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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
Style Icon: Patti Smith
Kat: Patti got the highest score on our list! (Yes, we had a process to come up with our style icons and it took time and it was very methodical and kind of involved.) What can I say? I know dudes who dig Charles Bronson and Rambo and all that, and that's cool because some days we all want to be tough in this cruel, beautiful world of ours. But Patti's my personal Clint Eastwood: she lives by this code of honor where being a stand-up kind of dame means your artistic integrity extends all the way from the tips of your unruly, wild hair down to the tips of your cowboy boots. Just in the way poetry boils down meaning to the bones of phrases and words, Patti's aesthetic is distilled down to a few key gestures: a white shirt, a tie, a worn t-shirt, a perfect pair of lived-in boots to stand in as she glares defiantly down a subway tunnel. She may get dressed up in Ann Demeulemeester (a fellow Patti worshipper), but she still stands for a social philosophy of rebellion and resistance, a sort of working-class American bohemianism where freaks, punks and outcasts still stand strong, defiant and beautiful. (Patti is tough, but she's nothing if not romantic to her bones.) Plus, no one else spits quite like her on stage. The woman's still fire after all these years; respect to that, and Patti forever.
Liz: In a lotta ways Patti Smith's kind of my world: One of my most prized possessions is this 7-inch of "Piss Factory" b/w "Hey Joe," autographed by Patti and lovely Lenny Kaye, bought for me by a boy who still won't confess how he ever got his hands on it (and this was back before people did eBay and stuff). I first got way into her during my freshman year of college, after the aforementioned boy played me Horses in his dorm room, and pretty soon I was devouring her poetry book Early Work and memorizing every word to "Piss Factory" and listening to the song "Land" about 900 times a day. At some point I bought a probably-unauthorized biography, and what I remember most is the stuff about Patti's teenage lust for Mr. Bobby Dylan. It was the first time I'd ever heard of rock star owning up to being so over the moon for another rock star; I guess before that I just figured that all rock stars were born cool, and thus were eternally immune to such big geeky obsession.
The spirit of Patti's Dylan worship is fairly well captured in this old interview with Thurston Moore, in which Patti says: "If you're 15 or 16 and you can't get the boy you want, and you have to daydream about him all the time, what's the difference if he's a dead poet or a senior? At least Bob Dylan...it was a relief to daydream about somebody who was alive." Having spent my entire adolescence daydreaming certain rock stars into the role of personal boyfriend, I felt so validated by her words, like maybe there was some cool secret psychic purpose to all that weirdo infatuation I'd been wrapped up in. But while my interaction with the beloved rock-star boys of my youth has mostly been limited to sightings at the farmers' market or the local diner or PJ Harvey shows, Patti ended up actually getting to know her make-believe boyfriend, first crossing paths with him in New York City sometime in the '70s. ("He came over to me and I kept moving around. We were like two pitbulls circling. I was a snotnose. I had a very high concentration of adrenaline. He said to me, 'Any poets around here?' And I said, 'I don't like poetry anymore. Poetry sucks!' I really acted like a jerk.") At that point she'd already adopted what she called Dylan's "Don't Look Back walk," strutting around the city in blatant emulation of her idol. In fact, I'm pretty sure her whole world back then must've been painted in Don't Look Back's gritty black-and-white.
My favorite thing about Patti's Bob Dylan love story is that, by the time she actually she got Dylan into her life, she'd basically completely out-cooled him - and she did it by totally stealing his act (along with Keith Richards's haircut). And my favorite thing about Patti in general is that she's got this wildly powerful way of convincing you that stealing from your favorite rock stars is maybe the whip-smartest and soul-savingest shit you could ever pull in this messy world. She believes in the rock-and-roll dream 10,000 percent, and for her that dream is about transformation and transcendence and whatever else it takes to ensure that your life is not one of crushing boredom. She comes off like the toughest boy in the world, and then she confesses that "all my toughness comes out of my desire to be cool and be accepted by cool people. But basically I'm shy and nervous, especially around girls, but I think I've learned how to use all that to my advantage." So then you think about how to use all that to your advantage too, and you listen to "Land" 900 times and memorize all the words to "Piss Factory", and you get your imagination going again, and suddenly everything's a lot more exciting than it was a little while ago. I don't know what the hell else you could ever ask of a human being, but in case you need a little more persuasion, behold these beautiful photos and please please please go visit Patti Smith and her band next time they're in your fair city. I've seen her seven times now and I hope to see her seven million more.
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