Patti Smith on Music, Poetry, and (maybe) Retiring to Coney Island

10/08/2012 12:51 PM |

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  • Judy Linn

Here’s something that I overheard after I saw Patti Smith at The New Yorker Festival, “So, I’m thinking of going to this panel where Atul Gawande talks about vampires. I don’t know how that’s going to work exactly. He’s a doctor?”

Vampire Weekend, I thought. He’s going to interview Vampire Weekend. Not vampires. There are times when that kind of overheard conversational snippet will burrow under my skin and I pick it at and scratch at it and just kind of hate the world. But not this time. Not this time! Because, this time, I was just coming from hearing Patti Smith talking about everything from her time in Brooklyn with Robert Mapplethorpe to her love for St. Francis of Assisi to her song-writing techniques, “I love a one-chord song, but you gotta get the right one. It’s always D.”

So for about an hour and a half, Patti Smith talked and sang to all of us sitting in what appeared to be an Acura showroom that was located in the reaches of the far west 30s of Manhattan. Smith was being interviewed by poet Paul Muldoon, and he was very skilled at occasionally prompting her with questions in his lilting Irish accent, and then just sitting back and enjoying what she had to say.

And she had a lot to say. She was open and funny and didn’t hold anything back in a way that made her appear youthful, or rather timeless, in a way that was belied by her reminder to us that she was “65-years-old and has been doing this for a long fucking time.” That line, by the way, was said into a hand-held microphone that replaced her static-y body mike. Smith was given the new mike and held it front of her for a beat before saying, “I hate these things. It’s like half-dick, half-ice cream cone.” There is so much to appreciate about this woman, it’s hard to know even where to begin.

It’s hard, ok, no, it’s totally impossible, to make assessments of “artists” as some sort of whole group that can be understood through an interview with an iconic artist like Smith. But Smith really makes you want to do just that, because she seems like some sort of Platonic ideal of an intelligent musician and writer in a way that it is so easy to latch on to, and try to universalize. Basically, she gives killer quotes.