Some of us are born rebellious. Like Jean Genet or Arthur Rimbaud, I roam these mean streets like a villain, a vagabond, an outcast, scavenging for the scraps that may perchance plummet off humanity’s dirty plates, though often sometimes taking a cab to a restaurant is more convenient.
There’s something intensely difficult about tackling the subject of a person that has, in one way or another, shaped your entire life. Patti Smith is a woman that came to my attention through her music and stayed with me through her spirit. Being who she was, being herself, being open enough to spill her words against any available surface for them to be so brutally ripped from life to my own heart was everything I needed at 15.
Arthur Rimbaud was Patti Smith’s Patti Smith. I once stood in front of the wall in Paris, just streets away from Jardin du Luxembourg, that features Rimbaud’s Le Bateau ivre across its surface. I did it because Patti loved him.
I think that’s great. I’ve known people that pretend they knew things before they were things, but they don’t, and it’s cool to love things you learned about from somebody else.
Rimbaud drank somewhere around there. I think that was the story. In a café. Maybe. Around the corner from the wall, there’s a massive church with a fountain in the courtyard, surrounded by lions. I went to Paris because Patti loved it.
I wanted to dress like Patti, write like Patti, experience the world like Patti but as me. I did dress like that, wanted to write like that and experience the world but in Patti, there was a guardian that had left footsteps for me to follow. There’s no limit to the amount of inspiration passed down through Patti Smith to me, nor is there anybody who’ll ever have the moments I’ve had that I’ll never experience again with Patti at my side in words or in song.
Sometimes I feel sick when I remember the first time I read the prose in the liner notes to ‘Peace and Noise.’ I feel sick when I remember driving the high roads on the west coast of Scotland, with the Atlantic on one side and cliffs with falling rocks and enticing chalk messages about Jesus loving me hanging overhead on cliff sides that were held together with bright orange tape. Did they just stop there to write it for me? I had ‘Wave’ on at the time.
I have a cerebral reaction where Patti Smith is involved. Maybe cerebral isn’t the word; maybe it’s deeper than that, like in the bones or the soul I don’t understand but know is there for now. Her words swell my heart and my limbs and my marked, stretched skin looks like it’s about to erupt with needles. Is there anywhere deeper than the mind?
Every single part of my body is linked to an artist I first heard by accident at “A Very Strange Time in My Life” (thanks Palahniuk-et-Ed Norton-aussi). Patti’s been the big one. Patti Smith’s music made me more aware of my position in society as an outsider and an outlier but also that being those things doesn’t mean I’m disjointed from the world overall. I’m connected to that too. Sometimes too much, but then maybe that’s not bad and all I need do is read
Recently, More 4 aired a documentary in honor of Pride month that was all about pop music and Pride. (Fittingly named, Pop Pride & Prejudice. I liked it better than the book.) I feel bad not knowing the girl’s name, but one of them on there was talking about Joan Armatrading and being queer, going to a Joan Armatrading concert with her mom because she was gay but not feeling as soft as all the other lesbians there. Then Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’ came out.
It was like that. Like a page out of my book a couple of decades later. Which we’re now a couple of decades into the future of. However Patti Smith identifies, being a teenager that wasn’t femme enough to own more than one babydoll dress and too ill-suited for the feminine form dude clothes, Patti created the same sort of balance I craved and I’ve never worn anything other than a blazer since.
Much to rainy England’s dismay, or is it mine?
Patti Smith is the Goddess of Punk. That’s how we know her. The Godmother, sorry, and she is. I met her once in Newcastle. I don’t think I was able to form words but I accidentally touched her shoulder while high and felt bad about it until Lenny Kaye told me about how much he loved Newcastle and what a legendary city for music it used to be.
Patti also loves Nandos.
She signed my ticket.
An hour before that, she’d been rolling around on a stage I’d seen a bunch of bands on, losing herself to the music in ways it took me a long time to do but now I do because I can’t help myself. Tearing the strings off her guitar, there was more life inside of her than I’d seen in anyone in years. There was more life inside of her than I’d seen in me.
During my 20’s, I had a poster of her up on my wall next to a printed out picture of Sonic Youth. Back when independent music shops weren’t sparse and I could blow £3.99 on a single on my way home from dreaded counseling sessions full of, “How do you think we can help you?”
I’ve listened to Patti Smith so many times in my life and I feel like still, it’ll never be enough. When Just Kids came out, her name was everywhere within a certain niche and I loved it and finished it between a high rise penthouse I didn’t belong in (related to its part owner by blood) and the train home. I saw myself in Patti and I saw myself in Janis. Robert was who I’d always wanted to be and so was Patti. But it was fine because Arthur Rimbaud was Patti Smith’s Patti Smith.
So, you know, who knows.
Maybe I can be somebody’s Arthur Rimbaud.
Don’t you see when you’re looking at me
That I’ll never end transcend transcend
— AIN’T IT STRANGE | RADIO ETHIOPIA (1976)
A proudly queer, freelance music journalist, Em splits her time between Durham and London. When she's not at a gig, mouth-agape, she'll be camped outside of a Parisian bistro taking photographs of strangers. The little pleasures in life are the most meaningful to her: Her dog, family-and-extended, and Milkybar buttons. Her motto -- a snippet from Alexander Pope's Essay on Man -- is, "hope springs eternal."