Friday, December 30, 2016

The Punk Poet's Birthday

"In my way of thinking, anything in possible. Life is at the bottom of things and belief at the top, while the creative impulse, dwelling in the center, informs all." —Patti Smith, M Train


I turned 60 years old last November. Last May, Bob Dylan turned 75. Today, December 30th, Patti Smith turned 70.

I'm really starting to like old people.

Bob got a Nobel Prize. Something he certainly did not need for me or anyone else to admire him more. He is the poet of American song. Always will be. Patti, meantime, has been called punk's poet laureate. In the 1970s when she came on the music scene, Smith didn't do much for me. I idolized Stephen Stills and the folk heroes of the time. Patti was not that. But her heart was much like those folk heroes, opening up her soul to the world. Deep inside, she was truly a poet in the traditional sense, a writer waiting to be born again. It was when she put her writing in book form that I fell in love with her. Just Kids is magnificent. That's a silly thing to say, isn't it? Like I'm praising a child's drawing. But the book honestly is magnificent. It's a poetic love letter to her friend, Robert Mapplethorpe and to art itself, the creative process, the deep and soulful ache of opening up a life.

In her book of essays, M Train, Smith furthers her deep and insightful legacy. Some say the book is full of too much navel-gazing. I disagree. Smith uses her life and the tiny details of it to give the reader a truer look at the artist's mind and soul. Like Rainer Maria Rilke or Marcel Proust, Smith kicks open the doors of her existence, exposing the intimacy that all of us crave in order to create something meaningful. Artists of all genres and skills have been navel-gazing for centuries and if you believe Smith is doing that in M Train, then I contend she does it exceptionally well.

It might take a lifetime for some of us to gather the guts to be vulnerable enough to open our hearts. Some find it easy and can do it brilliantly when they are young. Others, like Smith, do it more elegantly and more artfully as they grow old. Time and practice shape the artist, massaging the creative impulse and process in a way that youth does not permit.

I like being 60 years old. I think I might have some things to share. 

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