Friday, January 29, 2010

she is benediction

Has there ever been a cooler musician/poet/artist than Patti Smith?

Let me re-phrase that: there has never been anyone cooler than Patti Smith (with all due respect to the Pop-Bowie-Reed trifecta). She radiates smoke and light and rock and roll like no other performer, and her style's influence on contemporary fashion is undeniable. Even in color photographs, she appears to live in a black-and-white world. I've seen her unwashed hair, ripped and torn washed-out t-shirt and pegged jeans copied so much in the past few years, but she's the originator who cannot be topped. Story time! I met her a few years ago at a Film Forum Q&A and she wore all black, all Comme des Garcons, and positively reeked of cigarettes and signed my book and called me "sweetie" and loudly mocked a question about whether her relationship with designer clothing conflicts with her politics ("I's not really your fucking business! Someone sends me a Prada jacket, I'll wear it for a decade. Talk about a silly fucking question"). We should all hope to age as raucously!
My first attempt at performance art involved me walking into my art school classroom dressed in boxers and a t-shirt, with headphones on. I stood in front of my classmates for a minute or so before launching into a very loud, tone-deaf and sweaty version of "Gloria," arguably Patti's most well-loved song. It was a hot mess and I nearly threw up afterward, but I'm only telling you this as an example of my obsession, not of my lack of talent within the performance arts.
This is an outtake from a Mapplethorpe photo session that produced the cover of "Horses." In high school, for my senior portrait, I tried to re-create this look by standing in front of a white backdrop in a cardigan and scarf. EPIC FAIL. As if my Midwestern pre-calculus tutor (slash part-time photographer) could make me look this timeless, this empirically cool.
I just read her new book, "Just Kids," which details her long and complex relationship Robert Mapplethorpe. At the store, customers have been asking me about it (I always leave my current reading material in plain sight) but they seem to be only interested in finding out whether the two of them had sex. I'll answer that right now, just to save you time: Yes. Yes they did. The rest of the book is much more fascinating than that little detail, and the last twenty pages or so had me in tears.

This is my favorite shot. Warrior Patti, wielding scissors next to a theatrical demon of a cat. And this is a performance that made me seriously contemplate an assassination attempt. Enjoy!