Patti Smith on Patti Smith: Interviews and Encounters

Chicago Review. . (Musicians in Their Own Words). Nov. 2020. 544p. ed. by ed. by Aidan Levy. ISBN 9780912777009. $30. MUSIC
The latest entry in the outstanding “Musicians in Their Own Words” series is devoted to singer-songwriter Patti Smith, the “punk poet laureate” whose blend of rock and poetry electrified listeners. Levy (Dirty Blvd.: The Life and Music of Lou Reed) curates a fascinating collection of interviews and criticism, beginning with a 1972 conversation with writer Victor Bockris recorded in the loft Smith shared with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, just after the publication of Smith’s first book of poetry, Seventh Heaven. Interviews explore the recording and release of Smith’s groundbreaking debut album, Horses, her influence on the punk scene, her reappearance in the late 1980s after semi-retirement, and the writing of her 2010 memoir, Just Kids. Pieces by Dave Marsh, Nick Tosches, William S. Burroughs, Thurston Moore, Anthony DeCurtis, and Jonathan Lethem can be found here; the work concludes with an entry from June 2018 on “Because the Night,” the song she cowrote with Bruce Springsteen. It’s a tribute to the multitalented Smith that she is always enlightening, challenging, and instructive, and there is much to savor here.
VERDICT An illuminating compilation and study of an American artistic treasure. This study is both a finely wrought biographical snapshot and an opportunity to sit in on conversations with one of the sharpest and most provocative minds of our time.
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