Happy birthday to the iconic Patti Smith who is 75 today.

To celebrate here is her in depth interview with John Robb in 2010 where she details her creative life in New York and with Robert Mapplethorpe in an emotional account that has tears, laughs, poetry and even flirtation!

Full transcription here…

What a great day.

I’m sat there on stage at the Sheffield Library museum. The room is packed and hushed. The atmosphere is charged with emotion.

I’m interviewing Patti Smith who is in full flow- no subject is off limit, no emotion left untouched. You can feel the humanity and the air is charged with a sticky passion.

At one moment she wells up, the next she is hilarious, the next she speaks with a powerful wisdom that so few of her male counterparts have managed in a similar timespan. I sit there and realise that I am talking to the very core- the very epicentre of where rock n roll and poetry, emotion and art clashes- it’s powerful stuff, the dark magic that is at the heart of what makes rock n roll so great- this is the very place and she is so damn modest with it.

She goes off at great tangents and is, of course, eloquent, but also charming, modest and never shirks from the difficult material and tells it all with great grace and humour.

These in conversations are fascinating to do. Stark. Wide open. Two chairs, two mics and a room full of people adding to the kinetic electric of talking. I’ve done loads of them from Faust to Kraftwerk and back again. There’s no space for fuck ups. It’s the real live edge. The thrilling adrenaline of the stage, of living for the moment.

Patti arrives thirty seconds before we hit the stage which can make things awkward but she is so open that talking to her is a dream. I wish it could have gone on for another hour- there’s so many great stories to talk through.

Afterall poet priestess Patti Smith is one of the key figures in rock n roll.

She may never have sold millions of records but her influence is all persuasive. She inspired a legion of women (and men) to take up the cause in the mid seventies and her fingerprints are all over punk rock, post-punk and onwards to the present.

When I wrote my punk oral history five years ago her name was dropped as a key influence by an unlikely roll call of people from the Slits to Echo and the Bunnymen, from the Smiths to PJ Harvey to Nick Cave and anyone else who is fired by her free spirit and the truth lies at the heart of rock ‘n’ roll.

She has lived several lives at once- there’s so much crammed in there from tragedy to triumph and it’s all in her poetry that seems to pour out of her. She embodies all that was great about the sixties- all the idealism and the hope and the dream tempered by an urban reality and New Jersey no bullshit that edits the dippyness that threatened to taint the era. She was the link between that period and the edginess of punk, the fulcrum, the point when one generation tipped into another. She led the charge, waking rock from its mid seventies slumber, opening doors and inspiring with her no holds barred artfulness just like her heroes Arthur Rimbaud, Bob Dylan had done before.

When she sings a couple of songs after the interview her beautiful voice, that crackles with emotion and such hope, is as intact now as when we first heard it 35 years ago.

Exuding a warmth and humanity rare in these hard sell days, she is a great raconteur with her New Jersey accent telling great stories of Alan Ginsberg, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jimi Hendrix, the Chelsea Hotel, Andy Warhol, her New jersey upbringing, rock n roll, family, lovers, art and poetry- an amazing shared life that she recounts without embellishment.

She looks fantastic, with that strange, delicious beauty still intact. She has seen the dark side and survived the heartache of the deaths of the two key lovers in her life- Mapplethorpe and her husband- the late Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith and the pain is never far away.

We talk about her just released ‘Just Kids’ book- a love story- a romantic tale of two penniless artists running around the bohemian New York of the mid seventies.

It tells the story of her and Robert Mapplethorpe- her first real love. It’s the story of a skint, thrilling existence of two artists on the run- a cut and past Bonnie and Clyde creating and letting it all pour out. It speaks of Mapplethorpe the brilliant photographer and gives you a real insight into his boyish charm and daredevil talent walking on the wild side in pursuit of aesthetic freedom and art with a humility and touching humaneness.

At the event Patti tells a great story of when Mapplethorpe’s mother came to his opening and before she got there he took down all his homoerotic shots because he didn’t want to offend her!

The book and the in conversation by extension are a moving tale of people who lived by raw emotion and talent and threw everything to the wind to create great art- Patti with her poetry fused rock n roll and Robert with his brilliant images.

The book itself is one of the great rock n roll reads, you can feel the breathless excitement of mid seventies New York, you can run with their youthful idealism and smile at the naivety and beauty of living for art before you are hit by the heartbreak of when Mapplethorpe succumbs to Aids at the end of the book.

The interview covers all this ground and the room is going with it. Later on people tell me that they were crying- not upset but crying with the sheer emotion and that’s just from Patti’s talking- the way she doesn’t hide behind smoke and mirrors and deals in pure raw emotion- a free spirit in world of corporate gloss. And that’s the key, Patti is a free spirit- a rarity in these cynical times and that’s why people celebrate her.

Later on she plays a concert in the hall next door and it is spellbinding, she reads from the book and plays stripped down acoustic versions of the songs with her pure, amazing voice. The gig is mesmerising, spellbinding and powerful- 90 minutes of classic songs, freeform improvisation and again, raw emotion.

It makes you realise what rock n roll can really be and why its so damn special and why it holds a place in our hearts- that glimmer of fascination, that moment when the connection is made and people are visibly moved- that’s powerful stuff.

Really powerful stuff.

I recorded Patti Smith in Sheffield in front of a sold out 600 audience in 2011 when she was out promoting Just Kids book. It’s a great interview with Patti Smith, herself, like an open book tells you everything about the proto punk scene in New York. She tells you everything about herself. They’re incredibly deep relationships. You have a Robert maple FOB, there’s tears, there’s emotion. There’s flirtation. It’s like a whole, great painting of New York City itself on time. It’s one of my favourite interviews I’ve ever conducted.

