Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on Apr 30th 2010 1:20PM by David Chiu
"I thought it was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard," she told Paul Holdengräber, the library's director of public programs, and a large audience inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building's Celeste Bartos Forum. "I had the same reaction when I first heard Little Richard, a very visceral [and] physical reaction."
Opera also plays a role in Smith's recent memoir 'Just Kids,' about her life and friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who died in 1989. Smith wrote in the book's foreword that when Mapplethorpe passed, she woke up the following morning in her home and heard the sounds of the opera 'Tosca' coming from the television.
"I sat there and listened to that aria ["Vissi d'arte"]," Smith said to the audience. "I could have chosen certain songs that resonated something between Robert and I, like a Tim Hardin song. I could have played 'Black Sheep Boy' ... or a Tim Buckley song that we both loved. That's why I said in the book that providence had decided what I would be listening to at that moment and it was that aria: 'I have lived for love, I have lived for art.'"
Holdengräber asked Smith a question on the behalf of writer Edmund White on whether she and Mapplethorpe "gained the courage to be transgressive and truly daring as artists partly through reading [Jean] Genet and [Arthur] Rimbaud." "Robert had such a sense of himself and who he was and his abilities," Smith responded. "He was shy socially ... but he never lacked confidence. In terms of who I was, these people, these other poets and writers magnified my spirit. [Robert] derived that courage from himself."
Smith also said that she had planned to pen something about her and Mapplethorpe's life together, but it took a while following the artist's death, as well as the passing of her husband, Fred Smith, brother, Todd Smith and pianist Richard Sohl. "I wanted to write a book that not only people would like but that Robert would have liked," she said. "I could imagine if it was overcomplicated or too abstract, he would say, 'Patti, this part's boring.'"
Besides Mapplethorpe and the influence of the French poet Rimbaud, the discussion also centered aspects of Smith's early life, of which the singer offered interesting and sometimes humorous anecdotes. "I remember the principal of my school looking at our class picture," she said. "I got sent to the principal's office for laughing too much. I walked in and our class picture just arrived. He didn't see me, and he said to another teacher: 'The class of 1964 -- the beginning of the end.'"
During the evening, Smith also performed three songs on acoustic guitar: 'My Blakean Year,' 'Grateful' and 'Wing.' She introduced the latter tune by referencing herself and Mapplethorpe: "I'm going to dedicate this song to those people -- that boy and girl that I can still picture in Tompkins Square Park. The reason I called the book 'Just Kids' is because we were."