Author’s Note: I’d like to thank TNB’s own Megan DiLullo for her invaluable comments as I created this piece.

 

When I was quite young, around a year old, my mom began reading to me. She started with Dr. Seuss books—The Cat in the Hat, On Beyond Zebra!, Green Eggs and Ham. My memories of those moments are extremely vague, smudged pastel impressions at best. But mom assures me that during those times I’d lay quietly in her arms, hypnotized by the sound of her voice, and the pages spread before me. With tiny fingers, I’d touch the colorful pictures. I’d touch the animated words practically leaping off the page.

 

* * *

 

Around the time I was two, mom taught me how to pray. Having spent time in the convent as a young woman, she’d learned the importance of faith and giving thanks. She taught me the Lord’s Prayer, the Serenity Prayer, the Hail Mary, and St. Jude Prayer. She also told me that I could simply speak to God in my own way. That if what I was saying was true to my heart, and held enough passion and purpose that my own words would be enough.

 

* * *

 

The power to dream, to rule

To wrestle the world from fools

It’s decreed the people rule

It’s decreed the people rule

 

Patti Smith – “People Have The Power”

 

 

* * *

 

Some months after I turned three, my parents took my brother and me on a summer road trip. From our Charlotte, North Carolina home we headed east toward Cape Hatteras. In our cherry-red Dodge 440 wagon, we sailed along the highway. A warm, pine-scented breeze whipped in through open windows. My brother and I played Car Travel Bingo, the License Plate Game, and Count The Cows. Somewhere around Fayetteville I began reading aloud the billboards alongside the highway. Brake for a Bite. Truck Wash Ahead. Exit Now For Stuckey’s Foot Long Hot Dog. My parents were mystified. Especially mom. While I’d been decoding some of the Dr. Seuss books she’d been reading to me, many of the billboards contained words I’d never before encountered.

My brother—stockier than me, and lagging behind in advanced reading skills—shouted: “Dammit. If you don’t shut up, I’m gonna hit you.”

In the past, whenever he’d threaten to beat me up I’d clutch my hands into a tight prayer, slam shut my eyes, and beg God to make my brother leave me alone. But sitting in the family Dodge and sailing along the highway, I didn’t pray. I wasn’t afraid in the least. I continued reading the billboards. I loved the way those strange new words sounded in my mouth. They gave me strength. Hope. My brother punched me. I kept reading. Words had become my new power. My new prayer.

 

* * *

 

When I was a teenager I caught a Saturday Night Live rerun, featuring Patti Smith. Until that moment, I’d led a fairly sheltered life, listening mainly to the soothing sounds of James Taylor, Carly Simon, and other sappy folk artists crooning their melodic miseries over FM Top 40. But here now was Patti Smith: a gangly, atonal, and androgynous punk poet wailing about her lack of faith in Jesus, and boys humping parking meters. Patti turned my Top 40 brain inside out. Gave it a sex change. A life change. Shocked me with a thousand volts of pure rock and roll energy. At the time, I didn’t know how to truly interpret those feelings. All I knew was that I’d been changed in a way that books or religion had never managed to affect me. And Patti Smith had caused that change.

It would still take some years to see how those changes would take hold in me.

 

* * *

 

Baby calm down, better calm down,

In the night, in the eye of the forest

There’s a mare black and shining with yellow hair,

I put my fingers through her silken hair and found a stair,

I didn’t waste time, I just walked right up and saw that

Up there — there is a sea

Up there — there is a sea

Up there — there is a sea

The sea’s the possibility

 

Patti Smith – “Land”

 

* * *

 

When I was twenty-three, living in San Francisco, and struggling to find my voice as a writer and performer, I stumbled upon a copy of Patti Smith’s Babel. I was reminded of that episode of Saturday Night Live, when she’d performed “Gloria.” She was so fearless. So real. So herself. I dug into the book. Was mesmerized by her drawings, lyrics, and the pure poetry contained within such gritty, streetwise imagery. Patti became a gateway drug. She led me to writers such as Rimbaud and Mayakovsky. My love of poetry deepened. Gradually, my writing style developed. I grew more confident as a performer. And while neither my writing nor performing were perfect, both were absolutely true. True to my heart and true to art. Just like prayer. Just like Patti.