Patti Smith

Everybody in the audience. It’s nice to see you. I’ve never been in Sheffield before. So I’m excited to be here. What’s that?

Audience

Yes you have been to Sheffield before! 

Patti Smith

Ah it looks a lot different than when I was here before. You’re building it up. I’m sorry. I don’t remember. In fact, you know, sometimes I come into my kitchen at home and say, Well, I’ve never been here before…!

Actually, with all the dishes piled it looks like I’ve never been there before.

John Robb

So your kitchen is still as dirty as it is in the old days in the book. There are great descriptions of your old room in that.

Oh, no. My room! Oh my! the messiness of my room was well replaced by my children’s rooms. Well, they were worse. I was giving my son a very hard time because his room was so terribly messy. And I thought, I don’t know how, where he gets that from. And recently, I was just in Germany and someone had taken a photograph of my loft space when I was about 23. And it made my son’s room look meticulous. I thought it must be genetic!

Unknown Speaker  2:27  

She’s talking about when you first went to New York, I first met Robert.

Patti Smith

Let me take my hat off. Sorry. We just drove in. And I’m sorry that I forgot I was I in Sheffield before!

John Robb

Anyone remember? It was where?

Patti Smith

Oh, yes, I remember. I never know where I am. But it’s always a new experience. Just a minute my microphones feeding back. The acoustics are quite good here. And don’t think they need all that. It’s appropriate. Insulation. Yeah. They probably do plays here. Right.

John Robb 

Yeah, that’s that’s one fancy stage. That’s not just to, you know.

Patti Smith

I came to New York in 1967. When I was 20 years old. I was from a very rural part of Southern New Jersey, where there were a lot of pig farms, a square dance hall, one small little library. It’s not a very cultural area. So coming to New York City, as an aspiring artist was very exciting. The architecture, the history, the museums, all the bookstores and the diversity was very exciting.

John Robb 

I love the way the book explains how you just basically drifted out there with no plan.

Patti Smith

Well, back then people didn’t have telephones, you know, if you were under 30, you couldn’t afford a telephone. And it was a different world. You know, there were no credit cards, no telephones. Most young people didn’t have TVs they didn’t own these things. Basically if you had any money, you bought a little record player or a small radio because that kept us all in touch with each other. And that was it for me. It was just like as I had read biographies of poets and artists like Arthur Rimbaud. It was like I’m coming to Stuttgart! Could you just like, go on foot from Brussels and walk across Europe with no money and no plan and just to see what fate and adventure had in store. So I was ready to do that.

John Robb

So it was very romantic.

Patti Smith

I was very romantic and I continue to be very romantic.

John Robb 

Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the first person you met on your first day in New York in July 1967, which is quite something…

Patti Smith

Well, it was. I knew some students that near Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and I thought maybe they would let me stay at their apartment. But it was summertime. And of course, no students are there. My friends had moved. I came to the flat and there was a whole new set of people living there. And the fella said, well go in that room, and there’s a guy in there, he can maybe help you. And I went in the room and there was this boy, asleep, though masses of curly hair, sort of George Harrison looking, very slim, with little beads on his neck and fast asleep. He heard me and he woke up. And he looked up and smiled. And that’s my very first impression of Robert, just a smiling boy. He helped me find my friends. After that he was on his way but fate brought us back together, though, a second and third time and, and then we became inseparable.

John Robb

The third time was quite funny, because you could say it was a blind date or a weird day.

Patti Smith

Well, I was 20. And I was on the streets for about three weeks, sleeping on the subways, and, you know, having a bit of change for food. But I was getting quite hungry. I was trying to get a job this whole time. I finally got a job in a bookstore and I was so happy. That last week was very tough because I had no money left. I actually, when the employees would leave pieces of sandwich or something behind, I would just wait and eat it. I slept in the bathroom. I hid in the bathroom and when everybody left the store I slept in the store. I thought, well, I can deal with this until I get my pay check, and then try to do something, get a place to sleep and get some food. Then the day for our pay check came in I lined up and there was no envelope, because I didn’t know about New York laws where they withhold your first pay check. And I have to say, even though I was a very sturdy, tough kid, I was devastated by this. It was just I couldn’t bear the thought of another week without money and food. I had to return back to my post and this fella asked me out for dinner. To me, he was like an older man. He was like, maybe 28 maybe even 30. He had a beard, which you know, kids didn’t have beards back then and he had a beard and he was a science fiction writer of some fame and I don’t know what he saw in me. 

I was like just some skinny kid with you know, long braids and but he wanted to take me out for dinner. My mother had drummed into me because my mother was such a worrywart, always worrying, don’t talk to strangers, don’t talk to strange men. So I thought, well, if I talk to them enough during the day, what he sees being a stranger. I really didn’t want to go to dinner with him because he was sort of a little creepy but I was so hungry. So I said yes. And we walked to the Empire State Building, there was a little diner there. Everything seemed so expensive. Where I was from – a lower middle class family – I had never been in in New York restaurant and, and it was just a diner, but it seemed very expensive. 

I’m eating my food and my mother’s words, you know, don’t don’t talk to strangers were in my head. Then I thought, her advice was with me. He’s paid all this money. What’s he gonna want in return? But we walked down to the East Village. We walked all the way downtown. We were  then sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village and he said, I have an apartment up there where I might want to come up for a coffee. And then it was like, this is it. you know, this is what my mother warned me about, when she said don’t talk to strangers or don’t get in a strange car. I don’t want to see you raped in a field even before I knew what rape was. I was like, raped in a field? that was like my mother’s favourite phrase. 

