The recently published memoirs by Keith Richards (Life) and Patti Smith (Just Kids) appear just as we baby boomers are hitting our inconceivable late middle and twilight ages and recalling our hazily murky pasts. Many of us born between 1946 and 1956 (although the boomer era extends to 1964) share the same recollections of music, TV, film and fashion. The names of artists and musicians, so generously dropped throughout these memoirs, are a who’s who of primal memories and offer vicarious enjoyment for those who were on the periphery.
I never met “Keef” or saw the Stones in concert (I was in the Beatles camp), so I can only enjoyably relate to his recollections from afar. But I worked with Patti at Rock Magazine in New York for the few months she was hired as a staff writer, so I have slightly more intimate knowledge – in a way – and more of an emotional response. (That’s me, above, in 1969.)
I have a parallel-world sensation when reading her beautifully composed symphony of past life experiences. So many of the people she knew, I knew – although without knowing she was in that orbit. I vividly recall the places she inhabited, the books she read and the art she embraced. So I read Just Kids looking for the intersection(s) with my own life – could I have been in the same places at the same time?
(Incidentally, back then my nickname was “the kid.”)
When I met Patti, I was art director for Rock. We were located in a loft on 6th Avenue between 14th and 15th streets, just eight blocks from the Chelsea Hotel, where she and Robert Mapplethorpe lived in a small room, and even closer to her 7th avenue and 23rd Street loft, which she also shared with him.
Patti just arrived one day, looking a lot like Keef with jet black hair and tightly pegged pants – very boyish – and announced she had been hired by the publisher to write reviews and features. To this day, I don’t know how Rock‘s huckster-publisher found her, and the memoir does not give any indication. But I suspect it must have been through Lenny Kaye, another staff writer, who had met Patti when he worked at Bleecker Street Records in the early 70s. He has been her guitarist and collaborator ever since.
Within minutes of walking through the door she told us about spending her time with Todd Rundgren and how she was going to be the next Dylan, who she idolized. Patti dropped so many other rock and culture star names that we stopped paying attention. I don’t recall whether she mentioned Mapplethorpe. Yet when she spoke about Sam Shepard, my favorite playwright at the time, she did not let on that they were lovers. She never mentioned she wrote a play with him.
Frankly, I thought she was just another Jersey wannabe. In fact, we were all wannabes. I wanted to be Herb Lubalin – I couldn’t play any instrument, but I could smash type on the PhotoTypositor like a jazz percussionist. My girlfriend at the time – an editor at Rock – wanted to be Virginia Woolf. She didn’t kill herself, but broke my ailing heart when she dropped me for the ill-fated Tim Buckley, whose concert we at Rock organized at the New York Academy of Music. In fact, it was at that concert where I actually realized that Patti was not a poseur.
We were working late one Saturday night and decided to walk east on 14th Street to the Academy. We stopped at the $1 a plate spaghetti joint next to Luchow’s and talked about life, art, music and poetry (she was writing a lot of it and her Rock articles were indeed poetic). She was very very smart and insightful. Wistful too. After that we walked to the lobby of the theater. Van Morrison, Buckley and Linda Ronstadt were playing to a nearly empty 2500 seat auditorium (because major acts were booked at all the other rock palaces in the NY area) – what a shame.
I thought of asking Patti to come home with me a few blocks away to listen to music, but didn’t. And I don’t have any memory of what happened next. I must have stayed and she must have gone. I know I saw my girlfriend walk away with Tim Buckley, giving me the cold shoulder. And I never saw Patti again.
The next week she was fired. Apparently, there was too much poetry in her articles. Two years later, she was playing with Lenny on guitar at CBGBs, the club that Hilly Crystal (whose Hilly’s Gazette issued from his bar on 13th street, I had designed) founded was poised to make Punk history.
Reading Just Kids, I hoped to find a glimpse of the brief moment when we worked together, but while Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone and Creem were cited as magazines Patti wrote for, not a word about Rock.
At least I remember it well – I think.