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Patti Smith reads, sings, and shouts at Benaroya Hall

In town to promote Just Kids, her book about her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith even makes time to volunteer at a local mission.
Patti Smith's "Horses" album cover was shot by Robert Mapplethorpe

Patti Smith's "Horses" album cover was shot by Robert Mapplethorpe


When Seattle Arts and Lectures recently brought Patti Smith to Benaroya Hall, they asked if I would introduce her. It took a nanosecond for me to say yes. I hadn’t missed a single Seattle appearance, musical or literary, by Smith since her local debut at the Paramount in 1978. The opportunity to witness her performance while sitting in a comfy chair next to her, rather than in the audience, was hardly a hardship. All I had to do was show up shaved and sober, introduce her, and conduct an onstage question-and-answer session with her during the show.

I’d met Smith once before at a conference, and we had numerous mutual friends. Some were rock stars or literary lions, but we also both know a former butcher who turned into a photographer. The former butcher always spoke highly of Patti, and I always felt he was a good judge of character. Now Smith was coming to Seattle in support of her book Just Kids, which tells of her relationship with a different photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. I’d read the book and was impressed with her prose, but also with this story of young artists as in love with creating as they were with each other.

When Smith arrived backstage at Benaroya on Monday (Jan. 25), it was no surprise that she came minus entourage or star trappings. She was dressed, as she would be onstage that night, in Levis, a thrift store jacket, and army boots without laces. She had a black wool cap on her head. She would have been at home robbing a liquor store, or working on a crab fishing boat. An audience member would later ask what Smith thought about being named a “fashion icon” by Oprah’s O Magazine, and Patti’s response was a smile, and a gesture towards her clothes that said, “Here I am.” Her outfit was typical of the Smith I met that night: Authentic and down-to-earth, but with edges of hardness.

She’d spent the day in a setting she was dressed for. “I’ve been in Pioneer Square hanging with the bums,” she joked. But she wasn’t joking: while visiting Elliott Bay Book Company she’d stopped in at a local mission. Later, during the musical part of her performance, she would improvise an intro for “My Blakean Year” by talking about her soup kitchen visit and how she watched the homeless “doing their job.” Their job, she sang, was simply to ask, ‘gotta little change for a cup of coffee?'”

This was a literary reading primarily, and not a rock ‘n’ roll show, so the only props onstage were two chairs where she and I would sit, and a carpet. Her only artiste moment came when a chemical in the carpet triggered an allergy. “Fred,” she said, referring to her husband, the late Fred “Sonic” Smith, “once surprised me by putting wall-to-wall carpet in the house. We had to have it ripped out.” It was Smith’s only allusion all night to the thirteen-year break she took from show business, when she did what would be inconceivable for many stars: She left a world of fame to raise two children, and build a family in obscurity. It is the most courageous thing Smith ever did, and also probably the hardest, other than burying her husband, who died when he was only 45. The carpet at Benaroya was quickly rolled up.

The acoustics in the hall sounded better without any deadening, in any case. “This room is alive,” she noted during sound check. I told Patti about the time I took my then 6-month-old to Benaroya’s first rock show, which happened to be Lou Reed. Reed had brought in his arena-quality amps, and had played so loud many people, and the one baby in attendance, had to leave. “I mean no disrespect to Lou,” Patti said with her kind of far off look that indicated she meant this with an aloof comedy, “but you gotta play the hall.”


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jan 28, 3:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Charles. What a nice piece about this excellent evening.

The program was a perfect mix of reading, talking and performing, and I have to say you did a particularly good job of drawing Smith out and sifting among the many audience questions. I can't think of a better person for the gig.

I was surprised at how funny she was. My favorite moment was when you asked her (repeating an audience question, I think) whom she would like to collaborate with. Russell Crowe, she said. You adroitly pointed out that Crowe has a band and so, you pressed, did she mean she'd like to collaborate with him as a musician or an actor?

I loved her little laugh when she answered: "As a girl!"

Great night.

matassa

Posted Thu, Jan 28, 9:40 p.m. Inappropriate

I love Patti Smith.
I was at that 1978 show in Seattle.
She can do no wrong in my eyes...

But I have it on good authority, from someone who knows these things and was there, that those were not "army boots without laces", but, in fact, $900 Ann Demeulemeesters.

Which she has every right to wear- heck, Demeulemeester ought to give em to her.

In fact, the fashion crowd, of which I count myself one, is more impressed, not less, that she was wearing these instead of army boots....

Rniemi

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 1:51 a.m. Inappropriate


I just finished reading the book "The Silver Factory" so I was all full up on freaky New York avant garde types from the 70s.

Maybe next year...

jabailo

Posted Wed, Feb 3, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate

I thought this show was amazing, and really enjoyed Patti. The encore a capella performance of "Because the Night" gave me chills. However, like Rniemi posted, I found Charles Cross to be pretty annoying, both in this article, and his comments to Patti about fashion. Maybe he shops at thrift stores, and finds some virtue in doing so. I'm sure Patti shopped thrift when she had to, but I think if he had actually asked her, she would have told him that fashion is also art, and that she is a friend and collaborator with the designer Ann Demuelemeester, and doesn't feel like she has to wear thrift in order to have credibility as an artist. (See http://www.showstudio.com/blog/1488) Sorry to rant about this... I can't wait to read her book.

mrsdarcy

Posted Fri, Feb 5, 7:10 a.m. Inappropriate

I posted the last 27 minutes of Patti's performance on http://www.youtube.com/user/BenSlivka as four videos. She played/sang "Grateful", "My Blakean Year", "Beneath the Southern Cross", and "Because the Night".
Enjoy,
--Ben

BenSlivka

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