So I thought well, and I was a bit truthfully, I was a bit scared. I didn’t really know how to extricate myself from this situation. And just at that minute, here comes down the path, this boy who I didn’t even know his name, with all this curly hair and a lot of beads, which they love beads that they were in the late 60s, just by himself, just walking and I just impulsively ran up to him. And I said, Do you remember me? And he said, Yes. And I said, Will you pretend you’re my boyfriend? And he said, Okay so I drag him over to the science fiction writer, and I said, ‘this is my boyfriend. He’s really mad, I gotta go home.’ Then I said to him, run, and he goes, Oh, and we take a run and we just held hands and we ran across the park, all the way across the park, and to a stoop and sat there out of breath. I said, Oh, thank you, you saved my life. and I said, my name is Patti. And he said, Well, my name is Bob. And I looked at him, and I said, You don’t seem like a Bob to me, can I call you, Robert? And, and he smiled. And I called him Robert ever since. And so did everybody else…

John Robb 

Also it turned out he’s tripping on acid.

Patti Smith

Well, he kept smiling for the next five hours and but we also just had such an instant connection. We were both ecstatic. He was just a month older than I. We both wanted to be artists. We were both a bit down on our luck and we just hit it off. We just walked around all night and talked and then never parted.

By the by the time I went somewhere with him, I felt like after talking all night, we had become real friends. It was interesting, this whole thing starting out on the afternoon with a stranger and actually meeting another stranger, although I had already met him, just by chance twice. But the difference between the first guy the science fiction guy was that he was a true stranger. But as I say, in the book, Robert really was never a stranger. It’s almost like we always knew each other.

John Robb

You would go around all the small flats, really beat up flats as you’re trying to get your stuff together and find somewhere to live but Robert was always very ambitious from the start.

Patti Smith

Robert was a very hard worker. I mean, so where both of us. I mean, we both came from, he was more from a middle class family. But we both came from strong work ethic families, both of us were used to working. I wound up being the one who was better at keeping a job. But he worked for all day long. If I worked at the bookstore, and he stayed home, he didn’t just hang out and smoke pot or something. He was working on drawing after drawing, making designs, trying to figure out that what he really wanted to do was to do something that no one else could do. He really had a lot of ambition to hit it big and get me a beautiful place to live. And just like any young fellow’s dream, you know, it’s for his girl and my dream for him was to support him as an artist because I knew he was great.

John Robb

But you were also ambitious as an artist at the time to do your own art.

Patti Smith

Yes, I’d always wanted to write, to draw, to do my work. But I wasn’t so ambitious to be successful really fast. He seemed really in a hurry. I just wanted to do something great someday. And I wanted to write something as great as Peter Pan or just aspire to do drawings, to learn from Picasso and to learn from De Kooning and so I had no problem being a long term apprentice. Whereas he was ready. He was ready right away.

John Robb 

This is this is a few years before the he’s actually taking photographs.

Patti Smith

This is 1967 He didn’t start taking photographs till 1970. He had no desire to be a photographer then. He wanted to be very much like Duchamp, doing constructions, hopefully installations, working with found materials and doing a certain amount of drawing and painting. He liked Joseph Cornell and the surrealists. That’s the direction I thought he would go into. He really just started taking photographs as components with his big collages but then he fell in love with photography.

John Robb 

You were buying the magazines for his collages because he couldn’t actually afford to buy the magazines…

Patti Smith

(Laughs) You’ve read everything! Robert started with very Catholic themes. Then he worked with freaks for a while, and then sort of sailors and then he moved toward, you know, male subjects and more sexual subjects. He would buy specific magazines for this, some things I had never seen in South Jersey. The problem is, they were very expensive and they were sealed and you couldn’t see what was in them. He didn’t really want to use them as inspiration for self relief. He really wanted to use them to cut pictures out to put in collages. But sometimes, you know, we would pay $5 for a magazine, and I was only making $60 a week. So $5 was a lot of money. If he bought a magazine that had no useful pictures, he would get very depressed. I kept saying you should take your own pictures and put them in your collages so you don’t have to rely on the magazine images. Finally, he did that but even then, working with a Polaroid camera, we couldn’t really afford much film. So he had to be very frugal in his picture taking, which I think informed the rest of his life because when you only have 10 shots you have to make that last maybe a whole week and every picture has to be useful. If he wasted a picture, he actually would get depressed. This was very useful later. For instance, when he took the cover of my album Horses. He did it in 12 shots. It was shot number eight. And you know we didn’t spend hours motor driving and he had no assistant. It was just him and his camera and by the eighth shot he had it because he had learned to be economical and he wanted to make certain his light was proper and get the shot.

John Robb

The pictures show that he has a very clear idea of what he wanted. They are more like paintings more than photographs.

Patti Smith

Yes, his sense of composition was very Catholic, very ordered. Very classic. He was not a snapshot taker. He wasn’t interested in snapshots. They bored him. He really he was an artist. I really never think of Robert as a photographer. He was an artist who took photographs. He approached everything as an artist, whether it was the very hardcore photographs, the S&M photographs or the flowers portraits. He approached everything as an artist and he wasn’t interested in trying to catch people off guard or or reveal anything about anyone he wanted. He wanted his subject whether it was the subject of a very hardcore situation or a mother and child or a movie star no matter or a friend whoever – he wanted them to be pleased and to be happy with the result.

