by Jacques Benoit
BIRDLAND

 

 

 

 

The group of women surrounding Mitch Brenner thus becomes the allegory of the Tortured Woman evoked by Patti Smith: the Woman, the one by whom the birds happen, as doom tumbles upon the world. And who finds her redemption in the ascent to heaven of the son of man, up to the skies of Birdland.

The son, the sign, the cross
Like the shape of a tortured woman, the true shape of a tortured woman,
The mother standing in the doorway letting her sons
No longer presidents but prophets

(Birdland)

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Mother of a former US President who became the symbolic prophet of Modernity (The New Frontier, the Conquest of the Moon, the Emancipation of the Blacks), assassinated in 1963.
1963, the year of terror when Hitchcock’s black birds invaded the screens of the world.

This intrusion of a psychoanalyst in the binomial Birdland / The Birds -impersoned by the one who plays the central role of the Father, the Demiurge, Wilhelm Reich-, finds some resonance in Hitchcock’s fascination for psychoanalysis.
The wanderings and mental deviations that this discipline aims to address are fertile ground for so many masterpieces of Alfred Hitchcock, some kind of invisible thread that connects them: The Birds, of course, but also Spellbound, Psycho, Rebecca, Strangers on a Train, Frenzy, Vertigo, and particularly the summit that represents the much disparaged and yet unsurpassable Marnie.


Psychoanalytic dimension has thus been essential in my interpretation of Birdland.

As were the spiritual or religious dimensions.
This for two reasons.

The first one being that one cannot address Patti Smith’s work skipping over this religious dimension that transcends all her work.
Her interest in the Bible and the Christian thematics is recurrent, way beyond the legendary intro of  Gloria (in fact an extract from the poem Oath, dating from 1970), where she declares her freedom and responsibility as a free artist, evoking a Christ who died for the sins of all men, but certainly not for her own, that she intends to take on ... Let us remember the beautiful photography of a stained glass window barred by a cross adorning the album Peace and Noise’s inner sleeve, or (as a small sample, since examples in that field abound), the Wave composition, the Easter composition, Dancing Barefoot, Lo and Beholden, Jubilee, to name only a few ... Or Aint It Strange from the 1976 Radio Ethiopia album (Do you go to the temple tonight? Oh no, I don't think so. Do you not go to the palace of answers with me Marie? Oh no, I don't think so). Thus, Patti Smith confided to Rolling Stone magazine in 2014: I left organized religion at 12 or 13, because I was brought up a Jehovah's Witness. I have a very strong biblical background. I studied the bible quite a bit when I was young and continue to study it, independent of any religion, but I still study it. So when Patti Smith improvised Birdland in Jimmy Hendrix’s New York studio Electric Lady Land, she sounded like she was chanting the rising of the boy to the black alien spaceship in heaven (that Peter Reich believed having seen) like if this was a Cosmic Christ’s Ascension: The son, the sign, the cross (Birdland).

A metaphor that marked as an epiphany the gestation of these paintings inspired by Birdland.

The second reason relates to the charismatic figure of Wilhelm Reich.
The symbolism of the father absent because dead appeared to me to be fundamental, Peter Reich and the character of Mitch Brenner each having lost their father precisely in times when our societies were freed from the Founding Father by proclaiming the death of God.

Thus I realized that The Birds (1963) were born in the heart of the triumphant Modern Era, some ten years before the oil crises born in the mid 70s rang the end of playtime break.

This naive optimistic era of conquering rationality, symptomatic of a culture without God, inaugurated by Nietzsche among others, intoxicated by its many scientific advances which allowed Man to step



 

In Peter Reich’s, the birds are just as evil, since willingly misleading: in the boy Peter’s mind, luring birds which he mistakes for his daddy’s spacecraft leave him cruelly wounded: he fails to join his father –the only thing in the world that mattered to him.

In Patti Smith’s saga, the outcome is different: Peeps (nickname given by Wilhelm Reich to his boy) joins his daddy in the flying saucer by becoming, like him, an alien, very different tonight and not human, as mentioned in the song.

My point being Birdland, I opted for the outcome envisioned by Patti Smith, thus favoring the dream and some form of surrealism instead of Peter Reich’s return to reality.

Regarding the convergences that I discovered and which inspired me for this Birdland series, I was surprised to see that Peter Reich, orphan of Wilhelm Reich, was similar to The Birds’ Mitch Brenner, orphan of Frank Brenner.
In The Birds, Frank Brenner is the nebulous patriarch, the familial god as dead as revered, whose disappearance is cruelly acute in the nuclear family; omnipresent face of the paterfamilias that monitors and judges through a unique painting, his portrait hung on the wall in the Bodega Bay farm -an icon without a glance, static, ubiquitous, who sees everything but does not manifest, whose mannas his widow constantly invokes by comparing her dead exemplary husband to her living son’s alleged weaknesses.

The importance of the missing father, combined with the hidden meanings of Patti Smith’s composition and those of the characters created by Evan Hunter (the screenwriter chosen by Hitchcock to write The Birds after Du Maurier’s eponymous short story), then sent me back to another common denominator between Smith's work inspired by that of Reich, and that of Hitchcock: Psychoanalysis.

As we saw, Birdland is directly inspired by Peter Reich’s A Book of Dreams, recounting his tumultuous childhood alongside his beloved father, Wilhelm Reich.

Wilhelm Reich, who suffered a heart attack during a final stay in American jails in 1957, was a controversial psychoanalyst, a pioneer in researches upon the role of sex in trauma experienced by adults and the inventor of sexual therapies advocating the liberation of the being by the orgasm.   His panel of theories and therapeutic practices, that made him later pass for a pornographer in the eyes of puritanical America of that time - that of the Hays Code and of sexual prohibitions -  led to his imprisonment. Communist of the first hour and disciple of Freud (until the inevitable break), he fled Nazi Germany to land in America, convinced that he had identified the manifestation of the Universal Energy with Orgone and its evil counterpart DOR (Deadly Orgone Radiation). A “Jack of all” scientist who touched every domain, he affirmed to have discovered a way to cause showers at will with his Cloudbuster, a strange machine that he had built (and which evoked some unlikely cross between a cannon and an organ), and with which he bombed clouds to rain. Passionate about flying saucers, which his son and him called in their secret coded language EAs, he argued that the United States had become a statist dictatorship that concealed from the people the truth about UFOs.