“We were walking toward the fountain, the epicenter of activity, when an older couple stopped and openly observed us. Robert enjoyed being noticed, and he affectionately squeezed my hand.
“Oh, take their picture,” said the woman to her bemused husband, “I think they’re artists.”
“Oh, go on,” he shrugged. “They’re just kids.”
Extract taken from Just Kids by Patti Smith
Patti Smith is a musical living legend.
The 67-year-old created an intimate and mesmerising evening at Oran Mor, and it felt a privilege to be in her company. You could have heard a pin drop all night, and even though the audience was totally in her grasp, the iconic punk poet was confident, while also charmingly unassuming, a quality which seems to run through her excellently penned book Just Kids.
For the most part the book charts Patti’s early childhood, her move to New York and then her relationship with artist/photographer and one-time-lover Robert Mapplethorpe. Set mostly around the 1960s/70s, it’s a beautiful eulogy to Mapplethorpe and like a Woody Allen film, a fabulously romantic paean to New York city. Of Mapplethorpe, she seems in awe of his artistic talents, willing him to receive the recognition he deserves. You get the feeling Patti sometimes didn’t realise the huge talent she was steadily nurturing. Reading the book, you can’t help but love her unassuming ways and her shy awkwardness. You want her to do well, and thankfully we know the outcome of her career.
Patti had already left New York some years before Robert Mapplethorpe’s death in 1989. She had married Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith and moved to Detroit, and when her husband died in 1994, Patti was left with two young children to raise.
Quite a few decades later on stage at Oran Mor, she’s comfortable in her own skin and self-assured, there’s a feeling of what-you-see-is-what-you-get, you probably wouldn’t want to cross her but that charming unassuming quality is still there, and the audience are drawn to her like moths to a flame. She laughs and berates herself if she hits, in her mind, a below standard note (it doesn’t happen often and the audience probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway). She’s an odd mix of fierceness and warmth. It makes her endearing and utterly spellbinding.
A self-confessed lover of words and stories, Patti interspersed her set list with little tales and anecdotes. Amusing and funny, she was like an eccentric aunt. Someone who was always a bit exotic, entertaining, always had a good story and someone you loved visiting.
She borrowed a copy of Just Kids from a member of the audience and read a section to a silent and eager crowd who time-traveled back to a new year in New York, and to the magical atmosphere of the city’s brightly flashing neon lights trapped amid a sudden flurry of snow. It was the birth of a bright new shiny decade, the 1970s. And the wide-eyed optimism of the two young struggling artists was palpable. They felt as if they had the world at their feet, although in reality it was probably hunger and not extravagant good times that were keeping the couple awake in the city that never sleeps.
Regaling tales of previous visits to Glasgow, Patti told of her fondness for the Necropolis, and also of visiting one time with her son, but during this tour Glasgow’s famous cemetery eluded her, and she laughed at herself when the audience corrected her – she was searching for the Acropolis instead. “Well you know, Glasgow … Athens, they’re quite alike – no?” she laughed.
Accompanied by musician and vocalist Tony Shanahan, her vocal strength was astonishing and songs like Pissing In The River and Because The Night were delivered with effortless aplomb rising to fever pitch and nearly bringing the roof down.
The gentler but no less effective This Is The Girl was dedicated to Amy Winehouse while Banga was a call-to-arms rousing chant. A delicate rendition of John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy was dedicated to new royal baby George, and to all other babies out there in the world.
“We took walks at night. Sometimes we could see Venus above us. It was the shepherd’s star and the star of love. Robert called it our blue star. He practiced forming the t of Robert into a star, signing in blue so that I would remember.”
“On November fourth, Robert turned twenty-one. I gave him a heavy silver ID bracelet I found in a pawnshop on Forty-second Street. I had it engraved with the words Robert Patti blue star. The blue star of our destiny.”
Extract from Just Kids by Patti Smith
(Published by Bloomsbury £8.99