Patti Smith: “I feel the turmoil of the world deep in my stomach” | The music


Patti Smith, rock star, poet, visual artist and writer, won the 2010 National Book Award with her memoir Just kids. Year of the monkey, his moving postscript – on loss, serendipity, friendship and hope – is now available in paperback (Bloomsbury).Have you planned Year of the monkey or has it almost written?
Honestly, I had no goal. It was the end of 2015. I had had concerts at the Fillmore in San Francisco and had to go on a trip with my good friend Sandy Pearlman. But he had an accident and was in a coma and I didn’t have a plan. I don’t drive, so I decided to linger around its proximity and, being alone, started journaling. I find writing a journal to be like having an imaginary friend.

Your book is partly about loneliness. Do you like your own business?
I don’t need solitude but I don’t mind being alone. I am not alone while wandering. Part of it is age. I am not looking for any particular company. I like to move – in a cafe where there is a bit of noise or on a train – that’s how I like to work. Loneliness and loneliness are different. Being alone you are open to adventure and often in an atmosphere created by others which I find inspiring.

Do you write as if you were traveling incognito but people still have to recognize you?
I never travel incognito. I just go about my business – except in Italy where I am very loved and need someone to walk with me.

Are you restless?
Yes [laughs]. Even as a child, I was a bit lonely. I had siblings that I loved and a few close friends. But I am not a very social person. My biggest social work is when I’m on stage. I could go days without talking to anyone in particular.

Your writing celebrates friends – the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and now the playwright Sam Shepard. When you think of Shepard, what image comes to your mind?
I see Sam looking at me with a wry smile – he knew me so well – I miss him terribly. Sam was very protective, although he understood that I am quite tough and that I can handle myself. We went through a romantic interlude but we didn’t need it, we connected in so many ways. We trusted each other, we respected each other’s work, we had a similar sense of humor. We had an equal but male / female relationship which at any age is enjoyable. He was like a friend but it was also like having a man in my life – for 50 years.

Does one loss prepare you for another?
I manage the moment of loss better now, it is the long term that is difficult. Losing Robert was a big blow and took longer to process, but I was younger. Yesterday, coincidentally, I missed him – all of a sudden – so much. I missed talking to her about art, things that bothered me, and just laughing. Some days, some people – it becomes almost unbearable not to be there.

Patti Smith with Sam Shepard in 2012. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Were you afraid of turning 70?
Seventy was a number to be reckoned with. My parents lived to be 83 years old. For about a year, 70 were obsessive. I had a disturbing sense of the chronology. Then I decided: to do better, to be in better health. During this pandemic, I tried to focus on this. I cook my own food, eat carefully, have lost all excess weight. I exercise, I try to stay mentally positive.

How was your mother? Are you like her
I never thought about it until I got old. A lot of my best qualities come from her. My mother was strong, courageous – a survivor. We were a lower middle class family. My mom has been a waitress her whole life, even until she was eight months pregnant. She had a good sense of humor. We felt his love, even severely punished. The most wonderful quality of my parents was that they had no prejudices. They had only one rule: you had to be a good person, you had to be kind.

In which decade have you been the happiest?
I loved my childhood – my dogs. I loved the late 60s and early 70s because all of my friends were alive. The 80s included my happiest years: I had my children, I developed my writing, I was close to my husband [Fred “Sonic” Smith], who did not live long. I lived a somewhat secluded life, but developed an appreciation for the little things: a cup of coffee or a wonderful pear tree in the yard that dropped pears for me in the fall.

Was 2020 more traumatic than Year of the monkey?
I have never had such a traumatic year. Every day I feel sickened, in part because of the atmosphere the President has brought to our country: we are more divided than ever. I feel the troubles of the world in the pit of my stomach.

You have a knack for seeing the signs – but is life hit or miss?
Alexander the Great went to the oracle to ask how he would fare in battle, he was told he needed “God and luck”. Some things have a predestined spiritual nature, others are chance – the written and the unwritten meet.

Sam Shepard said you can do anything, and you comment in the book, “We were all young then and that was the general idea. What is the general idea now?
We can still do everything, but not until we resolve the two global crises: the pandemic and the environmental crisis. Saving the earth from massive environmental destruction has to be the first thing we focus on.

Do you have any regrets?
I have no regrets as an artist – I have always done my best. As a human being, my biggest regret is that I didn’t spend more time with my mom as I got older. I wish I could have another coffee with her and let her tell me all her stories, for the hundredth time.

Do you still think, as you do in the book, “Something wonderful is going to happen – maybe tomorrow?”. »
I still think …

Year of the monkey is published by Bloomsbury (£ 9.99). To order a copy, go to Free P&P UK over £ 15


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