Patti Smith, Rock Journalist

Reading the review of Steven Sebring’s eleven-years-in-the-making “Patti Smith: Dream of Life,” the new film about Patti Smith, I was struck by this quote:

If you want to know about punk, what it was like to play CBGB when it
mattered (or on its final night, as Ms. Smith did in 2006), look
elsewhere. The same goes if you want to know what it was like to be on
top of the world and on top of the charts, to watch Robert Mapplethorpe
get his nipple pierced, sit at the feet of William S. Burroughs, and
shack up with Sam Shepard at the Chelsea Hotel.

When I was the 18-year-old art director of ROCK magazine (early ’69), I worked with Patti, an associate editor and staff writer, and then a totally unknown rock “fan,” who let it slip only on one occassion that she knew Sam Shepard and never spoke at all about Mapplethorpe. She did, however, drop Todd Rundgren’s name often, and repeatedly talked about how much she wanted to meet Dylan.

During her brief stint at ROCK, Patti wrote a few stories (see below) about her love of 45 rpm records and her rock ‘n’ roll brothers. Her journalism was more poetry than reportage, but each of her articles contained a real passion for her rock obsession. Nonetheless, after only a few issues (two months), she was fired by the editor who wanted less of an ethereal dreamer and more of a hardnosed reporter. I didn’t see or hear about Patti again until three or four years later when she was the rock star she always dreamed of becoming. Honestly, I would never have guessed.

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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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