Saturday, June 22, 2013

Patti Smith: The Reluctant Punk Artist

Modern Music

“In 1974, when I started working with the material that became Horses, a lot of our great voices had died. We’d lost Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, and people like Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. There were so many losses so quickly. These people who were building a political and cultural voice. And it seemed that rock ’n roll was heading towards something different — something consumer-oriented and stadium-oriented. I felt new generations had to come and break everything apart ... And I felt in the centre, not quite the old generation, not quite the new generation. I felt like the human bridge, and I just thought, you have to wake up. Wake them up.”
Patti Smith

Patti Smith at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, in 1978.
Photo Credit: Vistawhite, July 2012
Source: Wikipedia

An article, by Simon Hattenstone, in the Mail & Guardian has an interview with Patti Smith, the American punk artist who could have been someone else, but was not. She is known as a punk artist, but she is far more complicated than that. Smith lived with Robert Mapplethorpe at the Chelsea Hotel, in New York City—home to may artists—and she later married Fred “Sonic” Smith;  and in many ways lived a conventional life being a wife and raising kids.

Hattenstone writes:
Smith is a strange mix. Caring and admirable in many ways, yet self-absorbed. I’ve rarely met anybody so unversed in the niceties of everyday life. For all her spikiness, though, there is a vulnerability. At times, she seems in awe of the talented men in her life and plagued by self-doubt. It took her 20 years to complete the book about her relationship with Mapplethorpe; she went through so many drafts, never feeling they were good enough.
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish it, except I promised him I would and I knew in my journey after death, if I bumped into him, which I know I would, he’d be so mad at me. You know: ‘Patti, you didn’t write our book. Why didn’t you finish the book?’ I could feel him scolding me, so I did finish it.” 
As an artist, she says, she always felt inferior to Mapplethorpe.“My problem was, is my work good enough? I was a late bloomer. He had specific gifts and talents. He was an excellent draftsman. I had an intense, creative imagination, but I’m bad at grammar, I was never good at school. I always wanted to leap to the creative thing, so my skills were not as strong as I wanted. I questioned myself. I still do. Is this work good enough?”
These days she has as much time for her work as she wishes — her children are grown up and she has no partner. Would she like a new Mr Patti Smith? She looks shocked. “I would never have a Mr Patti Smith. To me, I’m happy to have the man as king. I would never consider a man in that position.”
Now it’s my turn to be shocked. After all, this is Patti Smith, rocker extraordinaire and feminist icon. “I wouldn’t care if he was a gardener or plumber or physicist, he wouldn’t be in second place in our household.”
She’d happily be subservient? “I don’t mind. I have no problem with a man being in first place. I know who I am. If a man would need to be in first place, what of it?”
Did Fred need to be in first place?
“Well, he was. Yes, absolutely. He was a king.”
“I don’t need to. Just trust me.”
And you have to trust Patti Smith on that point, who doesn’t play the game of media darlings. That’s why the few that understand this like her and her music. Patti Smith hardly lived a life of decadence; such lives are the privy of the wealthy and super-wealthy; to live a decadent life takes loads of money. For an example, see or read The Great Gatsby. It lives on today in the Second Gilded Age of Wall Street Bankers, corporate CEOs and film and pop stars, who all share a shallowness of character that opposes genuine engagement with the ordinary people. To her credit, Patti Smith is an ordinary person, like me and you.

You can read the rest at the article at [Mail &  Guardian]