Patti Recalled

 
In Patti Smith’s current memoir “Just Kids,” about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and her life during the late 60s and early 70s in New York’s avant garde firmament, she neglected one important fact. Well, it was important to me, in retrospect, though at the time I too was just a kid, and it was just a blip. Patti and I worked together at Rock Magazine, a second cousin to Rolling Stone. I was art director, she was a staff writer. I was learning about magazine design, she was trying to define herself. Much of that included dropping the names of people who she said she worked with (writing poetry) and I admired (from afar), including Sam Shepard. But during the few months we worked (and at times hung out) together, I never quite believed that she knew him or all the other culture idols she said she knew. 
 
I was 19 and Patti was 23, although she looked 16. She wanted to be a rock star in the worst way. I was designing promotion for Rock‘s concerts (mostly oldies shows), arguably in the worst way. Patti and I went to one of them together at the Academy of Music on 14th Street (now the site of an NYU dorm). It’s curious that the only part of our night out together I can conjure up was standing in the mirrored Academy lobby waiting for her to say, “Let’s go to your house.” I don’t remember anything before or after. I do recall, however, designing her stories in Rock (one is above), and the day she was fired by the publisher (an unpleasant music promoter). I also recall that she met her long-time collaborator, Lenny Kaye, at Rock. He was a writer when he wasn’t selling oldies at Bleecker Street Records.
 
After she left the magazine, I never saw her again. But two years later, I heard she had a hit record. I went to CBGBs one night (I had once designed Hilly’s Gazette, the newsletter of Hilly Crystal’s bar before he launched CBGB) and saw her performing from a distance. CBGB was so crowded, noisy, and dirty that I never went back. Two decades later, I ran into Patti on the street (our kids went to the same school). I said, “You won’t remember me, but we were friends once.” She looked at me blankly, and said, “Oh yeah.”
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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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