In the realm of music and literature, there exist individuals whose creative prowess transcends boundaries, leaving an indelible mark on the world. Patti Smith, a true icon of rock ‘n’ roll and an eloquent poetess, encapsulates these qualities with her unparalleled talent and unwavering spirit. As I sat nervously in anticipation, preparing to interview this legendary figure, my heart raced with excitement at the thought of delving into the mind of a woman who has shaped the cultural landscape for decades.
Patti Smith’s ethereal voice reverberates through the annals of music history, leaving an imprint that is both haunting and profoundly resonant. From her electrifying debut album, “Horses,” to her poetic memoir, “Just Kids,” Smith has captivated audiences with her raw vulnerability and fearless exploration of life’s most profound questions. Known as the “Godmother of Punk,” she defied conventions, fearlessly embracing her unique identity and pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.
In this interview with Patti Smith, we unveiled not just the artist, but the person behind the iconic persona. We explored her thoughts on love, loss, and the power of art to transform the world. With every question, I gained a deeper understanding of the creative force that drives her, the essence of her being that has touched the hearts and minds of millions.
As our conversation came to a close, I left that room forever changed, carrying with me an unforgettable encounter with one of the most influential figures in modern culture. The experience of interviewing Patti Smith served as a reminder of the transformative power of art and its ability to transcend time, connecting souls across generations.
Who is Patti Smith?
Patti Smith, often referred to as the “Godmother of Punk,” is a revered figure in the world of music and art. Born on December 30, 1946, in Chicago, Illinois, Patti Smith has left an indelible mark on the music industry with her poetic lyrics, fierce stage presence, and unapologetic attitude.
Smith’s artistic journey began in the 1970s when she emerged as a key figure in the burgeoning punk rock scene in New York City. With her distinctive fusion of poetry and rock music, she challenged the conventions of popular music, introducing a raw and rebellious energy that resonated with a generation hungry for change.
Beyond her musical prowess, Patti Smith is also an accomplished writer and visual artist. Drawing inspiration from literary figures like Arthur Rimbaud and William Blake, she infuses her work with a poetic sensibility that transcends boundaries. Her memoir, “Just Kids,” which recounts her early years in New York City and her relationship with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, won the National Book Award in 2010, solidifying her status as a multi-talented artist.
Throughout her career, Patti Smith has fearlessly tackled social and political issues through her music and activism. From advocating for LGBTQ+ rights to protesting against war and injustice, she has used her platform to give voice to the marginalized and challenge the status quo.
Patti Smith’s legacy extends far beyond the realm of music. She has inspired countless artists across different disciplines, breaking barriers and blurring the lines between genres. With her unmistakable style, thought-provoking lyrics, and fierce determination, Patti Smith continues to captivate audiences and leave an enduring impact on the cultural landscape.
20 Thought-Provoking Questions with Patti Smith
1.Can you provide ten Just Kids quotes to our readers?
1.No one expected me. Everything awaited me.
2. Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.
3. Everything distracted me, but most of all myself.
4. What will happen to us?” I asked. “There will always be us,” he answered.
5. So my last image was as the first. A sleeping youth cloaked in light, who opened his eyes with a smile of recognition for someone who had never been a stranger.
6. We went our separate ways, but within walking distance of one another.
7. Why can’t I write something that would awake the dead? That pursuit is what burns most deeply.
8. We wanted, it seemed, what we already had, a lover and a friend to create with, side by side. To be loyal, yet be free.
9. Paths that cross will cross again.
10. Both of them were ahead of their time, but they didn’t live long enough to see the time they were ahead of.
2. How did your relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe influence both your artistic journeys?
Robert’s presence in my life was transformative. Together, we navigated the vibrant streets of New York City, sharing dreams, aspirations, and a burning desire to express ourselves through art. We fueled each other’s creativity, constantly inspiring and challenging one another to push boundaries and strive for excellence.
Robert’s fearless exploration of photography pushed me to delve deeper into my own artistic expression. His attention to detail, his unflinching gaze capturing raw beauty and delicate vulnerability, taught me to embrace honesty in my own work. Through his lens, he revealed aspects of my being that I had never fully recognized before.
Our connection ran even deeper. We were kindred spirits, seeking solace in the same bohemian circles, finding inspiration in the written word, and immersing ourselves in the pulsating energy of the underground art scene. We shared a love for poetry, music, and the power of self-expression.
