I FIRST HEARD PATTI SMITH’S ALBUM HORSES at my friend Barbara’s flat in Watertown, Massachusetts, where she lived with her guitarist roommate, John. We were all musicians, then. Or artists. Poets. Dancers. And we each had our own god. Mine was Talking Heads. Not least because they had a girl bass player and I was a girl bass player. Bebe’s god was Patti Smith. Not least because Beebs looked a bit like Patti.
Back then, the early 80s, we were not so far from living the life Patti Smith writes about in JUST KIDS, her National Book Award-winning memoir of her NYC years with Robert Mapplethorpe. Well, except for the fame and critical acclaim. Except for that.
But then . . . my band broke up, and I became an office manager, and Barbara moved out of Watertown and went to work for Houghton Mifflin, and Barbara’s roommate became a high school English teacher, and our poet friend became a programmer.
And Patti? For a while, she, too, ducked her rock-poet-goddess status, slipping off to suburban Detroit with her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith. But even then, unlike me—or Barbara, or the other dancers/musicians/writers among us—Patti Smith kept on. She wrote. She recorded. And when Fred Smith died in 1994, Patti Smith came roaring out of the suburbs, touring and releasing ten albums in twenty years.
What’s the difference between Patti Smith and those of us of whose art/music/poetry washed out with the tide of the 1980s? I’m not sure. Not sure the difference between those who do and those who just used to. Maybe there’s a clue in JUST KIDS. I don’t know. But I do know this: Patti Smith, still writing, still rocking, is—still—a fierce god to follow.