In the middle of all the holiday hubbub, sometimes we can miss things. I missed the opportunity to wish someone I admire a happy birthday. So here is a belated birthday greeting and open letter to Patti Smith.
Hello Ms Smith,
I always wondered what I would say if I ever met you. A friend of mine who used to live in New York said that he once met you and that you were very kind to him, and encouraged him to keep writing. In your own way, I would like to think that you have done the same for me, even though we have never met.
I was introduced to your work when I was a teenager, when a friend sat me down and said, “Listen to this” and played me “Land.” I felt like I was Johnny, imagining what it would be like to push the boys against the locker and feel free, and to dissapear on the wind like a horse. Your words spoke to me in a language I didn’t know I understood, like a lost mother tongue. It moved me so much that I felt the need to tell as many stories as I could in my new language. Thank you for that.
There are certain works of art that are of their time and speak only of that time. They are locked in history as being “of the period.” Although “Horses” was released in the 1970s, it speaks beyond the time in which it was made. Those horses you spoke/sang of live on a current of timelessness, ebbing and flowing into the lives of those who wish to ride them.
In the same way, there are works of art that, to the viewer/reader/listener, will only speak of a certain time of life. Not so with yours. The older I get, the more I read, the more I experience, the more I come to appreciate the glory of it. As a man in my 20s, I recognized the sparks of Genet and Rimbaud, the tone of the outsider that lived in your work. You were the woman who told me about living outside of society. As a man now in my 30s, I see the quiet compassion that comes through your work. I await what will come later with gratitude.
I would argue that for many like me, you are an icon: the icon of the outsiders, no matter what world they are forced to live outside of. We live outside and are proud of it, as we have found someone who can articulate the passion, the rage, the serenity and the stories of what it means to be outside society. That is what makes an icon.
That is what makes an artist.
It occurs to me that I recently missed your birthday. I would like to present this letter as a belated gift, an homage to you in the form we have come to know you – the word. This is the word of thanks, the word of gratitude. This is the word that says outside of society is where I want to be.