John Robb

Of course

Patti Smith 

Oh, you have a very handsome face…we’ve never met before, so

John Robb

So when so when you when you start going out or living together you were egging each other on because he’s the one encouraging your art as well…

Patti Smith  

Robert was. I think I was thinking a lot about this especially… Did anyone see the Alice in Wonderland movie?  I love it, I saw it three times. What I love about this movie is Alice, it’s its own story. Alice, in the course of the movie, is a young Victorian girl, being pressured by her peers and having peer pressure all around. By the end of the movie, she discovers her own self confidence and becomes herself. And that’s sort of what it was like, for me coming to New York City. It was like, I fell down the rabbit hole, and almost like, and through Robert, because he really was interested in me, having all the self confidence that he had in me. Ironically Robert was shy, very, very shy. He was a bit nervous. We were always worried about money and things like that. Ironically he never lacked in self confidence. He knew he was an artist. He knew he was good. He knew he was going to do something important. And I was the opposite. I was hardly shy at all I was, you know, I had very little fear. I didn’t really worry about anything. But I didn’t have the same kind of confidence in myself as an artist that he did. He would not rest until he instilled that confidence in me so that I knew I could kill the Jabberwocky. So that’s what that I was thinking and looking at that film made me think that Robert gave me that kind of confidence, and it’s never went away. I still have it.

John Robb

He was trying to encourage you to do certain types of arts or just anything…

Patti Smith

First of all, he just wanted me to feel his strength and his belief in himself. We worked side by side doing drawings. We sort of sometimes collaborated on things. We collaborated on making installations together. And after a time, you know, we were very, it was almost out chemical. The funny thing about Robert, though, is that Robert was very interested in doing something that no one else had done. In doing that, he took very difficult paths. For instance, you know, some of his early famous photographs, are sexually oriented photographs. They are very difficult photographs. I always thought it was funny, as Robert was taking these pictures, some of which were difficult to look at that I would be doing my songs with a lot of poetry and music and he’d say, Patti, your, your songs are too confrontational. They’re, they’re not commercial enough he would say, because he really wanted me, once I had started singing, to have a hit record. I didn’t care about that. I was thinking I wanted to merge poetry and rock and roll and do something new. Just as he wanted to do something new. He was saying, no, no, no, make it like a Motown song. Can’t you write something like Smokey Robinson? It was very funny, but he just wanted me to be successful. We both had a sense of humour and you know, joked about these things, but he really, really wanted to see me do well. And the irony of it was in the course of our early life, in the 70s, I who was like not so ambitious, to you know, do well in the world, wound up having success before him, and then he would tease me about it. You know, I talked in the book, about how he would say, ‘Patti, you got famous before me, you weren’t supposed to do that!’ but he caught up with me.

John Robb

The photos were quite graphic but the way he was taking them his aesthetic thing was more important than the actual contents. He didn’t actually see them as being heavy pictures, did he?

Patti Smith

Well, he knew that certain pictures were trickier. What he didn’t know was that some of the S&M pictures were very heavy. He didn’t know that. He didn’t insist that people look at these pictures. He knew they weren’t for everyone, but he also knew that he had done something before  that no one else had done, which was take a very, very difficult subject, an area of human consent, that most of us, least for my part, don’t comprehend, and raise it in the level of art. He did many things in this area but that was the one thing that he did that no one else had done. He really looked at it in, in terms of what you’re saying, he really looked at all of his work in the same manner. There’s a little I think in the book. He was having a show, one of his earliest shows, and so there were pictures of male genitalia, portraits and flowers. And his parents never came to see his work. His father was against him being an artist. He was a Catholic military man. His mother was really wonderful woman, but a housewife and very strict Catholic. For some reason, she decided to come to New York City and see his show. She called him up and she said, Robert, I’m coming to see your show. And he said to me, my mother’s coming, we have, we have to get to the gallery. We got to the gallery, and he started taking down all the pictures. He was putting flowers up instead. Someone said to him, oh, you know, you’re compromising for your mother? He said, No, not really. all the pictures are the same but obvious different content, but the same attention to composition, light and a certain archness to all of these pictures, and he said, I’m just being respectful to my mother. He said, believe me, she’ll be uncomfortable anyway. So she came to the exhibit, and she’s looking at everything. She’s not saying a word. We’re standing there and she comes up and she said, Robert, you take really weird flower pictures. She didn’t know why they were weird but his flowers are very, very arch. They’re very sexual. Some of them as nature are anyway, it was very funny because, just as he had predicted she was actually slightly offended by the flowers.

John Robb

There’s a few things in the book about that the way he did art, it’s, on one level, very confrontational yet he seems to be like really want to please his parents who are quite strict. Because he said, he’s like the little altar boy really, which kind of leads to the naivety of the whole situation in Just Kids.

Patti Smith

Robert was brought up well, he was really a very sweet kid. He was one of seven children and a middle child. He was an altar boy but he got seduced by art at a young age. I think one of the many of the things that were in him that he suppressed where his own homosexuality, which I never, ever detected in, in him. His attraction to you know, bizarre, difficult subject matter, whether it be freaks or pornography, or what one could call pornography, yet pornography is an art. All of these things were greatly suppressed in a very suppressed upbringing. I mean, it was a good family. They were well taken care of, but it was with all its religion, and everything was a bit cold. I thought his father was a bit cold. I really liked his father but it was just a cold atmosphere. And I think that there was something in Robert liking to make people happy. I mean, he was his own self, and he was no wuss. He had good social graces. When he was taking photographs, he wanted to make certain people like the photograph and, and if they thought they look terrible, he would reshoot it. He was very considerate of other people’s feelings. I think also having such a strong Catholic upbringing where they’re such good naval are such a there’s such a polarity that that polarity affected him throughout his life.

I don’t know. I had very open minded parents. So I actually can’t imagine what it would be like to have to hide this everything from your parents, you know, your own ambition to be an artist, he had to hide that. And then he had to hide, eventually, his sexuality, he had to hide the images that he shot because they were too difficult. I came from an upbringing where even if my parents were disappointed or a little shocked at anything I did, they would take a deep breath and try to see it from a bigger picture and be supportive. So, it’s hard to imagine that struggle for me.

