She wore her hair in disheveled, soft waves, brown with grey-kissed strands. A navy and white striped tee slouched underneath a boxy, black blazer, while a pair of well-worn jeans and pointy-toed cowboy boots insouciantly completed her look. Mark and I were very fortunate to be the last two people invited into Housing Works Bookstore for Conversations on Practice with Patti Smith. I’m sure by now everyone knows how enamored (ahem, obsessed) I am with this woman, so it’s not hard to imagine a total fangirl meltdown, and yep, even some tears. I pulled myself together by the time we met Patti. A very brief exchange of warm words, but it was an indelible experience that I’ll keep with me and revisit for a long time.
For me, the most invaluable part of the talk was when Patti mentioned how she wanted Just Kids to read like a photograph by Francesca Woodman (who deserves her own blog post, absolutely). After poring over Woodman’s brilliant body of work the following night, everything clicked for me; the way Just Kids ran through my mind, pictured precisely the way a Woodman image conveys extreme motion and depth in a still frame. There is despair, hope, light, and dark; a chiaroscuro of emotion and storytelling. Not having fully recovered from that comparison, I had chills as Patti read the opening swan passage in that signature booming, haunting voice tinged with a South Jersey accent. It was beautiful.
The landscape of New York City has definitely changed, and it’s difficult for me to imagine a young Patti Smith wandering the streets. She and Robert Mapplethorpe didn’t have a television, a telephone, or a good stereo, but they never got bored or felt disconnected. They had very little in terms of material goods, but they didn’t need it. She reminded us to put down our phones, step away from the barrage of emails and information, and to “…find some time for yourself that is only yours.”
I loved hearing about how she then carried around a bag of honey wherever she went because she hated sugar in her tea, and how she now likes the lemon jasmine tea and muffins from my favorite local bookstore, McNally Jackson. She shared her love for Law & Order and British crime drama shows like Cracker. I felt like I was hearing secrets. Nothing heavy or serious, just snippets of everyday life for a legend.
“Discipline is good for an artist…don’t be afraid of self-discipline.” —Patti Smith
words Doris Ho-Kane
images Mark Ho-Kane (1, 2, 3), Unknown (4), Robert Mapplethorpe (5), Michael Stipe (6), Francesca Woodman (7, 8, 9, 10), NASA (11), and Doris inkwash/Patti Smith handwriting (12)