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Patti Smith: "You have to take many steps to be free"


Narrator, poet and underground singer, at 73 she defines herself as a survivor. The pandemic confirmed that freedom is a mental conquest and, for American society to wake up, he took to the streets to sing and encourage the vote. His books, like his life, are written with memories of Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Shepard, his two great loves. Also from Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and William Burroughs, who taught him the secret of art: keep a clean name and don't pretend.

Writer, singer,



and painter, if Patti Smith (Chicago, 73 years old) is asked how many Pattis coexist, she answers in the words of Walt Whitman: "We contain crowds."

Witness to a New York of cheap rents and "drugs that killed many people", entered the



and the Warholian environment when the New Jersey bicycle factory where he worked closed and, at the age of 19, he moved to lower Manhattan.

It was 1971 when the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe pushed her to sing his poems.

He - who would end up becoming a gay icon - was one of his great loves.

Playwright Sam Shepard was another.

And for her husband, guitarist Fred Sonic Smith, she would leave that world to retire to raise her children in Detroit.

But Sonic died and, "to feed them", Smith returned to the stage.

He was 44 years old.

At 55 he began to publish his memoirs.

We were some children

(Lumen) tells with tenderness and crudeness - he explains that Mapplethorpe was a hustler to pay the rent - the love story between them that, on his deathbed, the photographer begged him to write.

He managed to do it in 2010, 21 years after he died of AIDS.

Dressed in men's clothing, she represents independence and the wisdom of knowing how to live with little.

The conversation is over the phone.

He speaks from his apartment in New York.

In a dying recount, Joe Biden has been confirmed as the new president of his country.

I ask her if she has a coffee next to her - her “only vice” appears continuously in her books (the last one:

The Year of the Monkey

, published this year) and the Lavazza brand has named her a “cultural ambassador” -.

Answer yes: "Black, without sugar and with a little cinnamon."

He took to the streets to sing to encourage people to vote.

In 2016 he wrote that those who were silent had won the elections.

Who has won these?

People have spoken.

I have never voted so much.

That the people mobilize is the triumph.

We are a society that sometimes has to wake up.

Love - to his partners, his dog or the memory of his parents - defines his writing.

Did you need to get on stage and kick to make up for so much love?

You can hardly show your love if you don't show your anger.

Anger is usually the result of the search for the truth, that is why people protest in the street.

The music we make communicates those emotions.

“Art brings you closer to what people call God.

As an artist I look for revelations.

For me art is a journey of discovery ”.

Steven Sebring

Among his loves he puts his dog Bambi and the playwright Sam Shepard on the same level.

They are two of my favorites.

Bambi got run over when we were going to put him up for adoption because my little sister was allergic.

I took food and went out with him.

For one day we went to all the places where we had been happy.

Then he stood in front of the truck of whoever was going to adopt him.

Sam and I were a wild couple.

I could always count on him.

In the end, when he had ALS, I went to help him.

We were in the kitchen.

We drank coffee.

I made him a sandwich and he said, "Patti Lee, we've become a Beckett play."

He always called me by my middle name.

Only him, my mom, and Johnny Depp did it.

It is unclassifiable, but has not been questioned as an artist.

As William Burroughs advised, I have tried to protect my name and have not lied.

However, she was personally questioned when she was a couple of Mapplethorpe, some press published that she was a lesbian.

I was also criticized by some feminists when I moved to Detroit with my husband to care for my children.

You have to take many steps to be free.

It is because one questions every decision.

There are people who look for an identity in belonging to a group, but you have to look for it in yourself.

Being a mother didn't oppress me.

But I understand that it can happen to other people.

For me, sacrifice is part of our evolution as human beings.

When you sacrifice, you grow.

Was he sacrificed for the love of Mapplethorpe?


We met when we were 20 years old.

We had a relationship of young lovers.

I never thought that he was questioning his sexuality.

I didn't have much experience either.

Then he dared to consider things.

We were dealing with fundamental issues knowing very little.

He asked me to tell.

It is shocking that someone who represented the breakup suffered so much self-repression.

It's shocking today.

In 1968 hiding homosexuality was the norm.

Young people were admitted to psychiatric hospitals for that.

It was a stigma.

And he wanted to become an artist and save our relationship.

We knew no more.

Steven Sebring

They would know little, but they were clear that their love was above all.

We believed in ourselves through each other.

