Patti Smith is very much in the news these days, largely due to the release of her new memoir M Train, which New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani called “An eloquent — and a deeply moving — elegy for what she has “lost and cannot find” but can remember in words.

Penelope Green in the Times Magazine last weekend nailed one of the things that is compelling about Smith: She is a sort of role model of real: the REAL process of writing, the REAL process of aging and change, neither of which she hides.

Patti Smith
Patti Smith

One of the nicest things about Patti Smith, the author, is her readiness to display the foggy tedium of the creative process, and also its profound loneliness. Whether or not Ms. Smith is single, as a writer she must go it alone. And as a writer still making peace with devastating loss, it is a given that whatever she’s writing is haunted by ghosts.

So, she puts it off; she naps; she makes lists; she binge-watches detective series: “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” the BBC’s “Wallander” and “The Killing” (the American, not the Danish, version). Meanwhile, her cat throws up on her pillow. Her clothing betrays her; her pockets are torn. Her shoelaces come undone and trail in rain puddles. Her socks get tangled in her jeans, and escape at inopportune moments. Walking through Washington Square, a lone sock breaks free from her pants (stuck there from the night before), and a giggling teenager returns it to her…

We take comfort in Smith’s nap-taking and binge-tv watching, as though her doing it gives us permission to let ourselves off-the-hook for doing the same. Her very image, so different now than when she was in her young punk-heyday, proclaims change rather than hiding it.

Patti Smith
Patti Smith

We like her work ethic, and the focus of her ambition:

…”I just do my work, and I work every day, and my ambition is just to do something better than I last did“, she said. I’d like to write something as great as ‘Pinocchio’ or ‘Little Women.’ I won’t say ‘Moby-Dick’ because that’s impossible. I’d like to write a book that everybody loves. I’d like to take a picture that someone wants to put above their desk so they can look at it while they’re writing a letter or doing whatever they’re doing while sitting at their desk. I’d like to do a painting that would astonish people.”

Patti Smith M Train cover

Still life photos from Patti Smith: Camera Solo: “Cross with Mirror” (left), “Paintbrushes, Duncan Grant’s Studio” (right); “My Son Jackson Sleeping,” NYC 2007 (center). Below, Virginia Woolf’s bed, writing desk, and gravestone.

Patti Smith
Patti Smith

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3 replies on “Is Patti Smith a Role Model of…Real?

  1. I can think of few others who resonate more with my essence then Patti Smith. I’m not sure any word needs to follow REAL. I’ll add David Foster Wallace to that small club. Not quite as shiny on the outside but polished clean on the inside – as in pristine, integrity, truth, alive in that messy kind of way that is always a cliffhanger :).

  2. What is real ?

    i’ll take the integrity and truth

    and think that Smith has alreday written a book that seems to be of the kind one loves to take everywhere .

  3. A half a year later and I am moved to tears by my own words…as if hearing my own voice for the first time…

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