Friday, August 9, 2013

Patti Smith, an Artful Life

My first memory of Patti Smith is when I was seven and someone showed me her "Easter" album cover.

"Eww.  Look, she has hairy armpits!" my friend said.  I no longer remember who exactly that friend was, but I agreed with her at the time.

I said, "Eww" too.  I had never seen a woman with hair under her pits.

Two years later, my mom informed me it was time to start shaving my armpits.  Physically I was an early developer.  Socially I was slow.  In fourth grade, I had no interest yet in bathing or grooming or wearing uncomfortable clothes or makeup.  Certainly not dragging a sharp object across my flesh, inevitably nicking myself each time.  But my mom insisted I start shaving my armpits and I complied.  She hardly ever asked me to do anything, so when she did I knew she was serious.

Mom bought me a pink circular-shaped safety razor that you could turn and it would make a click sound when a new blade snapped into place.  I sat in the bathtub for half an hour playing with my razor before I actually used it to shave.  I hated shaving from the first moment on.  I remember sitting there, watching the bar of Ivory soap float around the tub and wishing I were as brave as Patti Smith.

Later, as a teenager, Patti Smith recorded a song with my favorite band at the time, R.E.M.  It's amazing:

A couple of years ago I read Patti Smith's mesmerizing memoir Just Kids about her relationship with the great artist Robert Mapplethorpe.  I recommend it as often as I can to anyone who mentions an interest in artists' lives.

Then today a friend shared this video clip of Patti Smith speaking at the Louisiana Literature Festival on August 24, 2012 at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.  It's exactly what I needed to hear, right now.

Thank you, Patti Smith, for advocating an artful life.  

Patti Smith, from the video above: 

To be an artist, actually, to be a human being in these times, it's all difficult.  You have to go through life, hopefully you know, trying to stay healthy, you know, being as happy as you can.  And pursuing, you know, doing what you want.  If what you want is to have children, if what you want is to be a baker, if what you want is to live out in the woods or try to save the environment.  Or maybe what you want is to write scripts for detective shows.  It doesn't really matter, you know, what matters is to be, is to know what you want, and pursue it, and understand that it's gonna be hard.  Because life is really difficult.  You're gonna lose people you love.  You're gonna suffer heartbreak.  Sometimes you'll be sick.  Sometimes you'll have a really bad toothache.  Sometimes you'll be hungry.  But on the other end, you'll have the most beautiful experiences.  Sometimes just the sky.  Sometimes, you know, a piece of work that you do that feels so wonderful.  Or you find somebody to love.  Or your children.  There's beautiful things in life.  So when you're suffering, just, you know, it's part of the package, you know.  You look at it: we're born and we also have to die.  We know that, so it makes sense that we're going to be really happy and things are going to be really fucked up too.  Just ride with it, you know.  It's like a roller coaster ride.  It's never going to be perfect.  It's gonna have perfect moments and then rough spots, but it's all worth it.  Believe me.  I think it is.  

You know, I'm sure that each generation, you know, could say that their time was the best and the worst of times.  But I think that right now we are at something different that I've never seen.  It's a pioneering time because there's no other time in history like right now.  And that's what makes it unique.  It's not unique because we have, you know, like Renaissance-style artists.  It's unique because the people, it is a time of the people because technology has really, democratised self-expression.  Instead of a handful of people making their own records or writing their own songs, everybody can write them.  Everyone can post a poem on the Internet and have people read it.  Everyone has access, and access that they've never had before...