John Robb

Maybe it was his exploring of good and evil, because for him maybe the art a way of exploring what maybe his parents would perceive as evil, or sort of the dark side…

Patti Smith

You’re right. I hadn’t thought of that. For me, I had so much, you know, I had a huge, my mental playground could go anywhere it wanted. So, sometimes I might explore that area, but I didn’t, I wasn’t obsessed with a certain area, because it wasn’t forbidden to me. So you’re right. That’s a good point.

John Robb

You then moved to the Chelsea Hotel, which must have been an experience with just the cast of characters in there it sounds like an amazing place to be at that time.

Patti Smith

Robert, and I, in 1969, we had been through a lot we, he was starting to recognise, you know, that his inner nature needed to blossom. We had to deal with that as a young couple. And we parted for a while. And then we really didn’t like being parted. And he really, God bless him. He tried again, he tried, it wasn’t that he was ashamed or trying to hide his, his inner nature. It was just he really liked – we were happy as a couple. So we tried again, at a very low point in our life, we had no money, he was very ill. And we went to the Chelsea Hotel because we had nowhere to live. Because I had heard that Stanley Bard who ran the Chelsea Hotel would take art for rent. You know, he had all this art hanging in the lobby, some of it really bad! To his credit, he had a Larry Rivers, but you know, most of it was really bad. You know, I looked at it, and I thought, our works better than that. So I took Robert there, and Robert was so very ill and sitting on a chair, and I marched right in, you know, and I had our portfolios and told this guy that Robert was going to be one of the most important artists in America. And I was pretty good, too! And he didn’t buy it. But what he was impressed with is most of the people that Chelsea really didn’t have any real employment. People were always, you know, hiding because they didn’t have their rent money. But I had a job. I had a job pending. I was going back to my bookstore, Scribners, which I would go back and forth to for several years. And as soon as he heard I have the job in a good bookstore. He said, All right. He gave us the smallest room. It was just about this size, it was so small that it had no bathroom. It had a little iron bed And the little, little bureau. Really tiny little room, but it gave us the room. And I went to the bookstore, got my job back, and we began a new life. The Chelsea Hotel in 1969. First of all and before you walk in, there’s a plaque that said that Dylan Thomas from this building, Dylan Thomas sailed away into his next place. So for a girl who loves poetry imagining Dylan Thomas having his last hours in this hotel and writing his last things, that was so so unbelievable. But also Bob Dylan had written said Sad Lady of the Lowlands there. There were so many artists and poets who lived there. Allen Ginsburg was there. Arthur C. Clarke had a place there, Virgil Thompson had a suite of rooms, Shirley Clark. At any given day you would see the most amazing people and sometimes especially young writers, they’ll accused me of name dropping and thinking that I made this up. But for me, it was just life back then, they were the people who lived in our, that’s where we lived and it was a hotel as well. So coming in and out of the hotel could be the Allman Brothers, Jefferson Aeroplane, I met Janis Joplin there. And in those days, they weren’t any different than us. We were all sort of the same age, or maybe they were a bit older. But we all dressed the same. We all listened to the same music, and they didn’t have like,  large entourages and there wasn’t the sense of celebrity back then. So you knew them like somebody who they’re, you know, rock star, they have, you know, Grace Slick, she did White Rabbit, but they weren’t so inaccessible, it didn’t, bother them or anything, but they were just there we are all at the same bar. And unless you knew, it was very difficult to detect. who was what, because we were all part of that 60s, early 70s revolution,

John Robb

Were you aware of the Chelsea Hotel’s reputation before you move into it.

Patti Smith

I only knew that Charles Dickens had stayed there. And Oscar Wilde had stayed there. I knew that Dylan Thomas had stayed there. Of course, Chelsea Girls – the Andy Warhol movie was shot there. And I knew that Bob Dylan had lived there. So yes, I was aware of its history. I wasn’t aware of how accessible it could be. It was $55 a week to stay there. I made $65 a week at the time. So that meant $10 for food. I walked back and forth to work, Robert would do jobs, moving pianos, or whatever, sometimes making a necklace and selling it. But we were really scraping away but New York was so cheap to live in. We could have got a cheaper apartment. But once we got there and realised that, you know, for me, it was like, like I said in the book, like a university. At any given time I, I had instructions by Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsburg would talk to me about poetry, you got to sit in the lobby and talk with some of the best minds of my generation! And so it was worth the struggle to stay there. 

John Robb

You spent a lot of time sitting in the lobby. 

Patti Smith

Yes. A lot of time. Well, my room was so small. I mean, we’d be sitting like that. I mean, there was there was nothing we could do in the room, but just sleep. So I spent a lot of time in the lobby…

John Robb 

Which is great for meeting all those characters. 

Patti Smith

I was the meet and greet girl there (laughs)

John Robb

You then kind of started hanging out the Warhol crowd. There is quite an interesting description of that about the little room with the back of  Max’s Kansas City.

Patti Smith

Well, I wasn’t really interested in the, in that particular crowd. But Robert was very interested. He really wanted to meet Andy Warhol, and he really wanted, because he felt that they had certain things in common. And just as I gravitated more towards my mentors, like Gregory Corso, and, and the poet’s, like Jim Carroll, all of these people, Robert gravitated more toward the more unusual, I mean, there were a lot of transvestites. Very talented, transvestites who were actresses. He just gravitated toward that world to photograph. He enjoyed their company and he was very interested in Andy Warhol. Robert wasn’t much for hero worship. He wasn’t really beguiled by people. Like I could be but Andy Warhol was the one that he was interested in learning from. 

John Robb

But wasn’t actually there, though at Max’s?

