My stepchildren, when they were much younger, used to tell me I was weird and yes, I did not fit the mold of the suburban mothers they were surrounded by: I did not drive a minivan, I cursed every school sale that filled our house with more gift wrapping paper we could possibly need, and my healthy after practice juices and snacks were gloriously vilified. Under that perceived weirdness, I came to realize they were rather proud of having an eccentric “mother” who made mac and cheese from scratch, who insisted on working outside the house and whose wardrobe was pretty cool.
I never fit any mold much – I wasn’t exactly nerdy and always had a lot of friends but my clothes tended to look different, there were activities I would do own and my idea of a vacation was spending weeks in London going to rock shows. Anyone in my generation can claim music influenced them when they were young: we grew up with rock and roll, progressive rock, punk, new wave or whatever else captured our imagination and our sense of rebellion. Music was (and maybe still is) an outlet for every teenager’s imagination and dreams, for angst and rebellion.
Then we grow up and it all fades away. We start to conform. Mostly. In my case, my love for music led to a career in the business of music that, for better or worse, shaped me into the adult I am today, besides making me a pretty cool stepmother (even if still wicked at times).
I bought Patti Smith’s “Horses” 40 years ago, when it was released, probably because I had read a review in my favorite fanzine. At 13, my English was still far from perfect, and I probably didn’t have a clue what Patti Smith was singing about, but I immediately responded to her energy, her hypnotic delivery, her rawness, and it didn’t matter if I wasn’t quite sure what her words meant: her energy mirrored mine, her raw feelings were my raw feelings. I became a fan for life, an admiration that deepened even more when I read “Just Kids”, her coming of age autobiography and an account of her lifelong relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti Smith is the rare artist whose talent reaches across different media: poetry, music and now non-fiction writing.
sofagirl and I had the gigantic privilege of being invited to Patti Smith’s concert marking the 40th anniversary of the release of “Horses”, at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Neither of us gets excited around music anymore and we avoid concerts like the plague, probably because we were spoiled for the longest time by either donning all access passes or being given free tickets as part of our jobs. But we were both happily dancing in our knickers at the thought of seeing Patti Smith live. We even ventured outside in the rain, on foot, to get to the theatre (how did we ever live in London? or did we develop an aversion to the rain precisely because we lived in London?). We couldn’t think of ending our vacation on a more perfect note.
Patti Smith is 68 years old. Not that you could ever tell: her body is as androgynous and petite as it was 40 years ago; her sense of style hasn’t changed, and, though probably mediated by experience and life lived, her mission, her rage and her spirit are wholly undiminished. We both stood transfixed and in awe: this woman, whose voice is still powerful and who can dance for two hours with no sign of tiredness (let alone arthritis), embodied the spirit of an audience who set out with her same spirit of rebellion, the same desire to change the world and then….grew up and conformed. Only, she didn’t conform. And if she has become an icon of sorts it is probably because she always stood apart.
At the end of what sofagirl described as a cathartic experience, I felt shame in my having embraced some of the conformity I resisted for so long. And I am not referring to the twin-set and pearl society I always knew I would never belong to: canasta afternoons, cruises and sensible shoes were never in my cards – but my passion, my commitment towards change, even my core beliefs that, if they haven’t actually changed, I am sometime too lazy or too preoccupied to properly fight for. Sometimes, conforming is easier.
“Horses was written 40 years ago, in New York City, by a young girl who still lives in my heart” said Patti Smith at the end of the concert.
My young girl, the one that was sometimes difficult to live with and who would refuse to conform with the world she knew, is too frequently forgotten now. Yet, she still resides in me and I would do well to listen to her voice more often than not.
Autumn leaves photo courtesy of Eddie Clarke