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Fear can be useful – lessons from a punk rocker.

Posted in Life & Love, and Relationships

27-patti-smith-electric-lady-studio-horse.w1200.h630
Found online, uncredited.

I thought I would end this week with some wise words.

camparigirl and I have both written about the impact the Patti Smith concert had on us. For her it was to get out of her head and back into her youth – a reminder that challenges could be overcome. For me it was clearing out the cobwebs and sketchy dragons that have been lurking in my mental bat-caves.

Being back in New York was rejuvenating for me in many ways, it allowed me to let go of some stuff I had been dragging around, and reminded me of the good things about my time living there. Good that had been overshadowed by a sense of failure and disappointment. I shook it off.

“Horses”, Patti Smith’s debut album, was released at a time when the South African government had strict censorship controls over what we read, listened to, saw and said. The record and the singer were considered subversive to our morals, and thus banned. But I had read all about “Horses” in Rolling Stone magazine, loaned to me by a school friend whose (very cool) older brother worked at Hillbrow Records. The review fascinated me: the Mapplethorpe picture on the cover was like nothing I had ever seen, the woman was definitely her own person and the lyrics printed in the review read like poetry. And I desperately wanted to hear it.

Patti Smith 1975 Robert Mapplethorpe
Patti Smith 1975 Robert Mapplethorpe – from the cover session

So, when sofadad went to the US on a conference, I added “Horses” to a list of ‘lease buy me’ records. And buy them he did. Sneaking his contraband through customs in his brown plethora suitcase. Breaking the law for his, slightly odd, daughter. I listened to the record immediately we got home from the airport. Sitting in our ‘good lounge’ – huge B&O silver earphones clamped to my head. Not understanding most of it, but understanding all of it at the same time. I was mesmerised. What this band, this singer was telling me was that there was another way of being. Of living.

I was sold.

Almost 15 years later a man, who was to become (and still is) a beloved friend, asked me: “what record changed your life”. We were new to each other, and sitting on a tour bus, sharing a bottle of wine. I was shy of him and he was shy of me. We had literally just met.

I told him my long story, eventually wrapping it up with: ‘…. and then I heard this woman singing “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” He looked at me for a long beat and sang back: “Meltin’ in a pot of thieves. Wild card up my sleeve, Thick heart of stone, My sins my own. They belong to me, me.”

It turned out that we had each been given the album in the same year – but on different continents. Him at an army base somewhere in Germany. Me in a country fighting it’s own war. We were meant to be friends.

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From Esquire. Uncredited.

Forty years after it’s release, 25 years since we drank wine on the bus: my friend made sure that I went with him to see Patti Smith play the whole of “Horses”. It was one of the best nights of my life. Watching her sing those songs that had so impacted my childhood – made me realise, again, that there is another way of living my adulthood. She is 68 years old but you would never know it to watch her perform – she was 28 again.

Sitting in the airport the next morning, I thought to myself: “that is how I want to get older. It’s an ongoing process. Not a full stop. That’s how I am going to look at it from now on.” I felt like I had clarity on what I want for myself going forward. An older age thatthat is brave and strong and vital and uncowed. That is not pigeonholed. In which nothing stops, it just adapts. Of course it will require setting up/preparation… which will take some work. But I am ready to start and will spend these next few months figuring it out

Another friend, hearing that we had been to the show, sent me an article he thought I would enjoy – he was right. It was a page of gentle wisdom excerpted from the experience of being Patti Smith: “What I’ve Learned”. I thought I would share it with you.

By the way – I have also decided not to dye my hair anymore. Embrace the grey. Seems like time.

On finding the new:
I look at each experience of talking to someone as a whole new world.

On growing up:
A lot of people think I’m going to be like a punk rocker and just tell them to go fuck themselves. I’m not like that at all. When I was young, I could be very confrontational. But that was maybe forty years ago. So I’ve already done that.

On fear and excess:
I like my mind, and I feared harming it. I saw some of the best minds of my generation, and some a little older than me, destroy themselves in front of my eyes. That’s what kept me from the drugs and other excesses in the seventies. I said no not because I lacked courage; it’s because I was self-protective. Fear can be useful.

On relationships:
“Friends isn’t even a good enough word.”

On loss:
All the people that I’ve lost—and I’ve lost a lot—I keep them with me. And it makes life that much happier. About six or seven years ago, I saw the perfect shirt for Fred, my late husband. I started paying for it before I even realized what I was doing. And then I bought it anyway. I just keep them all with me because life doesn’t have to be so lonely. You know, if you shut everybody out just because they die, then what’s it all for?

On lives:
I’m sort of on Life Four. Until I was twenty, there was my life with my family. In the seventies, it was my life with Robert but also Sam Shepard and the band. It was all the things that happened in New York. The next decade and a half was with my husband. And between ’94 to 2004, I was raising my children, still going through whatever, grieving. And now my children are grown. In the last ten years, I’m a bum. I’m a happy tramp, just going where I like, on my own. I have no companion, sort of free. The difference is I usually have money in my pocket to eat. I don’t have to go scarfing around for sixty-five cents for a sandwich.

And lastly, on staying open to new experiences:
Maybe curiosity killed the cat, but the lack of curiosity will kill us.

Read the whole Esquire article here.

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