WHY PATTI SMITH MATTERS
Universtiy of Texas Press, 2022
WHY PATTI SMITH MATTERS, the book is called. Matters to whom? Matters why? Matters for what?
Caryn Rose comes closest to answering these questions in her Epilogue:
“Patti Smith taught us how to kick the doors in, and she continues to teach us how to live with integrity, to keep our name clean, to take chances, to keep the memories of our loved ones alive, to continue after they’re gone, even when we think we cannot, and how to persevere through it all.
And most importantly, she taught us to do the work, and to just keep doing the work.”
Presumably, Caryn Rose’s “us” is “Patti Smith fans.” And that is part of the problem. If you are reading this, odds are you are already a Patti Smith fan. We fans don’t need to be convinced.
How many of us read Rimbaud because of Patti? How many of us went to libraries and museums to learn about Brancusi, Mondrian, Brecht, Jean Genet, Wilhelm Reich, William Blake, Abyssinia, Sam Shepard, the Twenty-third Psalm and Robert Mapplethorpe? How many of us ordered back-issues of old magazines that featured her poems and record reviews or went to used-record stores to hunt down copies of albums by Edgar Winter’s White Trash or Blue Oyster Cult because Patti’s words were said to be waiting there?
I wish we could talk to YOU who do NOT count yourselves among Caryn Rose’s “us,” you who only casually remember the harshness of Patti’s voice, her calculated-to-affront blending of profane and sacred images, seeking yet rejecting salvation, her hairy armpits on the cover of EASTER, her use of forbidden words, the F-word, the N-word. Oh, sure. You now acknowledge Patti’s place in pop culture because she’s reached a critical mass of acclaim and you, like everybody else on Bob Dylan’s 4th Street, want to be on the side that’s winning. Yeah, you’ve heard Because the Night. “Wasn’t that originally a Springsteen song?” GRRRR!!!!! YOU NEED THIS BOOK!
Caryn Rose focuses almost entirely on Patti’s work—the recordings, the concerts, the books. Patti is a worker, Caryn Rose reiterates, and Patti’s work is spotlighted in mostly chronological order, from her youth in Jersey to her risky move to Manhattan to winning the National Book Award for JUST KIDS to performing at the ceremony to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan.
With WHY PATTI SMITH MATTERS, Caryn Rose shows how Patti’s work taught us how to Fight the Good Fight outside of society. Why outside? Because inside, there’s THEM, the PISS FACTORY workers, the Dot Hooks and their midwife sweat. They’ve got nothing to hide. Us? We’ve got something to hide called DESIRE. Why on earth would we want to hide our desire? Because the world wants to snuff it out. We can’t let that happen. We have to wrestle the world from fools. We have to create our own world.
That’s what Patti Smith taught us.
Robert Andrew Wagner, 6/11/2022
Robert Andrew Wagner is the leader of The Little Wretches and author of RED BEETS & HORSERADISH.