Patti Smith

But it was his world. Max’s Kansas City was the porthole portal to that world. Eventually he met Andy and it was fine, but in reality, as much as Andy was inspirational to Robert, Robert was his own person. He really, he was so intent on doing something that Andy hadn’t done that no one had done that he was he was honour bound to go past them.

John Robb

I like descriptions of you going there – you are really awkward and you make it sound so human. Anyone else would be saying how cool they were…

Patti Smith

Well, you know, it’s just like, every scene, when you write about a scene, any scene, or you see pictures, it looks so cool, but actually, we’re all awkward, you know, we’re all… that scene, nobody had any money. Everybody was trying to be something trying to get somewhere, breaking new ground. And for myself, I was still, even though I was sophisticated, in that I was very well read, probably more well read than most of the people there. But I was from rural South Jersey, I had a thick Jersey accent. I was not very sophisticated, and not really, not highly social. So, I didn’t quite fit into that atmosphere. But, I found my way

John Robb  

Did Robert to fit in, or did he make himself fit in

Patti Smith 

Robert fitted in more than I did rather well, because Robert was, again, more, he was a very good listener. More, I think, in some ways, a better person. I mean, I wasn’t a bad person then. But I was just like, I was interested in my own trajectory, and my own imagination and books. He was actually interested in the human stories of everyone and, and although he was shy, interested in listening to other people’s thoughts, and I was like, a brat, really, I think, a lot more judgmental, or if something didn’t interest me, I couldn’t open myself, as much as he could. I learned I learned to be a little better socially, through Robert.

John Robb 

Maybe you could see through the bullshit more than he could?

Patti Smith

It’s not even that it was bullshit, because it for me, it wasn’t like it was bullshit, because the people were all genuine, and genuinely struggling. It’s just that it was like high school. It was just like, peer pressure, you know, who was going to be the cutest at the table, or the most popular at the table, or who could sit here next to this person, because you weren’t cool enough to sit. And yet I just like thought, I already went through this in high school with the cheerleaders and the football players. And you know, I don’t want to have to go through that again! So for me, the idea of this, the social socialisation and class things, whether it’s in the Art Society or high society, it just still seem like another form of high school. But of course, I had read Holden Caulfield, about four times, you know, for centuries, right. So I that’s, I used to think of myself as Holden Caulfield at the Chelsea, because I was, you know, young, judgmental, less patient than maybe I could have been.

John Robb

What was your relationship now like with Robert as he came out homosexual, and then he came back. And then he started doing the rent boy thing. How do you hold that together? It’s unusual.

Patti Smith

Well, Robert, and I, in the end, where like I said when we first met. We had never been strangers. It was, of course, very difficult to get through the first hurdle of realising that he had another persuasion, but I didn’t like life without Robert. And he didn’t like life without me. And because what we shared was so deep, it had to do with our work, really believing that the other understood our work better than anybody and that we really had this mutual need for each other to validate our work. And we trusted one another, and we both knew how to make each other laugh. And we have a lot to save. And, you know, with some, in, it’s just normal that sometimes, especially when you’re young, a relationship is built, basically on the physical. And when that sort of deteriorates, people drift apart, and our physical life was very nice, but without it, we still had so much more to save, there was just, that wasn’t the heart. Our physical relationship was important, but it was not the core of our relationship. And, and it’s proof now because I still have it. I still experience it, I still feel him with me, I still feel the confidence he instilled in me. And I collaborate with him in my mind, I can still hear him laugh when I’m in certain situations that he would think was funny. And I’m still learning, you know, I’ve hopefully learned to be a less judgmental person and, and be a little kinder, because he was really kind.

John Robb 

Yeah, that’s what I thought about the book is actually a love story. A beautiful love story in a very kind of modern day kind of setting.

Patti Smith

Well, like I said, my late husband, I really believe was the love of my life. He was my husband, the father of my children. But Robert was the artist of my life and that has its great, great importance. So I know how to place these two men in my life. The first and the last. The first man that was important to me and the last man, and I carry them both within me.

John Robb

When you start to doing the poetry into the music, he was very encouraging of this.  He liked the Motown kind of thing but he felt you were something more. Did he did you have an idea of how you can make this work? At the time was ground breaking taking poetry into art and music.

Patti Smith

Well, Robert always liked the way performed. I mean, I performed for Robert. I sang for him, I sang little lullabies and made up songs for him. I’d read my poems to him. And he want always wanted people to see me… towards the end of our tenure at the Chelsea I had met Sam Shepard. And it was really Sam Shepard that pushed me even further.

John Robb

Was it Sam Shepherd who told you, that you should improvise.

Patti Smith

I improvised when I wrote, but I didn’t really know how to improvise on stage or anything, because I never did it. And Sam and I wrote a play together and I remember he said, let’s leave this section for improvisation so the actors can improvise, what do I say? And he said, we’ll just say anything, we’ll argue in poetry and I said, Well, how do we do that? What if I make a mistake? And he said, he can’t make a mistake, if you’re improvising! If you miss a beat, you create a new beat.

John Robb

Which is a brilliant thing to learn.

Patti Smith

And in that moment, I got it. And I’ve improvised, it’s been part of I found actually that I was quite facile in it. He really, when I did my first poetry reading, and I didn’t want it to be boring. Sam said, won’t you have some guitar behind you? And I had met Lenny Kaye and asked him to do some sort of Sonic voicings on the guitar and we developed what we what we did. Robert was really happy about that but he, when it got too weird he’d say can you put a beat to it. Robert loved Motown music and he loved he loved to dance and he really wanted me to, to write a great dance song, something I really have never achieved. Not because I didn’t want to I just it wasn’t…that’s its own art. That’s its own calling. But when I finally did have a hit song in 1978, I don’t think anybody was happier than him. He was so so happy that I had finally finally done that.

