The best dream I ever had brought me joy. (My best friend of more than twenty years died. That’s not the dream; that’s real life.) The dream: The phone rang, a wall phone. I picked up and heard Matt’s calm, cheerful voice saying hello. How are things there, Mattie? I asked. Pretty good, he said (that was always his highest compliment). So glad to hear that, Matt, so glad that things are pretty good on the other side . . . and that dream was vivid, the voice, the clarity of the message, and the peace that stayed with me . . . long after wall phones, “(to think they’ve given him a phone in heaven).” i Continue Reading…
Archives For CBGB
by G.K. Stritch – find it on Amazon
The Mudd Club turned out to be a bittersweet place where I had my cherished camera stolen. It was dark and so packed you had to be on your guard, but that didn’t deter us. Jill, Daniel, and I went often. Our friend Richard Smith worked there, so not only did he let us in, but we didn’t pay either. The other hopefuls who awaited entrance looked at us longingly, in secret, as we, the downtown celebrities, slipped through the line. The club showcased a scene with all kinds of provocative people. Elderly-looking, avant-garde writer and opiate enthusiast William S. Burroughs participated as a frequent patron.
“Come here.” Richard Smith pulled us aside in his attempt to educate us. “That is the author William S. Burroughs. He wrote Naked Lunch and put a glass on his wife’s head and shot her dead through her forehead.” Our teacher waited for our reactions.
“Why did he do that?” I asked. Why wasn’t he in jail? I wondered.
“They were playing William Tell.”
We all looked at the elderly gent. He was a little younger than the ghostly clericus who appears in Drugstore Cowboy.
Old Bull Lee, dressed in a gray suit, lounged with one leg crossed over the other, undisturbed. A faint smile adorned his face. Perhaps he pondered his bizarre life or desired a Viennese waltz, or maybe he sat in a haze of H, remembering days in Putumayo or Algiers or his house in the New Orleans swamp. Or maybe he quietly recited Shakespeare in his mad old mind. Jill and I noted his presence and giggled and gazed at him. Never in our wildest imagination would we have thought of saying hello, but I wished I had. I wished I’d spoken to the old rascal, and I wished I’d done that terribly un-chic, un-hip thing and asked him for an autograph, or had the nerve to take a photo with him. I could have sat on his bony knee and that would have been a funny, funny picture. But sophisticated me did none of those things.
Knowing that Burroughs was an author of note, I tried to capture his worn face in my memory and grew fond of him from a distance, the way a child might like a scary figure in a horror movie. I probably won’t read Naked Lunch, but years later I did read excerpts from Junkie and was impressed by his brilliant, clear prose. Recently hearing a taped recording of Burroughs’s routines revealed a grouchy old man’s voice, and he reminded me of a mean doctor from my childhood. That very stern, creepy doctor had had no patience and pushed me out of his office. I didn’t know what Burroughs was talking about on the recording: Roosevelt and baboons with purple hindquarters—he hated bureaucracy and liberals—but I still found him most amusing. Burroughs proved his intelligence to me. How much better for him to dwell among the youth and vitality and live performance and pretty faces at the Mudd Club than to languish away at home or behind the doors of a senior facility. His drug administration must have been meticulously careful. He lived until the age of eighty-three. Perhaps one of the best insights into the colorful life of Burroughs is in On the Road: The Original Scroll.
“‘Hurry up, please. It’s time,'” called the bartender. We hurried. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “‘Goonight, Bill.'”
On May 15, Patti Smith told us about her new record, Banga, and some of the source for the title track’s inspiration, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. We have been listening to the new music a lot, enjoying it immensely, and looking forward to seeing Patti perform on tour with Neil Young this fall. On the recording, she does a very nice version of Young’s “After The Gold Rush.”
At interview time, we were told by Columbia/Sony Entertainment that Patti could only speak about the new release and we had come prepared to ask her some ‘Beat’ questions. As you can see in the following exchange, the second part of our interview with the poet/writer/entertainer, she was gracious and more than happy to stray from the subject of the new music, which we had not had time to fully digest at the time of the talk. This is the second section of the interview. In the third, Patti tells us what she has been reading lately, what she suggests for others’ reading lists and who she would meet if allowed to travel through time. The complete interview will be printed in Beatdom, Issue Twelve – The Crime Issue.
They told me I could only ask you about your new album.
You don’t have to do that…ask what you want.
