Godmother of Punk Patti Smith Talks New Album, Book and Burroughs: "I wanted to come to St. Louis because I just wanted to say hello to William."
The book feels immediate, emotionally and visually. I'm struck by the level of detail you recall: what outfits you wore on a specific day, what you ate, the number of coins in your pocket.
There are a couple of reasons for that. For Christmas every year, my mother used to give me those cheap little diaries that would tell your horoscope and provide a little blank slot for each day. For that particular time -- 1970 to '72 -- I have a couple of those diaries that say what I did every day. Small things, like "cut Robert's hair like a rockabilly star" or "met Janis Joplin" or "hepatitis epidemic in the hotel" or "Robert took his first Polaroid picture." They're only notations -- there's nothing in them about how I felt. But reading these notations immediately brings back everything. It's like shorthand. Robert also sent me a lot of letters, which I still have; and I always kept journals -- poetry and struggles with poetry, writing in general about things I was thinking about. I think it also helped that I was not a self-destructive person; I didn't take any drugs.
You mentioned William Burroughs -- you and he were close for many years. Sunday evening you'll be doing a show here in St. Louis, where Burroughs is from. What do you think about coming to this city?
I wanted to come to St. Louis because I just wanted to say hello to William. I wanted to be with William. But I also like these types of cities. I was born in Chicago. Then my family went to Philadelphia, where we lived until I was nine, and then we moved to a very swampy, rural area in South Jersey. I worked in one of the only factories there. My father was also a factory worker, and my mother was a waitress. I feel a certain comfort in these places. There's loneliness there as well, but I also feel a strong attachment. It's part of who I am.
That you're coming to perform at our contemporary art museum highlights your long and deep relationship with visual art. In your memoir you describe yourself primarily as a visual artist. And you have a new exhibition, The Coral Sea, opening this month in Cincinnati.
Yes, it's a show mostly devoted to Robert that's opening in Cincinnati. I also have another show currently on view in Toronto. As I move toward my late 60s, it's time for me to start phasing out so much travel and rigorous performing and focus more on my visual art and writing. It's strange that I pursue these two disciplines that are so diametrically opposed. Performing is so public and collaboratively based. You have a band, you have technology; it's very dependent on others. And the other work I do is so very solitary -- taking photographs, drawing, writing -- for which I need stretches of time alone to think, study and contemplate.
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