Patti, My Patti
By Candelora Versace
patti…who led me to Rimbaud, Une Saison en Enfer, and that priceless moment in a busy Paris lunch spot in 2006—eating une sandwich poulet, my 9-yr old daughter enjoying her “une coke pour la jeune fille” when I realized I was standing on THE Boule’ Mich read of so many many times in The Day on Fire….and why didn’t I go into that enormous student bookstore and buy some interesting cahiers et stylos….
patti…who led me to Sam Shepard: Hawk Moon, Motel Chronicles, American Dreams; seeing a restaging of Cowboy Mouth at the Wonderhouse in 1981; Buried Child, True West, Fool for Love; Terrence Malick & Days of Heaven (which led to Badlands and my obsession with Martin Sheen) (and Francis and my obsession with Jessica Lange, who should never ever ever have done Blanche duBois) (and finally The Voyager, Homo Faber, a perfect moment in time for all great literary cinematic and mythological themes to pile upon one another in a great quiet heartbreak….which of course led to Before Sunrise and then After Sunset bec. of Julie Delpy)
patti, who led me to Verlaine (the musician, not the poet) and Television….and Iggy….and all things “downtown”….black jeans and white socks and Beatle boots and Alphabet City and the Radio Bar and the Astor Place barbershop and the Pyramid and and and….
patti….who was as much my reason for moving to NYC in 1981 after college without funds, without job prospects (but with a great haircut and already more ear piercings than was considered normal at the time) as The Clash and Talking Heads and David Bowie (spotted at that huge white space bar near the U, and so of course we went the next day hoping to see him)….
patti…who in 1978 I had dreamed of in a parallel reality; I would find out where she lived, sleep on her stoop curled up in the rain under my leather jacket until she came out and invited me in….walking barefoot on soft worn wood floors in her spare apt, I would offer to be her assistant, her secretary, her roommate….the parallel reality came true for someone else, who did in fact show up at her place and offer to do same and stayed with her for oh 20 years or more….
patti…whose raw voice taught me words like Redondo Beach and G-L-O-R-I-A, who had to sing a Bruce Springsteen song to get played on the radio, whose armpit hair on the cover of Easter quickly separated the men from the boys when it came to recognizing an icon (or saying eww gross)
patti…who still today pays homage to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, with her black stovepipe pants and flats, her white oversized shirts
patti….who moved back to—and oddly thrived—in our common hometown even though I left it for good, who was the high bidder on a fundraising prize of dinner with Detroit Symphony Orchestra conductor Antol Dorati, who opened for was it Bonjovi in 1978 in E. Lansing, and I went to the concert by myself because I was the only crazy fan in my dorm who wanted to see her and I had an elbow seat (not a seat, a space I carved out for myself standing at the foot of the stage….elbows on the stage, the same one she was dancing and singing on right…in…front…of….me) and then the place emptied out before an entirely different crowd came in to see Bonjovi, or whoever it was, the opposite, the antithesis, of Patti Smith…..
my patti….you came to read at Site Santa Fe while I was still a shell-shocked mom of a young one and rarely left the house for anything not kid related; I chased all over town trying to get a ticket at the last minute, first I had even heard of it; I drove past the crowds wondering if I could crash it, couldn’t understand why I wasn’t inside, why wasn’t I there to see her, what had happened to me, to my life, to who I once was that Patti Smith could be here….in this town….and I was destined to miss it all, as though all those years thumbing through Babel and reading it to my dormmates before I knew what a “poetry reading” was, and all those listenings of Horses, and my parallel reality in the East Village….had….never….happened…..
patti….patti smith…my touchstone, my muse, everything I wasn’t…. as a woman, as a writer, as a punk…and wanted to be….
patti…you were there for Jim Carroll’s small sad funeral, weren’t you, just last year; I read about it in Slate. And I cried. A lot.
….and now I pull out my old copy of Babel, still holding a place of power on my 21st century Santa Fe bookshelf, and a hand-written poem in mimeographed purple ink falls out, “free lit from Street Poets & Performers of Santa Cruz, we live under the stars and on curbs with the help of spare change and the grace of God—manna from heaven” titled Experience At a Concert, Patti Smith June 16, 1978.
I almost remember where it came from.