I have a ticket to see Patti Smith speak at the Sydney Opera House next month. Patti Smith In Her Own Words, the session is called.
Patti is pretty special to me. I remember the vinyl copy of Horses, from when I was a teenager. Before I even heard it and began to understand its power, I knew that it, or she, was different. The way she stands, confident, jacket over her shoulder and eyes straight down the line to you. Not smiling, just defiant. Androgynous and beautiful all at once, hands lightly over her heart. In Just Kids, Smith writes ‘I immersed myself in books and rock 'n' roll, the adolescent salvation’. I underlined it when I read it because, for us all, the books we read and the music we listen to define us in a way nothing else does. Don’t we all find our salvation and carve out our identity in this way? Listening to Horses at 15, bluesy guitar and Smith’s just-off voice made me bolder. More confident, like I had discovered a different way to be.
I saw Patti Smith perform at the Hollywood Bowl late last year, when I was in the depths of an emotional turmoil. It was raining lightly, which is odd for LA, but felt fitting. It was a beautiful turmoil, I suppose, with the last man I loved - going through the motions of what made us both so happy and knowing it was done at the very same time. Under the moon and the dark sky, Patti wailed and raged, and held us all in awe. ‘You are free’, she shouted to us between songs, and I cried, smiling. Maybe it was the being-consumed by emotions, feeling bound by past mistakes and unknown futures. But I think it was her raw power, the poetry of her unapologetic heart on her sleeve, hard-guitar and no-one else in the world like her.
The picture here is from a piece she wrote in The New Yorker, forty or so years after Horses, hands lightly over her heart still. Looking right to you. Free.
* From the 27 March 2017 Make Nice Newsletter.