I have always admired Patti Smith. Her creativity is boundless, by which I mean she does not allow anyone to put bounds on it. She observes life with words, music, film, poetry, images, and her observations let us – sometimes force us – to see life through fresh eyes.
But I can’t get on with her music. I’m never in the mood for it. I don’t know what mood that would be.
Then I read ‘Just Kids’, the memoir of her early years in 1950’s New York, and fell hard for her writing. Her every word conjures imagery with spellbinding deftness:
“It was the summer Coltrane died. The summer of 'Crystal Ships.' Flower children raised their empty arms and China exploded the H-bomb. Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. AM radio played 'Ode to Billie Joe.' There were riots in Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, the summer of love. And in this shifting, inhospitable atmosphere, a chance encounter changed the course of my life. It was the summer I met Robert Mapplethorpe.”
Words never fail her
Her concise brilliance with words is also evident in her songs. A recent study of 100 music ‘legends’ found Patti Smith had the highest vocabulary rate using 217 unique words per 1000. With Joni Mitchell in second place with 199. Though Bob Dylan has used the most unique words over his career – 12,285 and counting.
The reader is my notebook
Patti Smith now has a blog on substack. It delights me to be alongside her on this platform and having Patti’s words in my life every week has been a highlight of the year. Do check it out:
I’m possibly even coming round to the songs.
Yours Hopefully is an experiment in living hopefully. With music and musings, from a singer-songwriter-scientist. Why not subscribe and get a post every Sunday in your inbox?