Patti Smith

Patti Smith

I love to see paintings, read books, watch films, and hear music to experience a fuller sense of knowing the world. Standing in front of a painting can connect to something right down inside me, where it tells me things I’d never known or makes me recognize things I didn’t know I’d known. I’ve had the sensation of seeing the world as someone else saw it and captured it and painted it; or reading a sentence in a book or poem that perfectly captures a certain something too ephemeral to explain other than to read that sentence; or watching a moment on film and knowing way down in my gut exactly what that experience is, to learn something and understand it in a way completely new, or to know that someone else knows what I know and I know what he/she knows.

We could all, I suspect, name those paintings or sentences or movie scenes that present a moment of truth:

  • The first time I stood in front of van Gogh’s “Starry Night” on display at New York’s MOMA, I recognized it as more than the iconic painting that it has become. The canvas is exposed irregularly around the edges, reminding me how it is only a painting, but it is so dramatic in color and shape and motionless movement—the swirling, manic sky over the dark and silent town…I’ve known that juxtaposition and competition in life.

  • I remember asking the professor, “Who are ‘the dead’ in the title?” when I first read “The Dead” in James Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners. I originally thought that it referred only to the boy who died for love of Gretta; but I have grown to understand a universality to the story, how our lives are tied to and ruled by ideas of the dead. I think the closing line of the story is perfectly written: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

  • Every time I see The Godfather (1972), my spine tingles when the baker, Enzo, startles Michael in the hospital and without an instant’s hesitation offers his support and loyalty…“…for your father, for your father”…even to his unnerved posing as an armed guard at the hospital entrance; I’ve known that generosity and loyalty in life.

  • Something undefined about Patti Smith’s Beneath the Southern Cross grabs me still every time I hear it…the pounding guitar rhythm and Smith’s barking of the mystical lyrics. “To greet, lame, the inspired sky,” always gives me a sense both of a lame humility and a glory in the face of an inspired/inspiring universe; I’ve known both such humility and such glory.

I nurse a jealousy of the creativity of others…I’d love to be able to capture my experience of so many things, a hotbed universe of experience: fear, joy, happiness, wonder, passion, confusion, horror, anger, humor, lust, betrayal, disgust. Moments and feelings and life one slice at a time…I wish I could find a way to spin such moments in the context of the bigger story in which they’d been lived, spin them into something others might enjoy. Because I remember tasting smelling hearing seeing sensing so many things that had such meaning…I wish I had several more senses and talents just to exploit it all.