 

* * *

 

I am truly indebted to the New York City poet, Bob Holman, for many reasons. The main reason being that he, too, became a gateway drug. He made it possible for me to perform on the same stage as Patti Smith. Words cannot express what it felt like to be in the presence of someone I truly admire, someone who has had a hand in shaping me as a person, as a creative being. Someone who with power of voice, power of presence, and power of intention helped to slay my doubts and fears; cut off that beast’s head and serve it up to the Gods of Raw, Savage, Sensual Expression. I never had a chance to personally tell Patti Smith what she has meant to me. But that is okay. I have told myself this story many times.

And now I am telling you.

 

* * *

 

This damn city

This dead city

Immortal city

Motor city

Suc-cess city

Longs to be

Longs to be

Longs to be

 

Free

Free

Free

 

Patti Smith – “Dead City”

 

* * *

 

Flash forward to the present: a phone call with mom.

 

In her melodic Southern drawl, she said, “Reeeechard. I just heard this wonderful interview on the radio. It was with this female singer/songwriter.”

 

“What’s her name?” I asked.

 

“Oh shoot,” said Mom. “Now I can’t remember. Lemme check. I wrote it down here somewhere.”

 

Mixed with the hum of phone line, I could hear her rummaging through papers.

 

“Oh darn,” she said. “I need to create a folder where I can put all the questions I wanna ask you.”

 

Still more rummaging.

 

“Is there anything else you can tell me about her?” I asked. “Anything that might give me a clue as to who she is?”

 

“Well she just wrote this new book,” said Mom. “Where she talks about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe.”

 

Right then I knew whom she was referring to. “Patti Smith.”

 

“That’s it,” said Mom. “I knew you’d know.”

 

This was a new one for us. While I’d often been the one turning her onto all things art related, here she was turning me onto a huge event that had flown completely undetected beneath my pop culture radar.

 

Mom went on to tell me how Patti Smith’s latest memoir, Just Kids, recounted her chance connection with Mapplethorpe, and how that bond ultimately led them along a path devoted to art, initiation, and love.

 

I then told mom how I’d performed with Patti Smith, and Patti’s longtime friend, Janet Hamill, in New York City. That one got her squealing like a happy little girl. “Goodness. What was that like?”

 

“A dream come true,” I said.  Then I asked: “Have you ever heard Patti Smith’s music?”

 

Mom said she hadn’t.

 

“I’ll get you some,” I said.

 

I sent her Horses, featuring Mapplethorpe’s iconic photo of Patti on the cover.

 

 

Within two days, mom phoned me. “I just loooooove Patti Smith. How could I have not known about her all these years?”

 

“Would you like some more of her music?” I asked.

 

“Absolutely.”

 

I promptly sent her Peace and Noise.

 

Within days, she was once again phoning, saying: “I just loooooove Patti Smith.”

 

Since those conversations, I’ve devoured Patti’s memoir. It’s touching, informative, and illuminating beyond description. At one point, she talks about how she first met the poet, Allen Ginsberg. They were at the Automat. Mistaking Patti for a very pretty boy, Allen bought her a cup of coffee and helped to buy her a sandwich. Years later, when reminiscing about how they first met, Allen asked Patti how she’d describe their first meeting. Patti responded, “I would say you fed me when I was hungry.”

 

My mom has fed me when I was hungry as well. She’s taught me how to read, how to dream. Through the years, she’s given me love and encouragement, and has helped to lead me back to hope and faith when I’ve been down and out. And I’ve tried to honor this love by doing all I can to live, learn, and to share my experiences with her. I’m also grateful that I, too, have become a gateway drug—turning her onto the music of Patti Smith.

 

As for Patti, she’s fed me in ways too numerous and mystical to coherently list. I imagine it all started back when I was that teenage boy, watching Saturday Night Live, completely mindblown, and unable to fully comprehend Patti’s performance and presence. How with every move, every lyric she was literally rearranging my DNA, giving it more fire, more heart, and helping to alter my life’s path. What I can say with all certainty, however, is that Patti Smith has taught me how to be a poet. How to be fearless. How to be myself. How to take the stage, crank the volume, and sing the song of me out loud.