Perhaps most significantly, Robert’s unwavering belief in my talent gave me the courage to step into the spotlight, to embrace my voice as a poet and a performer. He saw my potential before I did, encouraging me to share my words with the world. In turn, I supported him in his exploration of photography, providing companionship and encouragement throughout his journey.
3. In “Just Kids,” you vividly describe your experiences in New York City during the late 1960s and 1970s. What made this era so transformative for you and the art scene?
The late 1960s and 1970s in New York City were truly transformative for me and the art scene for several reasons. Firstly, it was a time of great social and political upheaval. The counterculture movement, civil rights activism, and the anti-war protests all influenced the atmosphere and mindset of the city. These events provided a backdrop of rebellion and a desire for change, which greatly impacted the artistic expression of the era.
Additionally, New York City during this period was a hotbed of artistic creativity and experimentation. It attracted artists, musicians, writers, and performers from all over the world. The East Village, Chelsea, and other neighborhoods were vibrant communities where creative individuals could connect, collaborate, and showcase their work. The city’s openness to unconventional ideas and its diverse population created an environment that fostered artistic innovation and freedom of expression.
Furthermore, the affordability of living in New York City at that time allowed struggling artists like myself to immerse ourselves fully in our craft. Rents were relatively low, and there were many abandoned buildings that became makeshift studios, galleries, and performance spaces. This accessibility enabled us to live and create in close proximity, fostering a sense of community and inspiring collaboration among artists.
4. Can you share with us what inspired you to write “Just Kids” and what you hoped to convey through this book?
Just Kids” is a memoir that chronicles my relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, the renowned photographer and artist. The inspiration behind writing this book stems from a desire to honor our unique bond, as well as to document a significant period in both of our lives.
Through “Just Kids,” I hoped to convey several key messages. First and foremost, I wanted to celebrate the power of friendship and creative collaboration. Robert was not just my lover but also my closest confidant and artistic companion during a time when we were young and struggling artists navigating the vibrant New York City art scene of the late 1960s and 1970s.
I also aimed to capture the spirit and energy of that era, which was marked by cultural shifts, political activism, and a burgeoning artistic community. By sharing our experiences, I wanted to transport readers back to that time and immerse them in the vibrant atmosphere that shaped us as individuals and artists.
Furthermore, “Just Kids” serves as a tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe’s artistic genius and his enduring impact on the art world. It explores his journey as he discovered his artistic voice and grappled with questions of identity, sexuality, and self-expression. Through the book, I hope to shed light on his artistry and the extraordinary path he walked.
5. “Just Kids” beautifully captures the challenges and sacrifices artists often face. Can you talk about some specific obstacles you encountered during your early years as a writer and musician?
One of the most profound challenges I faced as a budding writer and musician was the constant battle against self-doubt. In the solitude of my room, surrounded by scribbled pages and half-formed chords, I often questioned if my art was worthy of anyone’s attention. The fear of rejection and criticism cast a shadow over my creative spirit, threatening to extinguish the flame that burned within.
Financial strife also haunted me during those days. The life of an artist is rarely endowed with riches, and I had to navigate the labyrinth of survival while preserving my artistic integrity. There were nights when hunger gnawed at my belly, and I wondered if I would ever be able to make ends meet. But I refused to let poverty define me, for I knew that my voice had something to say, even if it meant finding solace in a humble existence.
Another obstacle that loomed large was the struggle for recognition. Breaking through in a world dominated by established figures was no easy feat. Doors seemed firmly shut, avenues blocked, as I tried to break free from the shackles of obscurity. Yet, I held on tightly to my dreams, carving out my own path, propelling myself forward with an unwavering determination.
6. Your memoir depicts the struggles of pursuing art while dealing with poverty. How did financial constraints affect your work and mindset at the time?
Struggling with poverty while pursuing art tested the boundaries of my determination and resolve. It called upon me to make sacrifices and face the harsh realities of life. Every penny counted, every resource had to be stretched to its limits. At times, it felt as though the world conspired against us, pushing us to question our dreams and aspirations.
Financial limitations forced me to confront the precariousness of existence and reevaluate what truly mattered. It was in these moments that I discovered the immense power of creativity born out of necessity. The scarcity of resources necessitated ingenuity and resourcefulness, reshaping my artistic process and driving me to find beauty within the simplest of means.
But amidst the struggle, there was a silver lining that emerged from the depths of poverty. It ignited a fire within me, an unyielding desire to create despite the adversity. The challenges I faced transformed into a source of inspiration, fueling my work with a raw authenticity that may have otherwise been missed.
