re stolen, but I don’t feel bad.
I take that money, buy you things you never had.

Oh, baby, it would mean so much to me,
Oh, baby, to buy you all the things you need for free.
I’ll buy you a jet plane, baby,
Get you on a higher plane to a jet stream
And take you through the stratosphere
And check out the planets there and then take you down
Deep where it’s hot, hot in Arabia, babia, then cool, cold fields of snow
And we’ll roll, dream, roll, dream, roll, roll, dream, dream.
When we dream it, when we dream it, when we dream it,
We’ll dream it, dream it for free, free money,
Free money, free money, free money, free money, free money, free money.

Every night before I go to sleep
Find a ticket, win a lottery.
Every night before I rest my head
See those dollar bills go swirling ’round my bed.

Oh, baby, it would mean so much to me,
Baby, I know our troubles will be gone.
Oh, I know our troubles will be gone, goin’ gone
If we dream, dream, dream for free.
And when we dream it, when we dream it, when we dream it,
Let’s dream it, we’ll dream it for free, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money,
Free money, free money, free money, free.

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