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , ,

RICH FERGUSON has performed nationally, and has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Wanda Coleman, Exene Cervenka, T.C. Boyle, Jerry Stahl, Bob Holman, Loudon Wainwright, Ozomatli, and many other esteemed poets and musicians. He has performed on The Tonight Show, at the Redcat Theater in Disney Hall, the New York City International Fringe Festival, the Bowery Poetry Club, South by Southwest, the Santa Cruz Poetry Festival, Stephen Elliott’s Rumpus, and with UK-based poetry collective One Taste. He is also a featured performer in the film, What About Me? (the sequel to the double Grammy-nominated film 1 Giant Leap), featuring Michael Stipe, Michael Franti, k.d. lang, Krishna Das, and others. He has been published in the LA TIMES, Opium Magazine, has been widely anthologized, spotlighted on PBS (Egg: The Art Show), and was a winner in Opium Magazine’s Literary Death Match, LA. His spoken word/music videos have been featured at poetry film festivals throughout the world. Ferguson is a Pushcart-nominated poet, and a poetry editor at The Nervous Breakdown. His poetry collection 8th & Agony has been published by L.A.’s Punk Hostage Press.

112 responses to “My Personal Peace and Noise: An Ode to Patti Smith and my Mom”

  1. Lenore says:

    rich, this is so freaking sweet. it made me tear up. sometimes i forget you’ve got this gift of punching me in the face with your sweet words. heartz.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Lenore. As for punching you in the face with my words, well, I suppose that’s an honor that I affect you that way. Along those lines, please feel free to punch *me* in the face at any time–either with your wonderful words, or your fist.

  2. Becky says:

    The greatest object of shame for me as a fan (not an expert or anything, but an above-average fan, I think) of punk music, its predecessors and derivations, is that I have never, never, been able to get into Patti Smith. Overwhelming ambivalence.

    Whatever aspect she doesn’t quite share with much of punk is, apparently, what makes punk interesting to me. Or whatever she has that punk doesn’t causes me noise. But not in a good way.

    I hold out hope for myself, though, since I used to feel the same way about Chrissie Hynde and later, inexplicably, had some kind of silent epiphany and woke up to discover that I was a rabid fan.

    Still, though. Don’t knock the silky smoove voice of J.T., man. That ain’t right.

    • Becky:

      Sorry we don’t share the same feelings about Patti Smith. And as for J.T., I stand firm on my feelings about him. I guess that’s the clear line that’s drawn between us–Our personal likes and dislikes towards P.S. and J.T.

      But that’s cool. I still think you’re the bomb.

      • Becky says:

        No need to apologize. Just making conversation.

        But don’t sell either of us short.

        I mean, there are all kinds of lines between us. State lines, for one. And I don’t wear hats. And you don’t have 4 inch fangs.

  3. Ducky Wilson says:

    So great. Loved the way you wove her lyrics in with your own stages of life.

    I had been inspired by the similar interview (Fresh Air with Terry Gross 1/19) and had started a story of my own. Smith is one of the women who got me to get onstage and start singing. She taught me to find my own voice instead of comparing myself to others. I’m deeply indebted to her.

    I waited on her once in NY. She was lovely. I can’t say that for most celebs. So much can be discerned by the way a person treats a waitress. It is my measure for life.

    And I read billboards, too. I mean, I still read them. And I’m totally annoying. I work on accents while I do it. My favorite is my BBC voice. I swear my ex broke up with me just because of this, for there is nothing else wrong with me, I assure you. I’m hitting the road in the morning and looking forward to all the billboards. Some of them are just wrong.

    Have you read her recent book, Just Kids?

  4. Matt says:

    Rich, this is lovely–and for that matter, very loving. A better tribute could not be asked for.