When someone has that confidence in you, it holds you for a lifetime.

Even today, when I have a low moment, I look for those moments in memory and I gain strength.

One can turn to memory for strength.

Does it live both in your head and in reality?

I live in the past and in the present.

In my head and on the street.

Sometimes looking back is painful.

I have lost so many people: my husband, Robert, Sam, my parents, my dog, my brother ... But other times a photograph or a book allows you to bring them up to the present and returns you to that person for a moment .

The imagination serves to travel towards the unknown or towards the known.

It has that strength.

We would be wrong not to take advantage of that potential.

He met Mapplethorpe when he moved to New York at the age of 19.

He worked in a bicycle factory that closed.

I was looking for work.

I arrived with what I was wearing, but there were restaurants, I knew I would find something.

I found a position in a bookstore, but I had to sleep on the street for a week because I didn't have the deposit to rent a room.

Scarcity doesn't scare me.

I grew used to it.

Did you starve as a child?

I learned what hunger was and not to sink with it because one day the food would come home.

Dealing with difficulties has not been as difficult for me as it may be for someone else.

I knew how to resist.

Besides, it was romantic.

He associated being an artist with sacrifice.

Think of Van Gogh.

I had this idea: I had to be willing to a life of sacrifice if I wanted to be an artist.

Did you feel that starving was taking the first step?

I was naive, but accepting the sacrifice makes you stronger.

Robert came from a middle-class family and starving was unbearable for him.

She speaks of herself as "a bad girl trying to be good."

And of Mapplethorpe as "a good boy trying to look bad."

I was naughty.

I had to wake up and learn to steal a bit, nothing serious: grab food and run.

Robert had no idea of ​​that.

He was smart, diligent ... the hope of his family.

But he wanted to be something else.

That's why he wanted to be bad, to get away from what was expected of him.

Why does being good have a bad reputation in art?

We mythologize accursed aspects of creation.

I had a strong biblical education.

I learned that being good had to do with your ability to sacrifice yourself for a greater cause.

But I also understood that I would never be a saint.

Were your parents Jehovah's Witnesses?

My mother.

My father was not religious, but he read the Bible.

He thought it was great literature and he passed it on to me.

At the age of 19 she had a son and gave him up for adoption.

Have you seen him again?

Can I answer in private?

Sure, but I ask because he talks about that episode in his memoirs assuring that not a day goes by without thinking about it.

I managed to contact him.

He said he wanted to be part of our family but privately.

Does that answer your question?

I have another: would you prefer that we not mention this topic?

Do with this information what you think will be most useful to everyone.

Among his models he always cites Jo, the writer sister of Little Women, and Jim Morrison, the singer of The Doors.

What a combination!

Morrison linked poetry and rock and roll, but the one who really showed me a path was Dylan, simply because he tried everything.

He seemed to me like Picasso: he has never stopped changing.

When someone who changes is your role model, the message is: you must find your way in different ways.

Is that why you went blank singing A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall when you collected the Nobel in your name?

It was humiliating.

The orchestra was playing, the kings watching me, the camera focusing on me, and I felt the horror.

I've never been intimidated by going on stage.

But the extraordinary thing happened later: I received a flood of messages.

The ruling humanized my performance.

The moments that explain our humanity are those that come to us.

I learned a lesson: people forgive a mistake in public if you are honest and tell what is happening to you.

Relate art to daring.

Burroughs said: "An artist sees what others do not see."

Robert wanted to do something that no one else had done.

And you?

For me it is not about achieving the never seen before.

I think art brings you closer to what people call God.

As an artist I look for revelations.

For me art is a journey of discovery.

He prefers artists who transform his time to those who reflect it.

I want art to take me beyond the world I am in.

I don't read a lot of non-fiction unless I'm studying something because only fiction has a place for improvisation and the unexpected.

The same happens to me with music.

I prefer to listen to Coltrane and that each time it is different.

I like what is continually redefined more than what remains unchanged.

What have you transformed as an artist?

I have a band and I am a woman.

I went from writing poetry to singing it on stage turning it into rock.

The only rules I have are those of decorum.

When I wrote

We were children,

I decided to make a responsible book.

Everything that comes out is true.

Not just what Robert [Mapplethorpe] did or the nature of our relationship.

Also any information about the bookstores or about the price of a hot dog.

It is not a work of fantasy: everything happened.

