Q. Peter–I think part of our bond as friends has always been Patti
Smith. Your imitation of her intro to Hey Joe has always made me laugh
hysterically. But I realize I don’t know how you first became
interested in her work.How did you?
I first got cued into Patti’s work when my ears were tuned into the punk scene in the mid to late 70s. I loved that whole renegade loud sound, basic chord crash guitars. The look of it too. Their anger, their wit; they were doing something we hadn’t heard yet, a DIY approach, lo tech and lots and lots of energy. I wasn’t immediately taken in by Patti Smith; it took a little while for me to really get what she was doing. Partly it was her look, the wild hair, the intensity. I think she kinda scared me. She looked like a skinny crow which was appealing – so un-fashionista. I’m a mimic by nature, so Patti was ripe for me to riff on. That intensity, uber annunciation and south Jersey accent to boot. Perfect! Sounded a little overcooked at the time but no more. I remember some time in that period listening to San Francisco radio one Sunday afternoon. She had played a show here the night before and was a guest of the DJ for the whole radio show. It was fun to hear her comfort being herself, the utter joy she took in being a rock ‘n’ roller, her wit, her generosity of spirit. She was really having a good time! Also something about her gender bending. She had so much male energy, spoke from power perspectives that I couldn’t peg down, wasn’t used to hearing at from women. Gay? Straight? Even in the gay community at that time, she spoke to some kind of fluidity of gender that I hadn’t heard before. Another sliver of freedom!
2. And why do you love it? What is your favorite?
I love her now for the voice she’s grown into. ‘Horses’ is full of youthful, just-out-of-the-gate visionary intensity; she’s putting it out there. Her main man collaborator Lenny Kaye is and always has been a huge part of her sound. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. She’s grown into herself with age and the decades and that’s a model we all need to see put out more of in the world. What was youthful unhinged intensity has grown into a passionate expansive charisma of someone who knows who she is. My favorite by far is ‘Birdland.’ I’ve seen her do that song live 2 or 3 times. The band’ll start in with the opening chords, then she backs up to the amp, puts on her reading glasses – so un-rock and roll – and picks up a thick manuscript, folds it back and starts reading. There’s a lot of words there! She starts softly with a read, it builds, then she lets it go and gives it all up. It’s an ecstatic spiral that builds, builds, up, up, UP and off she goes and takes us all along. I’ve never heard spoken word and music and emotionality and vision merged so perfectly. The song’s got great bones.
3. You just read JUST KIDS–what surprised you? Had you known about the depth and complexity of her relationship with Mapplethorpe? Anything else? Further thoughts on Maplethorpe himself?
JUST KIDS is the best nonfiction I’ve read since Didion’s YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. I had known of her friendship with Mapplethorpe but not the intensity or duration or importance of it to them both . Their time together sounds karmic; it had to happen! I’m reading her description of her very early time in NY as part memoir and part visionary novel. This is a person with total faith in herself, who had some idea what being an artist was and what that would be and letting that vision guide her and Mapplethorpe. How they carried each other. Amazing how normal she was especially in the crowd they traveled in – virtually no drugs, holding down a day job, a fine relationship with her family. But that lower Manhattan world: writers, odd job artists, drag queens and lots and lots of homosexual men, all of them tortured. Robert’s slow slow revelation of being a homosexual in ‘70s as homosexuality was morphing into gay identity. Patti tracking it and not getting it, then Getting It was some of the book’s most moving material for me. Their love really didn’t have a lot to do with him being homosexual. Maybe she held all of that for both of them. That got my attention. My own coming out came along a few years later but it’s on these shoulders of understanding and compassion………
4. Anything you DON’T like about her work? Sometimes it seems sloppy
and maddens me despite my undying love.
Dream Of Life from the late 80s wasn’t a high point. Good crisp production but the lyrical piece sounded like suburban Michigan. She had settled down, in deep maternal, but still spirited. Take the girl out of the Bowery and this is what happens. Whatever – I liked it anyhow. Listened to it then, still would if I ever transfer that one over to CD from vinyl. Of course she’s sloppy! That’s a big part of her appeal. On stage, she’s smilin’, having a grand time but kinda lurches around, extemporaneous as the words sound but aren’t. The oversized white shirts, the tangled hair, the material that doesn’t quite work, her knowing only 2 chords on the guitar, not seeming to know what’s coming next, it’s all there. Polished she’s not but I have never seen a performer more comfortable with herself and willing to put herself out there on a come-as-you-are basis.
5. You are from upstate New York–and left. Do you think Patti Smith
might be the patron saint of escape from the provinces?
Tiny bio note–how would you like to be described?
One of Lou Reed’s early songs has it that ‘her life was saved by rock and roll’; that’s long been true for me, still is. The great healing that you can lurch around to and get friends who feel just the same way and everybody gets happy, with an endless sea of beats for dancing feet. Patti and Robert and Lou and Mick and Keith, bless em all big time, they’ve greased the giant skids we’ve all made our transits on.
BIO note………Peter Goetz was raised in upstate New York, took the first train West after college, gawked at the mountains and arrived in San Francisco where he met Miriam Sagan. They have remained friends since. He currently works as a psychotherapist in San Francisco and Oakland.