Thanks! Well, speaking of the album, you wrote the song “Nine” for Johnny Depp and I read interviews where you tell how he helped you by recording the title track, “Banga.” He was close to Allen Ginsberg, so we wondered if you met him through Ginsberg?
No…I knew Allen since I was quite young. I met Johnny when he came to one of my concerts a few years ago. We talked and then started off on Allen. We both love books and we spent a lot of time talking about [Jack] Kerouac and Dylan Thomas. Johnny has letters of [Antonin] Artaud and Dylan Thomas. We spoke a lot about literature and music and became very good friends.
A lot of our friendship is book-based.
So, about your writing process…
I am always writing…always…and always have two or three projects going simultaneously because my mind is so active…like I’m writing poems and writing little songs and am working on my detective story and some other things. So, writing is part of my daily discipline, whether it’s for my website (www.pattismith.net) or anything else I do…it’s the one consistent discipline I’ve had since I was thirteen years old that I continue to exercise every day.
I write by hand in my notebooks and on the computer. I don’t write so much on the typewriter anymore. I always loved the typewriter, but it’s so complicated to get ribbons and things, so I switched over to transcribing on computer — but I initially write in my notebooks.
Do you have favorite pens?
I have a very nice pen collection. I have been given beautiful pens by my son and daughter…I have a very nice, small white Montblanc and I have very nice old fountain pens and sometime’s it’s just a Bic. There is always some pen in my pocket but I sometimes get sentimental towards certain pens. Sometimes I just use a little Uni-Ball. It depends what’s in my pocket but I have very nice pens at home. I like those little Montblanc Mozarts. I think they are called the “Mozart Series.” They’re small, they’re a ballpoint and they have a really nice weight and you can put them in your pocket. That’s sort of my upscale pen of choice. I write with whatever’s there, though, you know?
Sometimes…if I’m on computer…well, I like to write fast and then go back and edit. I don’t like to edit as I am writing and sometimes I can get in a groove at night. When I’m writing late at night sometimes I sit at my computer and, if I’m like writing more of a rap, like if I’m doing something for my website. I usually do my website right on the computer…a lot of times it’s just sort of like rappin’ and if I’m working on a poem or something like that, I always write by hand.
Listening to “Rock N Roll Nigger,” the structure seems reminiscent of “Howl.” Was that by design?
It’s just what we did. I always acknowledge the people who influence me or inspire me but I’m not really conscious of exactly how. I just know that I’ve learned from them but I don’t consciously do a piece of work to mirror another piece – if it does, it’s just because someone else will usually pick up on it, probably subconsciously.
We read that Allen had a lot of influence on you coming out of retirement some years ago…
Allen was more influential to me when I was younger. He was just so vocal. He was so successful at marshaling people, at gathering large troops of people to speak out against the government, to strike…so that was his major influence on me.
I often talk about Allen. When you do a hundred interviews, it all depends on how they are edited. I’ve talked about Allen many times – about how, of course, he was instrumental. He called me up; called my house and inspired me. He said that I should come and let the people help me with my grieving process and let my Loved One go on his journey. I’ve talked about that on the liner notes of my record…many, many times. I’m always doing something for Allen, reading his poems…paying tribute. There is only so much you can say in one little interview but I am always grateful to Allen.
How about the other Beats?
I was very attached to William [Burroughs]. I knew Gregory, Gregory Corso, very well…and Peter Orlovsky. I met Hubert Huncke.
I was very privileged to know these people and I had different relationships with them all. Gregory was very, very important to me in my learning process of how to deliver poems live…and in my reading list.
But William was the one I was most attached to. I just adored him. I had sort of a crush on him when I was younger and he was very good to me. He really liked my singing and encouraged me to sing. He used to come to CBGB to see us and, of course, his work inspired me. Horses, the opening of Horses, with Johnny’s confrontation in the locker room, was very inspired by William’s The Wild Boys. In The Wild Boys there is also a ‘Johnny.’ My ‘Johnny’ is a continuation of William’s ‘Johnny.’
William really taught me a lot about how to conduct myself as a human being, you know? Not to compromise and to do things my way. What William always said was, “The most precious thing you ever have is your name so don’t taint it. Build your name and everything else will come. Keep your name clean.” I learned a lot from William.
Listen to Patti’s newest album “Banga” on Columbia Records and for more fun, visit her website, www.pattismith.net!