But beyond that book, which Robert asked of me, I am faithful to my search, not the facts.

Was the Chelsea Hotel your university?

I didn't finish my studies, but there I had Professor William Burroughs or Professor Allen Ginsberg, the great minds of a moment, in the next room.

As a child she was a great reader.

Why didn't you go to college?

I started in one, but I had to work in the factory.

She wasn't good enough to get a scholarship.

I couldn't push myself for what I didn't like.

My mother worked all day as a waitress and my father was a laborer.

But they were not prejudiced.

That made them credible.

I grew up in an environment of material but not mental deficiencies.

They argued all the time.

Many times for money.

But they always stayed together not because they had children, but because they laughed together.

Do you learn anything from scarcity?

It is a romanticism and a reality.

Today I don't need much.

The other day I was with my daughter and they asked me to sign a book.

He was wearing a striped shirt just like the one in the photo in the book that was from 1972. My daughter said, "Look, you're the same person."

It is?

I believe in evolution, but I see that my eccentricities remain the same.

Do you still dress in thrift stores?

I buy very little.

The shirts I bought 30 years ago last for me and a friend makes my jackets.

In general I wear men's clothing.

When Mapplethorpe was your boyfriend, you wore a tie and he wore lamé pants.

He did like to groom himself.

For me men's clothing is lighter.

It is usually more comfortable and allows you to move.

The least I ask of clothing is that it does not oppress me.

Even if she lived surrounded by her friends' drugs, she has described coffee as her only addiction.

I have never had addictions because I grew up with a mother who smoked two packs a day and when she had no money for tobacco I would see her cry with anxiety.

I decided that I did not want to depend on something that, in its absence, made me feel that way.

Also, I was a sickly girl.

I had tuberculosis and my mother had to fight to keep me alive.

I wasn't going to go to New York to throw all that effort away!

Then I saw how friends died.

Janis Joplin was a few years older than me and she died of an overdose.

I may have been romantic about hunger to become an artist, but I was never romantic about early death.

I am a survivor.

I am 73 years old and I hope to live to 93.

Maybe he does mythologize the cafe: he gave money to a waiter to open his own place.

And I almost opened one myself.

I wanted to call it Café Nerval: a small place that only served coffee, bread, and olive oil.

A round business!

The love for coffee comes from my childhood.

My parents took it as soon as they got up and they didn't give us.

That fascinated me.

Nerval wrote in


: "Dreams are a second life."

Are your latest books that?

I am a daytime dreamer.

Sometimes I think of a studio in New York that I love.

I can't afford it, but I imagine an old woman offers it to me because she no longer needs it.

I have a good time imagining.

Stevenson said it: we are two: one walks in the world, and the other, in dreams.

In his books he tells of all kinds of problems, but not those of his family.

They did not have?


My husband died when my children were 6 and 12 years old.

We know a lot about losses, but not for a second do I forget what people are suffering in the world.

When I was young I just wanted to be an artist.

He had no desire to found a family and have children.

But I did it and inaugurated a path that ended up saving my life.

Protecting her childhood made my empathy expand.

To speak of racism, she described Billie Holiday with her gardenia, her chihuahua and her dress wrinkled from having to sleep on a bench when she was not admitted to a hotel.

I am not an activist like Greta Thunberg or my daughter, but I try to use my voice.

He has written that he knew who Pessoa was not from what he wrote, but from what he read.

In the end you are what you keep.

And in his library Pessoa had Blake, Baudelaire and crime novels.

What must a writer have to stay in his?

A language.

Rimbaud has been with me since I was 19 years old.

Also Nerval.

They are guides.

I didn't need to understand everything they said.

The key is that something reaches you.

Poetry is written in a secret code that is sometimes difficult to understand.

What do you think of the Nobel Laureate Louise Glück?

I have to be honest and say it was not on my radar.

But I will read it.

Have you always felt free?

Yes. I have thought about the pandemic: I have not stopped feeling free despite being locked up.

I think it is a privilege, a mental conquest that one achieves when he dedicates his life to not disturbing and doing something that allows him to grow as a person.

Where do you leave your anger?

On stage, when I kick.

I am not vindictive.

I have been wrong and they have forgiven me.

I try to do the same.

I do not apologize for being who I am and when I get angry with Trump or with dictators of other countries I go out and protest.


Source: elparis

All news articles on 2020-11-29

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