Living Writers Features Punk Rock Icon Patti Smith


Punk-Rock Poet Laureate Patti Smith delivers a spectacular performance to audience members as part of Colgate’s Living Writers Series on September 20 in Colgate Memorial Chapel.

To call Patti Smith a jack-of-all-trades would be a misnomer, for she holds an air of mastery over all her artistic endeavors. Actor, painter, singer and writer would all be fitting titles for the punk-rock legend who visited Colgate on Thursday, September 20. Brought to campus for the semester’s second installment of the Living Writers series, her performance revolved around her 2010 memoir “Just Kids.”

The book tells the story of Smith’s pre-fame relationship with the renowned and controversial photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. From the day they first met to his early death from AIDS, the two were inseparable soulmates, bound to one another by multiple chance meetings. Even in those first lucky moments, they knew the depths of their bond.

“And then we decided we’re together, let’s never part,” Smith said.

She wrote the memoir as a fulfilled deathbed promise to Mapplethorpe to tell his true story to the world. In focusing on the beginning of their journey as artists, she exposed a version of Mapplethorpe before the controversial photgraphs, fame and wealth that clouded his public image.

“I wanted to remind people that he was once a young boy,” she said.

Around their central coupling swirl themes of spirituality, fate and what it means to be and become an artist. With the picturesque grit of 60’s and 70’s New York City as the backdrop, the two blossomed within a beatnik Renaissance, guided by and growing with greats such as Janis Joplin and Allen Ginsberg. Though they never had enough food or money, the two lived on a drive to imbue their passion into the world. Ultimately expressed in the memoir are the growing pains and pleasures of an artist, experimenting but never compromising vision and the aftermath of sharing such with one another and the world.

Smith’s performance in the Colgate Memorial Chapel incorporated this vision, beginning with a spoken-word benediction of her song “People Have the Power.” Closing with the same song, music added, Smith reminded people of their own voices with their ability to vote, strike and dream.

Following were excerpts from “Just Kids” as well as her 2015 memoir, “M Train.” Interspersed throughout, she sang anthems indicative of her rockstar and lyrical sensibilities, such as her hit “Because the Night” and the heart-moving “Pissing in a River.” Faithfully by her side stood her bassist, sometimes-producer and right-hand man Tony Shanahan, who provided guitar, piano and back-up vocals.

Smith hypnotized and mesmerized the audience with her powerful voice and artistic panache, balanced out with a humble demeanor that expounded personal moments in her life with touches of humor. As the crowd stood and joined her in clapping for the final act, there was no doubt about the enamoring vitality and stage presence she possessed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a concert with such a wholeheartedly engaging and down-to-earth performer as Patti,” sophomore Gianna Irwin said.

Patti Smith upheld her role as a punk-rock poet laureate and reminded the audience of the powerful vision and mission of an artist.

Contact Andrew Kish at [email protected].