My wife, Margit, and I just returned from a poetry reading/concert by Patti Smith at the Miller Theater of Columbia University. I had failed to get tickets in time (the performance was sold out) but we got lucky at the last minute (thanks, Akeel!) and were able to go, and are very glad we did.
The performance was “inspiring” (Margit’s word) and wonderful. Patti started the evening in a very restrained tone, reading some of her early poetry as well as poems from her just-published book Auguries of Innocence, and ended by being the punk goddess she is, accompanied on acoustic guitar by her long-time collaborator, Lenny Kaye. The transformation was enchanting. What was particularly nice was that (unlike at a rock concert) she felt relaxed enough to chat with the audience and provide extensive introductions to, anecdotes about (featuring Bob Dylan, Alan Ginsberg, etc.), and commentary on each of the works before reciting/singing it. She was absolutely charming, and one couldn’t help but draw a comparison between her dignity and the puerile prancing onstage of aging rockers like Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. I am no music critic, but my untrained ear found endearing the (a)symmetry between her and Kaye which makes them such a great team: while she is an inimitably powerful and talented singer, and Kaye is a masterful guitarist, her own guitar playing seemed to me elementary, as did Kaye’s singing. Together, though, they were amazing!
Here is a recent interview of Patti Smith by Rebecca Milzoff, in New York Magazine:
Do you remember your first night in New York?
The first couple of months, I didn’t have the money to go to a movie or a play—to go anywhere, except to just walk around. It was beautiful going to Washington Square or Tompkins Square Park and seeing people gathered to read poetry or sing or play chess. For me, New York meant freedom; I loved that people didn’t stop and question you because of the way you were dressed. I didn’t need any entertainment.
I know you had a job at the Strand Book Store.
Well, I worked at Scribner’s bookstore from 1967 to 1972. The Strand was just a short period after that, and I didn’t like it. I worked in the basement, and it wasn’t very friendly. Scribner’s, though, was beautiful. People there took being book clerks seriously—you had to read The New York Times Book Review. I read a lot of French poetry: Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Nerval. Paul Bowles. Biographies of Yeats or Diego Rivera. And I could look at all the art books I wanted during lunch. I saw Pollock as sort of the next stop after Picasso and William Blake—like looking at jazz, but also a link with Cubism. And Scribner’s was so close to MoMA.