Monday Feature: Michaela Kahn on Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg

Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!


I came to Patti Smith pretty late … I didn’t get “Horses” or “Easter” until after I graduated High School. As soon as I heard them, though, I was hooked. There was a rawness, energy, an edge of danger in her voice and music which appealed to me. Her songs were poetry and rock ‘n roll at the same time. They tasted like night and felt like a desert horizon.

In September 1997, Smith’s “Peace and Noise” came out – which I got sometime that fall, along with the then newly published “Allen Ginsberg Selected Poems 1947-1995”. Ginsberg had died only about 5 months before, and I was in the process of applying to the writing program he had founded in 1974 with Anne Waldman at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado.

I had read Ginsberg’s “Howl” before, but never owned a copy of the poem. There’s something about being able to go back again and again to a poem, especially one as long and complicated as “Howl.”  The poem, which before I had dismissed before for some reason, knocked me over. I was amazed to discover that in “Peace and Noise” Patti Smith had taken Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl” and used it as a spoken-word song under the title “Spell.”

I listened to it over and over. And over. Her gritty voice, the low whir of bass strings in the background, the guitar line like a ticking clock, the surprising sax squeal, and the relentless repetition of holy, holy, holy, holy …


Something about the past week has brought that song, and the poem, to mind. Sometimes I need a reminder, not only that “The world is holy. The soul is holy. The skin is holy.” But also  that “Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets” and “holy the angel in Moloch.” Holy, holy, holy, holy. Everything is holy. Everybody’s holy.


Here is a link to Patti’s Smith’s “Spell”:


100 Cups of Coffee

I started an enjoyable writing project last month, that I’m calling A HUNDRED CUPS OF COFFEE. It is somewhat inspired by Patti Smith’s M TRAIN–one of the most incredible books on the life of a writer that I’ve ever read. Her book is a window into consciousness. And also has a lot of coffee.

The project is as follows:
1. Go somewhere and
2. Drink a cup of coffee and
3. Write a short piece


No strict timeline for the project–it isn’t daily or once a week, just in a timely fashion.
No set subject–although they are emerging.

It’s a bit scary–observation always is. There are a few worrisome things in my life, and yes, I’m forced to address them. I also wanted the pieces to be varied. The Tune-Up paean below is one section. So are the haiku about my father’s death.

Is anyone doing a similar project? Advice? Requests?


Because the Night: a cento in homage to Patti Smith, by Scott Wiggerman

Because the Night
            a cento in homage to Patti Smith,
            using 22 lines from 22 of her poems/lyrics
The air is filled with the moves of you,
as if someone had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars,
the lights like some switched-on Mondrian.
Some strange music draws me in,
and I know soon that the sky will split
with a throat smooth as a lamb.
I felt a rising in my throat.
I could feel my heart (it was melting).
I was a wing in heaven blue.
The sky was open like a valentine,
a silk of souls that whispers to me.
My senses newly opened, I awakened to the cry.
Maybe it’s time to break on through,
for I was undulating in the lewd impostered night
toward a dream that dreams itself.
You are the adrenaline rushing through my veins.
Each way I turn, the sense of you surrounds,
knowing no end to our rendezvous.
No star is too far with you.
Every word that’s spoken, every word decreed,
word of your word, cry of your cry,
all I ever wanted, I wanted from you.

Wiggerman, Scott, “Rebirthing the Words: Crafting a Cento” in Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry (Austin, TX: Dos Gatos Press, 2011).

Two Patti Smith Poems by Nan Rush

Stirring the Waters
(for Patti Smith)
Full moon over the Delaware,
big boats on the water,
Patti shouting the truth
into the summer night,
people of all ages clapping
in time to her exhortations,
music flying over the river
to Jersey,
Patti beating her message
into our thick heads,
Patti raising her thin arm, growling –
“I give you my blood, what
will you give back?”
Patti urges us:
bury your timidity,
grab your power,
sing the truth,
stir the waters
until they boil and the
Titanics of complacency
split in two, and we
bury them forever
under the waves we’ve created.
Because the day
(for Patti Smith)                                                  
Because the day
brings pain
& loss of magic
when the spells are forgotten,
and cotton fills my ears,
Because the day
brings clouds & rain
in this leaky valley
& the sun hides as I hide
my fears,
Because the day brings
betrayal pounding its way
across my heart,
erasing my dreams,
Because the day itself
is a betrayal,
I sleep.

Nan Rush



Patti Smith cut the cuffs off her shirt
I would never do that, I would never do that.
Our friend Webb went AWOL from Vietnam
we hid him out. Now, I would never do that.

I hitchhiked to Harvard Square
while my bug was in the shop
Marquis de Sade was there
against an Ivy League backdrop,

Now would you ever? Time passes
people move around a lot and end up west.

Other people were dancing rock and roll
I was peeling the bark from a Ponderosa Pine
I was giving birth in a three-room house
with no running water and a full moon bass line.

