Sunday, May 1, 2011

Of Patti and Pot

Photo: Daigo Oliva, Wikipedia Commons
Patti Smith has added to her prodigious accomplishments a National Book Award for her #1 New York Times bestselling book Just Kids, about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.
The two artists met when he bought a Persian necklace from the bookshop where she worked, which she said reminded her of a Catholic scapular. He told her he had been an altar boy and loved to swing the frankinsense censor.

Robert took a seminal LSD trip on the same day, May 30, 1967, that Patti also dedicated her life to art, in front of a statue of Joan of Arc. He was on acid the day they hooked up, but was still shocked when he found she was smoking pot, as Smith relates in her remarkable book:

"Patti, no!" Robert gasped. "You're smoking pot!" I looked up sheepishly. Busted.

I had seen
The Harder They Come, and was stirred by the music...I found irresistible the Rastafarian connection to Solomon and Sheba, and the Abyssinia of Rimbaud, and somewhere along the line I decided to try their sacred herb....

With Robert, I was not transported into the Abyssinian plain, but into the valley of uncontrollable laughter. I told him that pot was supposed to be for writing poetry, not fooling around. But all we did was laugh....

I never thought of pot as a social drug. I liked to use it to work, to think, and eventually for improvising with [musicians] Lenny Kaye and Richard Sohl as the three of us would gather under a frankincense tree dreaming of Haile Selassie.

Smith’s is not a tale of overindulgence in drugs. It is instead one of a dedicated artist who witnessed some of the excesses of drug use, and experimented herself only deliberately and thoughtfully (or, once, accidentally). She saved her marijuana smoking for the creative process, at one point agreeing to go to an esoteric bookstore with Robert and a friend only if they didn’t smoke pot first, since that would make them time warp there.

Later, she wrote,

I immersed myself in a new course of study. I was drawn to the Middle East: the mosques, the prayer rugs, and the Koran of Muhammad. I read Nerval’s Women of Cairo, and the stories of Bowles, Mrabet, Albert Cossery, and Isabelle Eberhardt. Since hashish permeated the atmosphere of these stories I had it in my mind to partake of it. Under its influence I listened to the Pipe of Pan at Joujouka; Brian Jones produced the album in 1968. I was happy to write to the music he loved. From the baying dogs to the ecstatic horns, it was time for the soundtrack of my nights.

After her hashish experience, she tripped with Robert and saw a “demon version of the city.” She rescued Robert from a bad trip and had one herself when she was dosed unknowingly. At Robert's suggestion, she took MDA before shooting a collaborative film.

Smith married Fred Sonic Smith of the band MC5, whose manager John Sinclair became a cause celeb when he was given a 10-year sentence for two marijuana joints in 1969. Her song "The People Have the Power" has become a protest anthem worldwide, and she regularly appears at antiwar rallies and political benefits. "Horses," her landmark debut album, has been named one of the top 100 albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

UPDATE 10/10/2016 - Today has been declared Patti Smith Day in Boston. Smith has a new book out, M Train. In December, she’ll perform at the Pathway to Paris concert, which will coincide with the U.N. climate change conference. Pathway to Paris was co-founded by her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith.

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