Financial constraints became a catalyst for introspection, molding my mindset in profound ways. They reminded me to cherish the intangible treasures of art and friendship. They taught me resilience, instilling within me an unwavering determination to overcome obstacles and stay true to my artistic vision.
7. The bond between you and Mapplethorpe is incredibly strong throughout the book. Can you share some memorable moments that showcase the depth of your connection?
One particular memory that remains etched in my heart is when Robert and I lived together in the Chelsea Hotel. We were both struggling artists, chasing our dreams in the vibrant world of New York City. In those challenging times, we supported and inspired each other, both creatively and emotionally. Our tiny room became a sanctuary where we would share ideas, dreams, and aspirations into the early hours of the morning. Through our conversations, we nurtured one another’s artistic visions and challenged each other to push the boundaries of our respective crafts.
Another cherished moment that exemplifies the profound connection we shared is when Robert gifted me my first camera. This simple yet powerful gesture transformed my life and set me on a path towards photography and ultimately music. This act of generosity symbolized our unwavering belief in each other’s potential and the unspoken understanding that we were destined to create art together.
Throughout the book, I recount numerous instances where we navigated the complexities of life hand-in-hand. From our shared struggles and triumphs to our unyielding support for one another’s artistic pursuits, these experiences illustrate the strength and resilience of our bond. We held each other’s hands through the highs and lows, providing solace and encouragement during our most vulnerable moments.
8. “Just Kids” offers readers a glimpse into the vibrant art and music scenes of New York City. Could you tell us about some influential figures you encountered during this time?
Robert Mapplethorpe: Robert was not only my best friend but also a talented photographer. We shared a deep connection and artistic collaboration that lasted throughout our lives. He had a profound impact on my creative development.
Sam Shepard: Sam was a playwright and actor who became a close friend and collaborator. Our friendship began when we met at the Chelsea Hotel, and together we explored and supported each other’s artistic pursuits.
Allen Ginsberg: The renowned poet and activist, Allen Ginsberg, was an important figure during this time. His mentorship and friendship provided me with inspiration and guidance as I navigated my own artistic path.
Andy Warhol: Andy Warhol, a prominent figure in the pop art movement, had a profound influence on the cultural landscape of New York City. Although I didn’t have extensive interactions with him, his presence was undeniable, and his work left a lasting impression on me.
9. Your writing style in “Just Kids” is poetic and evocative. How did you approach narrating your personal story while infusing it with a sense of artistry?
To approach narrating my personal story in a poetic and evocative way, I relied both on memory and imagination. I delved into the depths of my recollections, reliving the emotions and sensations tied to each event. By tapping into these raw feelings, I aimed to recreate the authenticity of the past and bring it to life for the reader.
Additionally, I drew inspiration from my love for literature, poetry, and visual arts. Through extensive reading and studying various artistic forms, I developed a keen sense of rhythm, imagery, and metaphor that influenced my writing style. I wanted each sentence to carry its weight in meaning, to resonate beyond its literal interpretation, and to create a vivid tapestry of words that mirrored the world I inhabited during that time.
I approached my storytelling with a painterly eye, carefully selecting vivid details and crafting rich descriptions to immerse readers in the scenes and emotions of the narrative. This allowed me to transcend the boundaries of a traditional memoir and transform my personal story into a work of art, engaging the reader’s senses and inviting them to experience the beauty and complexity of my life alongside me.
10. The loss and grief you experienced are recurring themes in the book. How did you cope with these emotions and find solace through your art?
In Just Kids, I explore the recurring themes of loss and grief that I experienced throughout my life. These emotions were undoubtedly difficult to cope with, but finding solace through my art was a significant part of my healing process.
For me, creating art became a way to channel and express those deep-seated emotions. Writing poetry and songs allowed me to externalize my inner turmoil and transform it into something meaningful. Through my words and music, I could capture and convey the complex emotions that grief brings.
Art also served as a form of catharsis, providing a space where I could confront and process my losses. Whether through writing, painting, or performing, each artistic endeavor became a therapeutic outlet, enabling me to explore my pain and ultimately find moments of solace within it.
11. “Just Kids” explores themes of identity and self-discovery. Can you discuss how your own identity evolved during the period covered in the memoir?
During the period covered in my memoir “Just Kids,” my identity underwent a profound transformation. It was a time of exploration, self-discovery, and artistic awakening. As a young woman finding her way in the vibrant world of New York City, I experienced a multitude of influences that shaped who I became.
In those early years, I grappled with a sense of otherness and yearned for acceptance. I felt like an outsider, observing the world around me with both curiosity and trepidation. But it was through my encounters with fellow artists, such as Robert Mapplethorpe, that I began to truly understand the power of embracing one’s uniqueness.