John Robb

When you both made it, the relationship still stayed the same and remained  encouraging and artistic?

Patti Smith

We would joke around like if he was doing better than me go he would tease me, ;oh, you know, my, my art exhibit got more attention than your job at CBGBs’ or something. We just joke but really truthfully, we had no jealousy. We had no envy of each other. We both knew who we who were. I was only jealous of him one time and that’s I always wanted to be in an encyclopaedia. because I’d love encyclopaedias, and Robert had got into an encyclopaedia and he didn’t care at all about encyclopaedias and never read one because he didn’t care about them and he got into the Encyclopaedia Britannica before me. I was really annoyed (laughs)

John Robb

Did you get in in the end?

Patti Smith 

Yeah, but not as big a thing as what he got. But, but it was on fun. Even when we were younger, even at our worst points, he was not a fighter. It doesn’t mean he, I mean, he fought for his work. He just we didn’t have like screaming yelling battles or things, we would be more likely to sit in silence or, cry before we would be yelling at each other. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t have a lot of difficult times. We had a lot of difficult times but we always found our way through them, always.

John Robb

The photos he took for your record covers are so iconic. Were they just basically his idea, his portrayal of you or was it like a team effort?

Patti Smith

The way Robert and I took pictures were so organic. I mean, because I was his first model. So, you know, we had, we had so much history. And when I just when I got a record deal, and was going doing Horses, I just said, you’ll take the picture for the cover rate. He said, Yeah, and we had a deadline, we have to hand it in at a certain time. So he said, all right, tomorrow, I’ll come pick you up and we’ll go to his patrons apartment, because it had a lot of light. And we’ll take a picture. The only thing he said was, please, if you’re gonna wear a white shirt, don’t wear one that has stains all over it, (laughs) you know, like, hot sauce, or you know, olive oil or something. I was very messy.  I promised him I’d have a clean white shirt. So that’s Roberts biggest influence on the cover is that my shirt is clean. And we didn’t discuss it or anything. All we discussed is you see like that, like the shadows.  He had noticed one day at his friend’s apartment, that there was this triangle of shadow, just the way the light came in, in the window and he wanted to get that triangle in the picture. It’s a triangle of light, actually and he just wanted that in the picture. That was his goal. Whilst my goal was to have a very Baudelarian look – black and white, I had a white shirt with a little black ribbon, sort of like the way Baudelaire dressed in some pictures and very French. He came and got me and we ate, we went there. I stood against the wall. He asked me to take my jacket off after a few shots. I had my jacket and I just, I wanted my jacket on because I had a little horse pin on it and the record was called Horses. He wanted me to take the jacket off because he liked the white of the shirt. All this was in a matter of seconds. So I just flung it over my shirt, my shoulders, sort of like Frank Sinatra in I think it’s in Jokers Wild. At the end of Joker’s Wild Frank Sinatra has  all these ups and downs in his life and he philosophically takes the shirt, flings it over his shoulder and walks into the lamp light into instead of the sunset. So I was just did that. I noticed that I did it just right, because the horse pin showed, and he took the picture. It was the only one like that. He took 12 and he took a picture and he said, Okay, got it. And I said, because he wasn’t using Polaroids or anything and he had no assistant, it was just me and him. I said, How do you know? Said, I just know. And he did.

John Robb

And it ended up being one of  more the most iconic shots ever!

Patti Smith

I never thought of it. It was just Robert was taking my picture. He did it hundreds of times. He brought me the contact sheet a couple days later and I looked at them and I liked one over here and he said no, this is the one with the magic. I said okay, because he was the only person I would defer to with something like that. And he was right. He chose the right one

John Robb  

Was the same process with the later shots as well?

Patti Smith

Well, I didn’t write about this in the book because it wasn’t the time period I was working with, but just to prove that he was right. When I did my last album of the 70s, called Wave. I had written a song from my husband, Fred, Fred called Frederick. And it has doves in it. I wanted the picture I wanted to be holding a dove. And so Robert, had a guy bring doves to his loft space. I went there. And it was our most, it was our biggest production, because there was trained doves and I knew that would be my last album, I knew. It was sort of a farewell, no one else knew. But I knew it. And Robert intuited this, and he took the pictures with the dove. He said, I have it and then he said, let me take this other picture and he had me sort of just lean against the wall, sort of like that. I had this white dress on. In the same place that we had shot horses it’s the same place. He then he got the pictures and he showed me one picture, and he said, there’s the picture you wanted, and I said, ‘perfect’, I had the Dove, I was so happy with it. He said, but this is the one with the magic. And he showed me the other one but I was so fixated on the doves, that I wanted that one. I said, ‘Come on, you picked the Horses cover, let me pick this one.’

He said, Okay but what I did was I put it insert inside the album and put his choice on the cover of the insert. Now when I look at them, I know that his picture, sorry, (gets tearful) When I look at these two pictures, I understand his wisdom, because he knew that I really, really loved my future husband, and that I was about to also give up a lot and leave the life I was living, my band, my so called career a lot of things. In this photograph that he chose, you see this submissive but very honourable, submissive power of love, whereas the other one is, more conceptual. And he just knew, he just knew

