Patti Smith & Kevin Shields’s The Coral Sea


From the ambered memory and legacy of the artist-collector Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989), his friend and colleague Patti Smith has drawn “the passenger M,” whose name appears thus in her 1996 prose poem The Coral Sea, now a performance piece done in collaboration with My Bloody Valentine guitar hero Kevin Shields. M’s abbreviation mark washes away as he (dreams that he) sets sail to find the Southern Cross—or at least glimpses “wet crepe, a beloved port, or a loved one fading, a tiny dot dissolving, in the vast grainy sea.” But he’s on his own way now (this isn’t a Mapplethorpe biography), and even if he’s glimpsed death, his sudden “weightless” relief isn’t about casting off earthly snares and cares; instead, it’s filled with “the earth-rageous scent of his own volition: The air is sweet. . . . “

Smith says “earth-rageous” in the second of two presentations, from 2005 and 2006, which comprise this double-disc set. Like all of her wordplay—as written, sometimes spontaneously spoken, and occasionally sung—it fits: The original M claimed that he never wanted his work to be outrageous. Even the photographer’s Portfolio X, an eerie slow train of S&M-mad hopefuls, is fueled by the extended draining of pain (and shock, revulsion—all bad blood) from its sculpted wake. With the same intimate conviction, Smith rides and guides the diverging momentum of these two unstoppable shows, one 64 minutes long, the other 55. As M’s visions and decisions (“He would dine on desire . . . “) keep zigzagging and spiraling through the last of his refiner’s fire and oxygen, the tides of his veins, so Smith and M attune and recalibrate each other via the non-twangy raised and extended twang bar of Kevin Shields’s otherwise-unaccompanied guitar (to say nothing of the metamorphic petals of his pedals). Shields’s celestial navigation is as far as can be imagined from his recurring role as blowtorch-breathed gator in MBV; though a beast is waiting in and for M, so is something gorgeous.