Robert played an instrumental role in helping me realize that my art and my voice mattered. Together, we delved into various artistic mediums, experimenting with poetry, music, and visual arts. Our intertwined creative journey became a catalyst for my personal growth and allowed me to shed my insecurities.
As I immersed myself in the bohemian scene of the 1960s and 1970s, I encountered different subcultures and philosophical ideas. The Beat poets, the Warhol crowd, and the punk movement were all significant influences on my evolving identity. They taught me to challenge societal norms and to embrace the beauty of imperfection.
12. Several photographs are included in the book, capturing significant moments in your life. How did you select these images, and what role do they play in enhancing the narrative?
In Just Kids, the selection of photographs was a deeply personal and thoughtful process. Each image was chosen with great care to capture significant moments in my life and enhance the narrative of the book.
I approached the task of selecting these photographs with the intention of complementing the written words and providing visual context to the stories I shared. The images serve as glimpses into the past, offering readers a visual representation of the people, places, and events that shaped my journey.
The photographs in Just Kids were not only chosen for their aesthetic qualities but also for their ability to evoke emotions, memories, and connections with the stories being told. They act as powerful triggers, enhancing the reader’s understanding and immersion in my experiences.
13. Your journey from a struggling artist to an influential figure has inspired many. What advice would you give to aspiring artists trying to find their own voice and success?
In “Just Kids,” the selection of photographs was a deeply personal process for me. Each image included in the book holds significant meaning and embodies an important moment in my life. I wanted to choose photographs that not only captured specific events but also evoked the emotions and atmosphere of those moments.
To select these images, I embarked on a journey through my personal archives, sifting through countless photographs spanning decades. It was essential for me to find images that resonated with the narrative and added depth to the stories I was sharing. I considered the visual impact, the connection between the photograph and the accompanying text, and how each image contributed to the overall storytelling experience.
The chosen photographs served multiple purposes in enhancing the narrative. Firstly, they acted as visual anchors, allowing readers to have a tangible connection with the events and characters described in the book. They helped bring my words to life, making the experiences more vivid and relatable.
14. The relationship between art and love is a central theme in “Just Kids.” How do you believe artistic expression can deepen our understanding of love and relationships?
Firstly, art allows us to explore and express the complexities of human emotions. Through different forms of artistic expression such as writing, music, painting, or photography, we can delve into the depths of love and relationships. By capturing these experiences through art, we can convey the intensity, vulnerability, joy, and pain that often accompany them. This enables both the artist and the audience to connect on a deeper emotional level and gain insights into the intricacies of love.
Artistic expression also helps us communicate and relate to one another. Whether it’s a song, a poem, or a visual artwork, art offers a universal language that transcends cultural and linguistic barriers. It allows us to share intimate thoughts and feelings about love and relationships, fostering empathy and understanding among diverse individuals. Through art, we can explore different perspectives, challenge societal norms, and encourage dialogue around these themes, ultimately deepening our comprehension and appreciation of love’s complexities.
Furthermore, art has the ability to inspire self-reflection and personal growth. By engaging with artistic works, individuals can encounter narratives and representations of love and relationships that resonate with their own experiences. Art prompts introspection and encourages us to examine our own beliefs, values, desires, and shortcomings in the realm of love. This process of self-exploration can lead to personal growth and a better understanding of ourselves and our connections with others.
15. Your memoir offers glimpses into the creative process behind your music and poetry. Can you share how you approached your craft and the influence it had on your writing?
My craft is not just about creating art; it’s about being present and open to the world around me. I draw inspiration from everyday experiences, relationships, and the emotions they evoke. For me, writing is a way of processing these moments, giving them meaning, and sharing them with others.
Music and poetry are intertwined in my creative process. The rhythm and cadence of words in my poetry often have a musical quality, while my music incorporates the lyrical depth and imagery from my poetry. Writing lyrics allows me to delve into storytelling, using words to paint vivid pictures that resonate with listeners.
Throughout my career, I’ve been influenced by a wide range of artists and thinkers, including William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix. Their works have taught me to challenge conventions, explore new ideas, and push boundaries in my own artistry.
Ultimately, my writing is deeply personal. It reflects my observations, aspirations, and struggles as an individual navigating the complexities of life. I believe that through my work, I can connect with others, offer solace, provoke thought, and inspire change.
16. The New York City portrayed in “Just Kids” has changed significantly since the 1970s. How do you feel about this transformation and the impact it has had on the art scene?
