Posted by on Oct 14, 2015 in Blog | Comments Off on Patti


Last night I met Patti Smith.  Well, I heard her speak, watched her strike lioness poses in front of a microphone as she sang, and leaned over a table to thank her with a goofy grin while she signed my copy of her new book of memories, M Train

I was struck by the weight of her presence.  She’s a force.  On one hand she’s this rogue wave, this counter-culture spark of art and optimism, an unapologetic creator of things based in memory and inspired by beauty.  She’s a conduit between the classical artists and poets and the modern page.  On the other hand, she speaks candidly of hard work, of getting up every day and working at it, of doing her job, of searching for inspiration when her well is dry.  Being an artist is a job, she says, and so it’s also for money.  She is at once of this earth and lightly treading above it.

She said that after her husband Fred died she was burdened by grief and physically exhausted.  She wasn’t able to work, to create art.  Then one day she pulled together enough strength to pick up Fred’s camera, drape some mosquito netting over the light, and snap a beautiful photograph of Nureyev’s slippers, one of her many curated mementos.  And so began the birth of her moving forward—one photograph a day, one day at a time, she was able to prove her resilience and find her way out of the dark.  To this day she commits to creating one thing a day, whatever it is, to stay true to herself, to flex that muscle and keep strong her artistic integrity.

As I sat perched forward on my chair, trying desperately to make out her face in the spotlight glow caught between the two heads in front of me, I tried my best to take it all in, sopping up the brilliant phrases, the sage advice, the embodied confidence that art is an important thing, possibly the most important thing.  She told stories about New York, about keeping the memory of her late husband alive for herself and her children, and about the complexity of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. She spoke about the bravery of art, the need to break convention and the importance of putting something new “out there”, putting aside the desire for fame, appreciation and recognition. 

“You need to be a thorn”, she said. “Be a thorn and then press it into the world; push and keep pushing until the world bleeds”.  Shivers.

And there was talk about the importance of dreaming.  When she was left to fumble into the corners of her mind, Patti veered into tingling brilliance.  In one particular meander, she spoke about the dreaming that can happen when you’re sitting on a train alone, the dreaming that comes when you are sitting solitary in a cafe without distraction.  Now, she says, people are always on their phones, always (dis)connecting with other people, fighting, arranging, planning, and no one is dreaming.  We are all so used to filling the vast wandering wondering time with screen time that there’s no thinking things through.  So many of us were nodding our heads in agreement.  (And how badly I had to fight picking up my phone to record her.)

Patti said that she can still follow the thread that connected her from the young girl to the teenager, from the young woman to the performer to the mother… she can still see the thread, she is just herself, whether on stage or not, she knows who she is.  She is both who she is and also who she always was.  I think I’ve lost touch with who I was to some extent.  I left the gathering with a particular longing for my teenage soul, and a yearning to find her again—the wanderer, the wonderer, the camera carrier, the sketch artist, the song writer, the terrible but enthusiastic painter, the musician, the performer, the optimistic and engaged connector, the dreamer and the confident believer in self and other.

She read this excerpt from M Train last night:

“I believe in movement.  I believe in that lighthearted balloon, the world.  I believe in moonlight and the hour of noon.  But what else do I believe in?  Sometimes everything.  Sometimes nothing.  It fluctuates like light flitting over a pond.  I believe in light, which one day each of us shall lose.  When we are young we think we won’t, that we are different.  As a child, I thought I would never grow up, that I could will it so.  And then I realized, quite recently, that I had crossed some line, unconsciously cloaked in the truth of my chronology.  How did we get so damn old?  I say to my joints, my iron-coloured hair.  Now I am older than my love, my departed friends.  Perhaps I will live so long that the New York Public Library will be obliged to hand over the walking stick of Virginia Woolf.  I would cherish it for her, and the stones in her pocket.  But I would also keep on living, refusing to surrender my pen.”    

Thank you, Patti, for sharing your passion for life and beauty and light and memory.  Your confidence is contagious. 

All content by Lisa Veronese. Please do not publish or copy my material without my consent.