The Radical Hope of Patti Smith

The Radical Hope of Patti Smith

As the artist, writer, and musician gears up for a new show, she looks back on an astonishing 50-year career and what drives her forward.

Story by Chloe Cooper Jones and Photographs by Pieter Hugo

Patti Smith isn’t writing. “It won’t last that long,” she tells me. “But it’s been a while. It’s been a few weeks. And I’m in a state of that nothingness.”

We’re drinking tea at a table in her hotel room in Paris. She pauses as church bells ring out from across the Seine, reaching us through the open window. “See?” she says with a laugh, gesturing to the sound that has arrived seemingly to underscore her words with divine authority. “He knows.”

We’re talking about one page in her latest book, A Book of Days, a volume of photographs and captions that has one entry for each day of the year. The images capture the texture of Smith’s daily life—her bookshelf, her coffee cup, her eyeglasses, her own hand at work, hovering over a page of her prose.

The book also shares objects of significance to Smith, things once belonging to the many important people in her life who’ve died before her: her mother’s key chain, her father’s golf ball, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s hat, a necklace given to her wrapped in black tissue by the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, her late husband’s Mosrite guitar. These objects still hold for her a charge, the energy of the lost owner. The caption below an image of Sam Shepard’s pocketknife reads, “Keep going, no matter what, my talismans seem to whisper.”

The particular page we’re discussing is a recent photograph of Smith, taken in her West Village apartment in New York, where she sits, head in one hand, staring into the middle distance. It struck her, when she saw this portrait, that her posture and gaze were identical to the way her late mother, Beverly, would sit when she was searching for a solution to a problem.

“She might have had a cigarette or something, and she seemed so far away, and she would always say she was thinking of nothing,” Smith says. The caption below this portrait reads, in part, “Now I know what nothing is.”

Okay, I ask her, what is this “nothing”? Read the full piece at Bazaar.

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