Dear Patti Smith

Sep 13, 2017 at 11:36 am
Patti Smith

I’ve been reading your newest book, “Devotion.” I had gone into the bookstore for something else entirely when I noticed that you had something new. I couldn’t help but finger through the pages, taking in random paragraphs. Your last two books have meant so much to me, which is a bit of a funny thing considering they’re about events that are so specific to your life. I wasn’t a part of those moments but, reading them, I feel like I was there every step of the way. Books are an odd type of voyeurism when you think of it that way.

I once read that you shouldn’t sit books on a floor. That it’s disrespectful. Even if the artist has passed on, you honor the spirit by elevating their words. I try not to put books on the floor, but sometimes they get there. I don’t let your books fall, though. It’d be hard for them to ever touch the ground since they rarely leave my hands when I have one. You write books that I stare at, even when I’m not reading them. I take the dust jacket off and let my fingers press over the cover, like they could absorb the parts that aren’t on the page. Like a holy braille of what’s hidden in the spaces between. I don’t know if it works or not, but I like doing it just the same. It feels right. And maybe it is true.

We’ve never met, Patti. (I hope you don’t mind that I’m using your first name. I think you usually refer to someone by their last name when you don’t know them. But I’m going to take the liberty because, like many of our favorite artists, we spend so much time with their work that it feels like time spent with the person. Ultimately, Ms. Smith doesn’t sound right, and using your full name feels overdone. I digress.) I didn’t know about your books until much later. I’m 35, almost 36, and by the time I came around to your music somewhere in the late ‘90s, you were already seven albums in. I heard the ones most people hear first, “Because The Night” and “Gloria.” Even still, I was late to pick up on your lyrics. I think I felt the emotion first. Without listening to the stories, I felt the loss, the rain and snow, the challenge. But, the first time I centered in on the opening poem of your version of “Gloria,” I realized that I was dealing with an artist of a higher caliber. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” I bet there are more than a few tattoos of that one.

“Just Kids” absolutely deserves all of the praise that it’s received, but I think I liked “M Train” even more. While “Kids” told a decades long story, “Train” gave a much smaller one. I cried a bit during the first book, but I was especially captivated throughout the second, especially as I sat with my evening snack of toast and black tea, similar to your own routine. You somehow even made toast into poetry.

“Devotion” accomplished just as much in an even smaller story, and the insight into how it was created was as beautiful as the story itself. We’re all so fortunate for your own devotion to the craft — your music, your books and your photos. Thank you for the inspiration and motivation. Thank you for making so many of those beautiful words string together in a way that last long after the book is closed.