The kids were definitely okay with this sudden, unexpected closeness to their idol – and I can say that because I was one of them. Indeed, I remember being struck by how his guitarist and collaborator Lenny Kaye seamlessly picked up the vocals as Smith shuffled about in the dark. I was also hit by one of his flailing arms but that’s another story.
She didn’t perform the classic The Who the following night. It was replaced on the setlist by a controversial song from his recent album, Easter. “Rock n Roll N****r” was another definitely punk statement, but it rattled audiences in a more problematic way. For decades, Smith has defended her clumsy use of the racial slur, saying she wants to reclaim the word for people on the margins of society. Still, the song inevitably drew condemnation and last month, according to rolling stone magazine, it was removed from streaming services.
Smith often flirted with condemnation. His literary role models include Baudelaire, Verlaine and Rimbaud and others accursed poets – the word means “condemned” – from the French symbolist movement. “People say ‘watch out!’ but I don’t care,” she sings on her 1975 debut album Horses. “Words are just rules and regulations to me.” In a 2012 song “April Fool’s Day”, inspired by Gogol’s birthday, she again presents herself as a rule breaker and outlaw, almost the “superfluous” figure of 19th-century Russian literature. century. “Come on, let’s break all the rules,” she urged.
In his new book, A book of days, which is a collection of 366 captioned images, one for each day of a leap year, Smith picks up the theme. The April 1 entry reads: “Today is the birthday of Nikolai Gogol, the great Russian-Ukrainian writer, who once wrote: ‘A well spoken or written word cannot be cut with an axe”. quotes and aphorisms from his favorite writers and artists, and not all of them are particularly significant. The best pages, however, delve into his own archive of black-and-white Polaroids capturing landscapes, objects and friends, such as Allen Ginsberg (June 3), William Burroughs (February 5 and October 31), the other Verlaine (aka Tom Miller, frontman of New York punk band Television, December 20) and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the co – subject of his 2010 award memory just children (September 1st). After Polaroid filming ended in 2019, she started snapping photos with her phone, posting the images to her Instagram (@thisispattismith) which now has more than a million followers.
That phone and its social media platform allowed her, she says, “to bond with the explosive collage of our culture,” perhaps a little too much, because fame is the glue, the instant collagenit holds A book of days together, and the cumulative effect of all the selfies, birthday wishes, and apothegms is hardly explosive. Smith abides by Timeline’s rules by sharing his photos, posts, and experiences. On January 1, for example, there’s a photo of her standing on the shore, staring out at the ocean, with the caption, “A new year unfolds, the unknown ahead, brimming with possibility.” Two days later, we receive a picture from Greta Thunberg’s Picture Library, with the caption “Nature knows her and smiles at her on her birthday.” On Feb. 3, Smith posted a photo of his Abyssinian cat Cairo (“a sweet little thing the color of the pyramids, with a loyal, peaceful disposition”) curled up on a rug emblazoned with the symbol of peace.
At other times, the raw emotion and beauty of A book of days is unavoidable. In his tributes (March 1, September 14) to her late husband and soul mate Fred Sonic Smith, MC5 guitarist, who died at 45, and other prematurely lost romantics: A photo of John Keats’ bed (August 3 ) at Wentworth Place the Hampstead Heath, which “seems to contain the luminous dust of his consumptive nights”, or Rimbaud’s house in the Ardennes (October 22), of which Smith now finds himself the owner. It was a gift from the poet’s family in recognition perhaps of the famous lines on Horses, “Go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud – and do the Watusi.” Two days later, Smith celebrates the birthday of Irish literary critic Enid Starkie who inexplicably failed to mention the Watusi in her 1938 study of Rimbaud’s life in Africa. It also marks the day, in 1873 (August 16), when Rimbaud completed A season in Hell while recovering in the Ardennes from a gunshot wound inflicted by his jealous lover Verlaine. Now there’s a punk statement for you.