Would you ever do that, would you ever?

The parrot ran off with the day
I would never do that, I would never do that
The magpies were making raucous hay
Their tuxedos and tails, their noisy ways

My mother was paying the bills, and soon
she’d be selling the shop. The photos
of movies stars would fall . All would
vanish from the Carlton House Hotel.

I said, Hey Lovey Dovey, yeah I said,
Hey, Lovey Dovey. We’ve been married these fast forty years
with our burgeoning bourgeois frames and our bank
roll in your back pocket.

I’d never do that, You know I’d never.

Bob Dylan was passing through but I never got
his name. Janis Joplin would soon be through
and nobody called her tame. I put on my goody two shoes
and stared out the window in flame.

I gave birth to you and you and you
and nobody called out my name. I was Mama
I was Joanie, I was Jane. I wore out
my Goody two shoes, I was wild and then I tamed.

You were tame and then you got wild.
Three times I handed you a child.
Just check it out, over here, all alone
It’s Paradise without a throne.

Six acres and my last good nerve
Patti Smith came back in a huff
I rolled up my shirt cuffs. I deposited notes
in the bank, gave myself a third chance.

The small coyote howled, the computer
ran out of ink. The latest was just a child
with a heart as deep as the sink.
I can’t stop finding the joy,

even when the meanings run out.
The evening was alive, it was evening’s turn
to shout. I won’t ever do this
I won’t ever…I said Hey Lovey Dovey, hey….

“Some Thoughts on Patti Smith” and “Courtship Dives of the Male Hummingbird”: Two Poems by Paul Hostovsky

Some Thoughts on Patti Smith
First I thought: she looks like a boy.
And then I thought: it takes balls
to use ‘pituitary gland’ in a poem.
And then I thought: she spells Gloria
better than Van Morrison. In fact, she
spells it so well that I think she wins
the rock & roll spelling bee of my
sexual imagination, enumerating
the steps she is taking up to my door
and into my room and here she
comes, spelling and spilling her
hot androgynous self all over the white
album cover and oh she looks so good
and oh she looks so fine and Jesus
died for somebody’s sins but not mine.
Courtship Dives of the Male Hummingbird
He pretends he doesn’t see her.
She pretends she doesn’t see him.
But they have noticed each other.
They are both so small in the world.
How in the world will they ever meet?
She has no idea. But he has an idea.
It’s one of those crazy great ideas
men get when they’re in love.
The kind that just might work.
The kind that makes a man great
and gets him the woman. The world
is full of crazy great ideas, and this one
belongs to the male hummingbird. He will
dive-bomb and 58.6 miles per hour
with a body drag coefficient of 0.3,
as if to say, “Because you don’t have eyes for me
I’m going to have to kill myself.”
Then out of the corner of his eye
he checks to see if she looks concerned. And when
it looks like he’s going to crash and burn,
she does. And then he knows. And then his heart
leaps up, and he pulls up at the last second
with a centripetal acceleration that
is rivaled only by the best jet fighter pilots.
Then he banks, and jukes, and flits back down
to earth, and takes her out for a drink of nectar.

Maureen Dowd on Patti Smith

How can I resist? Two of my absolute favorite writers together…From the NY Times.

Because the Night Belongs to Her
I met Patti Smith briefly at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera’s “Ring” cycle last fall.

