Last night I went to the Orpheus Theater in downtown L.A. to see Patti Smith talk about her new memoir “M Train.” What a cool bitch. She talked about writing, and music, and art. She talked about performing with Bob Dylan and what books she read as a kid. If I didn’t know better, she could have been my very normal, sometimes-I-see-her-walk-her-dogs-she-keeps-to-herself sweet next-door neighbor. She in her blue jeans and white shirt and black blazer. Of course. The gray hair, the voice. Fucking icon.
And she sang. She said she can’t sing like Joan Baez or Nina Simone. Patti, have you ever heard yourself? Your voice is haunting. It’s beautiful and deeply layered and it’s 400 years old. You rule.
I was in bed all day today writing. All. Day. Writing, and watching the coverage of the Paris attacks. And I read the beginning of Patti Smith’s “Just Kids:”
When I was very young, my mother took me for walks in Humboldt Park, along the edge of the Prairie River. I have vague memories, like impressions on glass plates, of an old boat house, a circular band shell, an arched stone bridge. The narrows of the river emptied into a wide lagoon and I saw upon its surface a singular miracle. A long curving neck rose from a dress of white plumage.
Swan, my mother said, sensing my excitement. It pattered the bright water, flapping its great wings, and lifted into the sky.
The word alone hardly attested to its magnificence nor conveyed the emotion it produced. The sight of it generated an urge I had no words for, a desire to speak of the swan, to say something of its whiteness, the explosive nature of its movement, and the slow beating of its wngs.
The swan became one with the sky. I struggled to find the words to decribe my own sense of it. Swan, I repeated, not entirely satisfied, and I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passersby, my mother, the trees, or the clouds.