I believe that the transformation of New York City since the 1970s has had both positive and negative effects on the art scene. On one hand, the city’s evolution has brought about new opportunities and resources for artists to explore and express themselves in different ways. The influx of diverse cultures, technological advancements, and increased global connectivity have undoubtedly enriched the artistic landscape.
However, it is also important to acknowledge the loss of the unique energy and affordability that characterized the city during the 1970s. Back then, New York City was a haven for struggling artists, providing an affordable environment where creativity could flourish. As rents skyrocketed and gentrification took hold, many artists were priced out of their neighborhoods, leading to a dispersal of the vibrant artistic community that once thrived here.
While I celebrate the progress made by the art scene, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the raw and authentic spirit that was prevalent in the 1970s. It was a time when art was born out of necessity rather than commercial aspirations, and there was a strong sense of community among artists. However, change is inevitable, and it is part of life’s cycle. The transformation of New York City has opened up new avenues for artistic expression, and it is crucial that we adapt and embrace these changes while preserving the values and traditions that made this city a creative hub.
17. The book beautifully captures the spirit of the time and the counterculture movement. How do you believe the ideals of that era still hold relevance today?
The counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s was driven by a desire for freedom, self-expression, individualism, and social change. These ideals continue to resonate because they address fundamental human needs and aspirations that transcend time. They remind us of the importance of questioning societal norms, challenging authority, and seeking alternative perspectives.
In today’s world, where conformity and materialism often dominate, the counterculture’s emphasis on personal authenticity and creativity is still relevant. It encourages us to explore our own unique identities, embrace diversity, and express ourselves honestly. The pursuit of art, music, literature, or any creative endeavor remains a powerful means of connecting with others and fostering understanding across different cultures and generations.
Moreover, the counterculture movement focused on social justice, civil rights, gender equality, and environmental activism. These issues are still urgent today, and we can draw inspiration from the passionate activism of that era. The fight against systemic injustices, discrimination, and inequality continues to require dedicated individuals who are willing to challenge the status quo and work towards a more just and equitable society.
18. Your relationship with Mapplethorpe faced its own complexities and challenges. Can you elaborate on how you navigated those difficulties while maintaining your creative partnership?
Maintaining a creative partnership with Robert Mapplethorpe certainly presented its fair share of complexities and challenges. Our relationship was multifaceted, blending friendship, artistic collaboration, and romantic elements over the years. To navigate these difficulties, we relied on several key aspects that helped us sustain our creative partnership.
First and foremost, open and honest communication played a crucial role. We understood the importance of expressing our feelings, concerns, and frustrations openly, while also actively listening to one another. This allowed us to address any conflicts or tensions promptly and find mutually agreeable solutions.
Another crucial element was respect for each other’s individuality and artistic vision. We recognized that we were two separate artists with unique perspectives and styles. Embracing our differences rather than trying to change or outshine each other was vital in maintaining a healthy creative dynamic. We supported and encouraged one another’s growth and exploration, even if it led us on diverging paths at times.
19. “Just Kids” has been widely acclaimed and has touched the hearts of many readers. Did you anticipate such a profound response to your memoir, and how does it make you feel?
The fact that “Just Kids” has resonated with so many people and touched their hearts in a profound way is truly humbling. It reaffirms the power of storytelling and the universality of the human experience. Knowing that others have found solace, inspiration, or a sense of connection through my memoir fills me with gratitude.
Writing “Just Kids” was a deeply personal endeavor, and to see it embraced by readers around the world has been an incredible journey. The response has not only allowed me to reflect on my own experiences but has also opened up conversations about art, love, friendship, and the pursuit of one’s passions. It gives me great joy to know that my story has touched the lives of others.
Ultimately, the profound response to “Just Kids” encourages me to continue sharing my truth and connecting with people on a deeper level. It reminds me of the importance of vulnerability in art and the potential for our stories to transcend individual experiences and foster a collective understanding. Thank you for recognizing the impact of ‘Just Kids,’ and for allowing me to be a part of your reading journey.
20. As a final question, could you share more books like Just Kids?
“The Mamba Mentality” by Kobe Bryant, in this inspiring autobiography, Bryant delves into the mindset that propelled him to become one of the greatest athletes in basketball history.
“Born A Crime” by Trevor Noah, this book chronicles Noah’s life growing up in South Africa during the apartheid era.
“What I Know For Sure” by Oprah Winfrey, in this book, Oprah shares profound insights and life lessons that have shaped her journey to success and self-discovery.