She was wearing a black sequined jacket, white ruffly shirt and black pants, a glam version of the “gothic crow,” as Salvador Dali once described her. Her salt-and-chocolate mane was hanging in an untamed pony tail. She seemed shy and modest but fun and self-possessed, ever the cool chick.
In an era when many women resist aging, preferring to frantically pursue scary, puffy replicas of their 25-year-old selves, and at a time when women still struggle to balance sexuality and power, the 63-year-old Smith radiated magic.
My cultural lacunae included the iconic New York punk rock singer, poet and artist who dropped out for a decade to raise two kids with guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith in Detroit. I had never seen her perform and didn’t know she was a jumble of quirky contradictions, passionate about Arthur Rimbaud and “Law & Order: SVU,” William Blake and Jimi Hendrix, grand opera and cheap talismans, listening to Glenn Gould and writing detective novels.
Beyond the jangly ruckuses about explicit photos of naked men, I didn’t know much about Robert Mapplethorpe either.
So I was startled to pick up Smith’s memoirs, which won a National Book Award last month, and delve into a spellbinding love story.
For anyone who has had a relationship where the puzzle pieces seem perfect but don’t fit — so, all of us — “Just Kids” is achingly beautiful. It’s “La Bohème” at the Chelsea Hotel; a mix, she writes, of “Funny Face” and “Faust,” two hungry artists figuring out whom to love, how to make art and when to part.
It unfolds in that romantic time before we were swallowed by Facebook, flat screens, texts, tweets and Starbucks; when people still talked all night and listened to jukeboxes and LPs and read actual books and drank black coffee.
Smith describes the wondrous odyssey of taking the bus from South Jersey and meeting a curly-haired soul mate who wanted to help her soar, even as the pair painfully grappled over the years with Mapplethorpe’s sexuality and his work’s brutality.
“Robert took areas of dark human consent and made them into art,” Smith writes about the former altar boy from Floral Park, Queens, who was bedeviled by Catholic concepts of good and evil. “Robert sought to elevate aspects of male experience, to imbue homosexuality with mysticism.”
When he began exploring his own desires in San Francisco, she said it was an education for her too.
“I had thought a man turned homosexual when there was not the right woman to save him, a misconception I had developed from the tragic union of Rimbaud and the poet Paul Verlaine,” she writes, adding that she mistakenly considered homosexuality “a poetic curse” that “irrevocably meshed with affectation and flamboyance.”
As they redefined their love, she writes, “I learned from him that often contradiction is the clearest way to truth.”
When the penniless Smith first gets to New York she sleeps in Central Park and graveyards. Once she meets Robert, they shoplift occasionally and scrape by. They are too poor to go to museums together; one goes in and describes it afterward to the other waiting outside. They share Coney Island hot dogs. Robert works as a hustler for money.
She encourages the reluctant Mapplethorpe to take photographs; he shoots the covers for her poetry book and mythic first album, “Horses.” He teases her when she becomes famous faster.
Smith vividly recalls a psychedelic bohemia in downtown New York in the volcanic late ’60s and ’70s when you could feel “a sense of hastening.”
She transports you back to the Coney Island freak shows and the Chelsea Hotel, “a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone,” as she calls the refuge for artists from Dylan Thomas to Bob Dylan. Glittery cameos include former lover Sam Shepard, Gregory Corso, Salvador Dali, Viva, William Burroughs, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol and her idol, Hendrix.
The more commercial and society-minded Robert dreamed of breaking into Warhol’s circle, but Patti was suspicious. “I hated the soup and felt little for the can,” she writes. “I preferred an artist who transformed his time, not mirrored it.”
When Robert was ravaged by AIDS, a distraught Patti drove and flew back and forth from Detroit to New York to hold and soothe him.
She wrote him a letter, recalling that he once said that art was like “holding hands with God.” Urging him to grip that hand hard, she concluded: “Of all your work, you are still your most beautiful.”
The March morning in 1989 that he died, at 42, she woke up to hear an opera playing on an arts channel on a TV that had been left on. It was Tosca declaring her passion for the painter Cavaradossi, singing “I have lived for love, I have lived for Art.” It was her goodbye.

Patti Smith Wins National Book Award

National Book Award for Patti Smith
Published: November 17, 2010

The rock musician Patti Smith won the National Book Award for nonfiction on Wednesday night for “Just Kids,” a sweetly evocative memoir of her relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe and life in the bohemian New York of the 1960s and ’70s.

Patti Smith won the nonfiction award on Wednesday for her memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Accepting the award to applause and cheers, Ms. Smith — clearly the favorite of the night — choked up as she recalled her days as a clerk in the Scribner’s bookstore in Manhattan.

“I dreamed of having a book of my own, of writing one that I could put on a shelf,” she said. “Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.” “Just Kids” was published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Interview with Peter Goetz on Patti Smith and more

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.

Sallie Bingham on Joan Baez

These wonderful comments on Patti Smith bring me back to my memory, a few years earlier, of hearing Joan Baez sing in a dark smokey nightclub in Cambridge. She was unknown, hardly even a name–just another boy-girl (but they were so unusual then) with dark hair and dark clothes, perched on a tall stool, playing a guitar and singing. I felt that she was strange in a way I hadn’t encountered, so unlike my college friends–girls who still wore girdles and stockings, even to class–that I didn’t know how to define or even describe her: maybe waif? But she was not forlorn, merely melancholy, and not the kind of melancholy that seemed to be calling for some boy to save her. Bone melancholy, blood melancholy. That I would recognize, later, as our common bond….
The songs she sang–I only heard a few before my group of friends had enough and left–held hints of the Appalachian folk songs I’d heard as a child growing up in Kentucky, but I didn’t recognize them until a while later I listened to her first record on my little portable phonograph in my room behind the kitchen in the off-campus house. Then, I knew what she was singing, and that and the melacholy I recognized fused, and I began to memorize her songs, the ones I didn’t already know: “False Sir John a’wooing came of lady young and fair…” “The cuckoo, she’s a pretty bird, she sings as she flies…”I never tried to learn to play an instrument, but with close friends, or when I was alone, I would sing her songs which had become ours….
Many years later when I was writing a play about the folksinger John Jacob Niles, I found her songs again, sometimes changed, but with the same thread of melancholy running through them.
I never saw Joan perform again but she remains for me the mysterious, only partly understood symbol of the gate that was opening for all of us.