John Robb

It’s amazing as he was so close, even then, after all this time

Patti Smith

Well I have another story, you know, it’s just equally touching. The last cover he did for me was Dream Of Life. I was pregnant with my second child when he took the picture. First he took a studio picture and he was not well, but certainly well enough to take the photograph. He took a very nice photograph of me. I had a clarinet I was well, nice dressed. I look cool. And, then he had also taken a picture of me, in California. Not a typical picture, where I was outside, we rarely took pictures outside. I had my hair braided. The sense of my pregnancy was there and my face and the sense of that. He sent me the first picture with the clarinet. I looked at it, I know it was a good picture but I didn’t feel tremendously moved by it. I just knew it was a good photograph and then he, he I, he called me and asked me how I liked it and I said, Oh, I like it. And he said, No, you don’t. He said, I know it’s a good picture, but you are not moved by it. I know what you want. He said I’d like that picture. You look really good in it, which I did. He said but I have the picture you want. So he sent me another picture, which was not as recognisable as a Robert picture. It wasn’t so much in his liking but it was that picture of me with my braids outside in full sun. You can sense that I that I’m carrying life. He sent me the picture I wanted. He knew, without talking about it ,that I would want that picture. It has a very Frida Kalo look, and it’s a little more down to earth. It was really the picture that I wanted in my head and that was the last cover he did. It was much truer to who I was than a studio picture.

John Robb 

so, those years you were in Detroit, we in touch them still bouncing ideas.

Patti Smith

No when I lived in Detroit, I lived a very secluded life with my husband and children. Our communication was very limited but as soon as when Robert was, became ill. I called him immediately and from then on till his death for the next two years I talked to him every day. My husband, who was very private, and normally not so generous with my time drove us back and forth. It was a 14 hour drive and because we didn’t have a lot of money then he drove back and forth from Detroit to New York. Every time he got sick. Every time he was in the hospital. Every time I was worried, he participated in making it available for me to see Robert. I talked to Robert every day and he drove me back to New York for Robert’s Memorial. So those last couple of years, we were very deeply in touch.

John Robb

What was their relationship. Where they friends all?

Patti Smith

They mutually respected each other.

John Robb

I guess they were quite different people.

Patti Smith 

But I have to say, Well, Robert respected my husband who was very intelligent, very formidable. People just took to him. He was very dignified. He had a lot of charm but he was tough and he was a strong, he was a man, you know, aDetroit fella, but also very sensitive. Robert was a guy too. I mean, whatever his persuasion, I always thought of Robert as being extremely masculine and he knew how to deal with men. He had a respect for Fred and Fred really respected Robert as an artist, I think perhaps sometimes he, normally he would not be possible for me to be have such a relationship with another fella. But he grew to really care for Robert, and really did respect our friendship, and deeply respected him as an artist. But it you know, fate is very funny. You know, when I left New York in 1979, and went to Michigan, and lived such a secluded life with my husband, a lot of people didn’t understand that, or they criticised it, or whatever they thought but as it turned out, my husband had a short lifeline, just as Robert did. Robert lived till he was 42 and Fred lived till he was 44. Those years that I spent living a very quiet secluded life with Fred, were the only years I’d ever have with him. So I think I did make the right choice and spending in those years with him.

John Robb

What do you would you think Robert would have made have been older, like an elder statesman?

Patti Smith  

Robert would have been so you would have been so cool. He would have aged well. He would have be doing greater work. I mean, I think we were very similar in that way. I mean, I think that he would be more handsome than I turned out! He was the better looking one of the two of us, but, he was quite beautiful. But more than that, he was so gifted. He was just beginning. I mean, people look at his body of work and think that he done his body of work, but like myself, when I think of the work that I’ve done since I was 42 years old. Without that work I would have felt like such an incomplete worker. Yes, I’m sure I did things in the 70s that seemed to have some impact to some people, but I would shudder to think of just that being the only work I ever did. I know that Robert would have done great installations, returned to his more sculpture because he told me what his plans were. I know that he felt that he had done basically everything he wanted with photography, and wanted to start doing assemblages again in big installations and rooms and designing furniture and moving into some architectural work. So he was hardly done as an artist.

John Robb  

Would he have become more mainstream or remain walking on the wild side

Patti Smith

Robert didn’t think about that. Robert, he did his work and look at him now. I mean, he did some of the most difficult pictures of my generation, but he’s one of our most famous photographers. Some of Roberts work is works very well with the mainstream. I’ve seen Robert’s flowers in hotels hanging in hotel bedrooms. I don’t have a problem with that, you know, I strived as an artist, but when I had a hit song, I was really happy with that. I’d have them every year if I could (smiles) not just because it’s lucrative, but some art is not for everyone. Some art, some poetry is difficult. It’s difficult to comprehend. Some photographs are difficult to look at, some music is too complex. Some things are not for everyone, and the artist strives for that because sometimes that’s where we have our highest art. But some of the times the most beautiful experiences when you communicate with everybody, I love, you know, I, when I’m performing, I really like to do something, to improvise something complex, something unexpected. Sometimes it’s things something people don’t like, or they get quite bored, because they don’t want to listen to an eight minute clarinet solo, or nine minutes of feedback on the guitar. I enjoy that anyway. But you know, when you when we start the first, when we start Because The Night and the people get excited, and then they sing along, and you feel this communal sense of joy. There is nothing like that. So, you know, the word mainstream has a bad does not have to be evil because the idea is to lift everyone up and not doing your work just for a chosen few. You’re doing it for everyone. Hopefully everyone will get something out of it.

John Robb

Would Robert still be capable of veering towards these walks on the wild side

Patti Smith

I think that Robert, one of the things he said at the end of his life was about his more difficult pictures. He said that he was really glad he took them because he felt somebody should. He was proud of what he had done but he couldn’t take them now that he wouldn’t. It wasn’t the right time period, in the time period of AIDS and the time period that he was working in and also he was at a different age, a different sense of his own evolution. It wouldn’t have been the right time to take those pictures. I think that Robert was would never get stuck in one area he liked. He would have been very, very happy with his success.

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