My love for Patti Smith grows

January 15, 2010

patti smith

I have been intrigued by Patti Smith ever since I moved to NYC as an 18-year-old girl straight off the Oklahoma farm. I remember walking into a bookstore near NYU and her (then new) book Patti Smith: Complete was displayed. I bought it, and the first thing I fell in love with was her handwriting. I know that might sound petty, but look at it. It’s so…cool.

patti smith poem

I loved how it was like my father’s, sloppy but still organized. I loved how it was un-gendered. I mean, I had grown up in the 80s and 90s when all the girls in middle school and high school sat around practicing puffy, cutesy handwriting. We passed notes with hearts around the name of our secret crush. Some of us even wrote our first name with the last name of the boy we liked at the time, imagining a future of marriage and happily-ever-after. Don’t get me wrong, I have love (and nostalgia) for that girly style, but back then I never saw anything so strikingly different until I saw the image of Patti Smith’s hand-written poetry in that book.

I had been looking for a female artist/ musician from the past to fall in love with. And she was the one. I just knew it.

The funny thing is that I didn’t even get it. I didn’t understand her art. It was weird and odd and a little bit scary. But it was still so alluring; it just sucked me in. She introduced me to an entire world of underground and other art: early punk, Richard Mapplethorpe’s beautiful and erotic photography, experimental poetry/art/music. And her song Because the Night (written by her and The Boss) still makes me break out screaming, shaking, and dancing.

Anyway, imagine my delight when I heard her interviewed on NPR this morning!  (You really should follow the link and listen to the interview if you’re a fan.) She sings an unaccompanied song called “Memorial Tribute” (written for Mapplethorpe) at the end of the interview that is just simply amazing and beautiful.

patti smith and robert mapplethorpe

Smith and Mapplethorpe

She has a new book out called Just Kids, and I can’t wait to read it:

Smith met the 21 year-old Mapplethorpe on her first day in the city, and Just Kids is the story of their romance, friendship and creative bond. She and Mapplethorpe met in the summer of 1967, both children of religious upbringings, both influenced by ideas about art and outsider culture. Smith writes of staying up late to paint and listen to records in their shared apartment on Hall Street in Brooklyn, but when they first became friends, the pair was so poor, they sometimes slept on the street.

“You know, I wasn’t a stranger to hard times. I used to read the Bible. Well, I still do, but when I was young I read the Bible quite a bit,” Smith recalls. “And by Christ’s example, he embraced poverty. So, all of my role models, whether it was the disciples, or John the Baptist or Arthur Rimbaud, slept under the stars.”

Here’s to love and artists and weirdness, and relating,



4 Responses to “My love for Patti Smith grows”

  1. Daniel Says:

    I didn’t really see what the big deal with her until a few years ago when I found the “Easter” record at a flea market. And I love it! I’d include it in my list of essential records, if someone were to solicit such a list from me.

  2. Rena Says:

    I adore PS too. I first learned of her in the mid 70s when I heard a DJ on a NYC FM radio station talk about her rather derisively as a woman who didn’t shave her armpits. At the time I didn’t even know what he meant (besides the literal), but deep in my repressed-hippie soul a little voice said, “that’s a woman for me!” I bought Horses and fell in love and my perspective on music and art was forever changed.

  3. Johnny Says:

    I love patti smith, she’s one of my heroes. It was a beautiful interview and “just kids” is great love story and also very sad.

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