A Love Letter To: Patti Smith
By Pamela Boland
My love for you started in 2016 when I read Just Kids without having really listened to your music before. My mum had played ‘Because The Night’ a few times growing up I’m sure, but at that point I had never really let my own active listening wander too far from Barbie Pool Party Mix Vol.2.
Looking back, I think it may have been a blessing in disguise that I’d never paid attention, because listening to your music while pouring over your writing was an incredible way to experience it for the first time.
I was listening to ‘Fire of Unknown Origin’ and ‘Piss Factory’ as stories swam around my head about you and Robert Mapplethorpe in New York, your lives, your art, your troubles, your world, and your love. I was enamoured, struck by your tender way of telling us these sometimes harsh stories. You weren’t romanticising the hard times or leaving the ugly bits out, you just wrote as if you were telling someone you hadn’t seen for a while about your life, someone you trusted.
I told all the people I loved to read Just Kids, I shared my copy, with all its notes in the margins and underlined bits, and everyone I leant it to loved it just as much. I’ve read it again and again since, and each time I feel as open and vulnerable as before. It’s a strong kind of vulnerability though, I feel good in myself and my ability to carry my tears, it’s not so overwhelming, and that’s because of the strength you show in being vulnerable also.
I saw you perform in April of 2017, as part of your last Australian tour. I flew to Melbourne with two girls I hardly knew, the only thing we knew we had in common at the time was a love for you and your storytelling. You graced that stage with your spitting and stomping, yelling and twirling, enchanting everyone in that huge room with all of your energy and ferocity.
A few songs in, a stage hand appeared to hand you your glasses and a piece of paper. You smiled and thanked him so sincerely, taking time to kiss him on the cheek and really show him kindness. I think I’ll always remember that moment with such intimate detail. You acted with such a great amount of consideration and thanks towards this boy, it’s always really telling of character, that kind of thing, and the simple action really obeyed the idea and character I had imagined of you.
In between songs there was not the usual chatter and noise that often happen at gigs, instead everyone was just fixed on you as you held onto that crumpled piece paper reading from it, a story.
Afterwards you sang ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall’ and this huge prickly and warm wave came over me. Covered in goosebumps, I clutched at my shoulders and tears poured as we all sang along. I looked across the floor and I could see my Mum crying - who had made the trip separately with my dad - and she was watching you like I was, all hands and tears, swaying.
I remembered this part in Just Kids right then where you talk about a tambourine with ribbons on it’s base and astrological signs tattooed onto it given to you for your twenty first birthday, and I thought about the tambourine my mum had given to me. I thought about the gypsy and the fool that you write about and how I’ll always be listening to my mum’s silence and she’ll always be listening to mine, circling around each other and becoming each other in cycles. She’s strong like you, and always vulnerable. And a gypsy to her bones.
At the show you told us; “The most important thing you can teach is loving, motherfucker”, love the earth, love each other, love the other. You have taught me so much about love in your writing. The different forms it takes and how it comes in waves throughout our lives. You’ve taught me how to be alright in my own vulnerability; to understand vulnerability as something beautiful, that encourages love and true friendship, true connections in our lives.
Your music makes me feel powerful and gives me the push to speak up. Thank you for stomping and standing up. I have so much love for you, thank you.
Originally published in Love Letters Issue 001.