“Oh to be
This maze of being
(Patti Smith, “Beneath the Southern Cross”, Patti Smith Compete 1975-2006)
I’m going out tonight to see Patti Smith talk about her newest book, M Train, at the Design Exchange here in Toronto. I saw her perform once and that was by sure luck and the generosity of a friend who gave me an extra ticket to see her at the AGO. Tickets for Patti Smith always sell out fast here and I think that a lot of venues underestimate her importance in the here and now. The AGO is a small venue and once tickets went up, the fans brought the site down from their demand. It’s made me think a lot about how much we love the heroes we admire.
“The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea
From the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating
Another boy was sliding up the hallway
He merged perfectly with the hallway,
He merged perfectly, the mirror in the hallway”
(Patti Smith, “Land,” Horses)
Artists and sports legends become these eternal super-people in our minds. I’m a fan of a lot of things, but I’d be left a bumbling fool if I were ever to meet Peter Gabriel, Patti Smith, or Arnold Schwarzenegger (there’s a lot missing though because I should put in Sting, Claire Denis, Ian Curtis, Anne Sexton, Alan Parker, Blondie, Chris Marker, Mary Shelley, etc., etc., but I’m not going to because it would make this too long really). The only thing they have in common is my love for their work, but I guess in some ways Gabriel and Smith connect because of their music. Schwarzenegger stands on his own because my main love for him is because of my favourite film of all time is Conan the Barbarian. It’s not a film that I can easily pull out in auteur conversations without resorting to idiotic quotes and cheesy trivia that only matters to me.
Patti Smith is a good example. I got into Patti Smith about the same time Lou Reed and William S. Burroughs came into my life musically and in books. I connected with the surreal, yet down to earth nature of Burroughs and Reed, but Smith’s music exuded a weird erotic yet grounding existential now for me. She’s just everything I’ve ever wanted to be. She’s a writer, musician, an intellect, and has lived her life well. I can’t imagine ever being like her, but her work is something I aspire to getting somewhat close to.
I planned my first trip to New York City through her book Just Kids. I have two copies: the one I first read, and the other I read again to highlight the places I should go to feel the ghosts of things she’d seen and heard.
“Is was in a Beat humor. The Bibles were piled in small stacks. The Holy Barbarian. The Angry Young Men. Rummaging around, I found some poems by Ray Bremser. He really got me going. Ray had that human saxophone thing. You could feel his improvisational ease the way language spilled out like linear notes. Inspired, I put on some Coltrane but nothing good happened. I was just jacking off. Truman Capote once accused Kerouac of typing, not writing. But Kerouac infused his being onto rolls of Teletype paper, banging on his machine. Me, I was typing. I leapt up frustrated.”
(Patti Smith, Just Kids, pg. 177, Harper Collins, 2010)
This is what I get from Smith: her undying love for the word. She’s a bookworm like me. Her mastery over the word, however, is something so underrated. If I’ve read half the amount of books she has in her lifetime and sucked up so little in turn, I can only aspire and I’m happy there. I never wanted more than to just exist in that middle ground (which I don’t think I’ve reached yet). It’s the middle ground where your brain tries its best to catch with what it has seen, read, and heard. Through the peripheral world of Smith, I’ve come to know the NYC punk scene, the beat poets, the French romantics, and the spin offs in the film world. I owe a lot to my influences, not for what I write or my work, but for the ever evolving thirst to know more than what is within myself. If every person is a universe within itself, I can’t imagine forever being boring. I want to exist in the plane and write in the plane where forever stands still in expectation.
I’m writing this in a spontaneous state of upward mania coming up from down and I know the down is coming real soon again. This is a state where people take their anchors (sad or happy or angry music, cooking up a storm, cleaning the house, focusing on work, taking a walk, lying on the floor, seeing a friend, having a drink, coping, etc.). I’m taking an anchor today in writing my excitement at seeing a hero again. In a time where all the heroes become human because we know way too much about them (or think we do) through media and in the endless twitter stream, sometimes the light isn’t dulled because of their humanity. I guess, the light should never end because of it. However, Patti Smith is one of the few examples that heroes are perfect with their scars, flaws, and imperfections. The gilded cracks in their interior make their exterior shine ever more. They make you want to be the best you, even if that you is full mania and gloom.
“We broke from our moth husks alive in the night,
the sky smeared with stars we no longer see.
A child’ creed stitched on handkerchiefs —–
God does not abandon us
we are all he knows.
We must not abandon him,
he is ourselves
of our deeds.
The whistling hobo calls, sweeping time, sweeping time.
We sleep. We scheme, pressing the vibrant string.
Happily self conscious, we begin again.”
(Patti Smith, “The Long Road,” Auguries of Innocence, Harper Collins, 2008)
I admire because I aspire and in such my heart sings to just be. This is where one doesn’t give a fuck about what you are in the entirety of it all. I am me and in all my chaotic, self indulgent doom reverie I still scream. From there I create and express. You can’t pin a historic document on a person’s lifetime and you can’t really place a marker of any significance on an individual star. I am mediocrity and a xerox machine. But I am still there, observing, expressing, painting an imprint, and in there is the connection to a universal truth of spirit and faith. Fandom is a religion, like everything else. No one state holds dominion over an individual’s emotions and in that is the validation. Despite the media’s swing of vituperation for failure, the words, lyrics, performance, and spectacle…if the undeniable connection is there, all hail fandom: an escape and return to find one’s true self.
Say hello to your heroes, lose yourself in them, and revel in the joy they bring. They ask for nothing more than for you to just be.
Your tempest in a teapot,
Update: I had no idea there would be a book signing. It’s a weirdo photo of me, but OMG PATTI. ❤
No idea if she’ll read and/or like the book I gave her, but this small exchange …I have no words.