The scene at Readings yesterday, where I was the "conversation" bit of "Patti Smith in conversation". Somehow Readings managed to cram 220 people in between the bookshelves. It was a chance to get up close and personal with Patti Smith and director Steven Sebring, who made the extraordinary film portrait of Patti's life and work, Dream of Life, which is showing at ACMI as part of the Melbourne Festival.
I am not sure I've ever been more nervous before an event: I'm generally proof against the glamour of celebrity, but Patti Smith is more than a celebrity. As I said in my introduction:
She’s one of those people who is impossible to summarise, a rock star and poet, a visual artist and performer, an artist whose life and work have been a constant quest for freedom, for change, for beauty, for life itself. There are a few adjectives I associate with Patti Smith. The first is “visionary”. The second is “revolutionary”. The third is “ecstatic”. The fourth is “cool”.
It seems, to anyone looking at her biography, that Patti Smith was there whenever anything was happening. She lived with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe when he was an unknown art student, she wrote and performed the play Cowboy Mouth with Sam Shepard, was there at CBGBs with William Burroughs when the punk revolution was happening, she hung out with Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan and Gregory Corso. She is a mother. She has lived enormously and suffered great losses. But she was always, from the beginning, a poet.
She was there. And then she was here. The conversation ranged from William Blake, Oscar Wilde, Susan Sontag and Mikhail Bulgakov to noses and her mother's collection of china cows (140). She finished by pulling out a guitar and singing My Blakean Year. She dedicated the song to me. I was floored. And that legendary voice soared unadorned through the hushed book shop, and everything was absolutely now.
It was a fine moment.
If you missed the Readings appearance, you can catch Patti Smith and Steven Sebring at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy, today from 1.30 to 2pm.
And if you missed that, you can read Chris Boyd's interview at The Morning After.