Though the name of Patti Smith had been ringing around the streets of New York’s burgeoning Bowery punk scene for a few years, when she came on to National television in 1976 via Saturday Night Live, she gave America their first taste of punk poetry with her performance of ‘Gloria’.
You know by now that we are massive fans of Patti Smith. To us, like many others, she is one of the founding members of the punk monarchy and while her song ‘Piss Factory’ is often cited as one of the first punk songs, it is her attitude and demeanour that earns her safety pin crown. It was this snarling, uncompromising attitude which she took to mainstream television on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in the spring of 1976.
The long-running Saturday night entertainment show made a name for itself with its curious use of guest hosts. On the night Patti Smith and her band came to town, then President, Gerald Ford’s press secretary Ron Nessen was in charge. But that didn’t stop Patti from bringing punk to 30 Rock courtesy of the filth that was brewing at CBGB‘s. Soon Gilda Radner would be spoofing Smith with her punk character Candy Slice. “My band thought it was hilarious,” said Smith.
It’s easy to now think of this moment as just an artist performing her song on television. But when thinking about this performance one must put their minds back to the sentiment of the Nation at the time. The United States was still a largely conservative country, so to not only have Smith with her sneering attitude on their screens but her incendiary lyrics was a lot to handle at once.
“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”
The first line of the Horses track is easily its most poignant and could’ve equally as easily have sent half the viewing public. A breach of the show’s values and a deliberate thumb to the nose from Smith who was intent on making sure her art stood in the spotlight above all else.
Smith is deliberate and devilled in her staring stance of utter defiance. Yes, she was on a mainstream Network, performing on a huge Saturday entertainment show, but Smith would not waiver from her performance.
With this performance, Patti Smith brought the bubbling underground of New York City to the masses and likely influenced a generation of artists from the very moment she was beamed in to their living rooms via her 1976 Saturday Night Live performance of ‘Gloria’.