Heavy frost outside this morning. Kid has the new tablet out, bundled up on the couch, totally oblivious to the world because of some hedgehog named Sonic. The only time he stops is when he hears me telling him to put that thing on mute, which he does, and I go back to drinking coffee and making our biscuits. Patti Smith Group is spinning on the record player. Wave. My favorite track comes on--"Revenge"--a five-minute stabbing waltz of a song that I typically reserve for midnight and a lone smoke on the porch, but this early Saturday morning it's a demanding, loud reminder of Patti's influence on me and my writing.
"I still worry people won’t come, but they do… oh, they do."
I didn't discover Patti Smith until only a few years ago. Well, that's not entirely true. I knew about her. How could a person NOT KNOW Patti Smith. But I fought against the idea of listening to Patti's music because she seemed overrated and when I was an adolescent, I was into angrier, shorter stuff, really simple riffs. (And had no clue what Patti was about). And I wanted to cling to the same aesthetic to complement this '70s punk novel I was working on at the time (which I abruptly shelved to write The Fabulists). Stuff like Dead Boys, Dictators, Iggy, Johnny Thunder. Ramones. I had been listening to Television and Richard Hell, too. Pretty much a boys' club. But I knew that if I was gonna write a punk novel, I was going to have to fully understand Patti's position as the godmother of punk. I picked up Horses, Easter, Radio Ethiopia, and Wave to start my education. I put Easter on the turntable first.
Within minutes of playing the album, I freaked out. It was accessible, strange, haunting, fun, and unique. Her voice was so...strong. I had never heard anything like it. Soon I was out scouring record stores, bookstores, and old magazine archives--reading and compiling everything about Patti into my research and consciousness reserved for the novel.
Tangent: One of my favorite posts I came across in 2013 is Norman Seeff's outtakes from a photo shoot with Patti and Robert, curated on Retronaut. Nothing new, but if you haven't seen this session, please go visit it and then come back. The photo below is generously borrowed from the website.
So, I'm not a crazy fangirl--I mean, let's face it: Patti had some annoying periods, and made some bad music, and has said some stupid stuff. But haven't we all. What amazed me was the quality of writing I produced while listening to her music. It helped me tap into a deeper, stranger part of myself, the part of me that isn't afraid to question and fight, the part that isn't afraid to try something new. And the more I learned about her, the more she became a distinct role model when approaching my craft process and work ethic.
Here's what Patti Smith taught me about writing:
1. Believe in yourself enough to create art & fight for your art. Have some ego.
2. You're going to get rejected. Get used to it and keep coming back. It's going to take some time to get that seat at the cool kids table.
3. Maybe you don't want to be at the cool kids table. But don't be too cool to not accept help from really awesome and respected writers. Be grateful for a mentor.
4. Do everything--everything--with passion and ferocity.
5. Explore. Travel. Take time to live life. This is both physical and emotional material for your writing.
6. Look at everything with amazement.
7. Take care of your community. Support bookstores and venues and other up-and-coming writers you respect.
8. Experiment within your art. Try different forms. Suck at poetry. Put on a play. Become wildly successful with essays about seagulls. Whatever. But remain true to your voice and style. Make sure you are in there, in every sentence you write. Don't fall on your knees to popular industry trends.
"I've been in and out of fashion many times in the last 40 years. But I'm always wearing the same thing."