    I’ve become a fan of Smith due to the portraits of her Annie Liebovitz took during the mid/late 90s. I went to a gallery show, and one image in particular stood out: a photo of Smith shot in New Orleans, flanked by several flaming metal barrels in the background. The caption read Patti Smith, musician, and intrigued, checked out copies of Horses and Trampin’. I loved ’em.

    So it was only fitting, a few years later, that I got to see her play while I was working in the nightclubs down in New Orleans. Man, what a show.

  5. Amanda says:

    You are well-situated, if you have both those ladies on your side!

  6. Zara Potts says:

    Beautiful, Rich. Fitting and wonderful tribute.

    I grew up on Patti Smith. My wonderful mother, who has always been a lover of substance and style, adored Patti Smith and so I knew all the lyrics to Horses and Wave by the time I was 10. I must thank her, for introducing me to the love of the word.

    And I too, read signs on the highway. I still do. It drives people crazy. And I love that.

    • Zara:

      You, your new wife, Megan, and I should one day take a road trip where we read all the signs aloud. We can read them in Groucho Marx voices, Marilyn Monroe voices, Daffy Duck voices, whatever. And, of course, you can bring your lovely child, Lenore, along as well. I bet she’d be hella fun on a road trip.

  7. Stefani says:

    What a beautiful connection!! Patti Smith just makes me smile, and she only gets cooler with age. (Sounds like your mom is the same!) I fell in love with her later in life. Never too late! This recollection made my day. I love the way you weave your thoughts. Thanks!

  8. Ravishingly beautiful and full of heart and soul. A great post to wake up with, setting a tone of love for the day.

    I’m a huge fan of Patti, your mom and you.

  9. Brad Listi says:

    Rich, this was lovely. I remember giving my mother a Tracy Chapman album for her birthday one year. It was the one with “Fast Car” on it, and to be honest, it was full of really depressing songs about urban blight and lostness and poverty and whatnot. I’m still not sure why I gave my mom that album. She didn’t like it. She certainly didn’t looooove it.

    There’s always Barbara Streisand.

    • That’s too bad, Brad. Sorry your mom didn’t like Tracy Chapman. In addition to Babs, perhaps you can turn her onto Neil Diamond. In addition to Patti, my mom loooooves him, as well. Oh, and about that check you sent me, I’m getting ready to TEAR IT UP! My heart and allegiance lie more with TNB than having a few extra bucks in my pocket. But thanks so much for the sweet gesture.

  10. Jude says:

    Thank you Patti – and thank you Rich for your wonderful words and tribute to one of the finest artists on this planet. I love Patti’s style of ‘take no prisoners’. Her music and style fed the rebel in me in my younger days. And even now, when I listen again, the stirrings of ‘fuck you’ and rebellion rise to the surface once again.

    On another note, I too have recently turned my aunty (aged 72) onto the music of Leonard Cohen. At Christmas I sent her the CD of his latest concert recorded in London, and like your mom, she ‘just looooves him’. Nice…

  11. Hey, there’s a good one, Jude. I should turn my mom onto Leonard Cohen next. Thanks for the kind words. Rage on, and take no prisoners.

  12. peter coca says:

    its a real nice piece Richard, as your mom would call you – i’m gonna take another look at Patti Smith – till then

  13. Shya Scanlon says:

    One of the things I love about Patti Smith is her supremely genuine DIY ethos. She came to NYC and literally opened herself up to the experience, and let it take her where it may. She had no idea she’d become a musician! She paints, she writes, she performs, and it’s all part of a spirit of engagement she seems to embody. An engagement with life. In German there’s a term for people like Patti: Lebenskunstler. Literally: life artist. It’s used for people for whom, more than any particular mode or object, their entire life is their “canvas.”

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Shya. Always great to have you along for the ride. And what a beautiful term for Patti: Lebenskunstler. Life artist. That’s so fitting. Cheers.

  14. jmblaine says:

    Reading Rich Ferguson
    always feels like a visit with an old friend.

    In the literary world that’s
    high praise.

  15. Irene Zion says:

    Rich,

    You made your mother so happy here. I will love you forever.

  16. milo martin says:

    peace and noise…noise and peace…peace and noise…noise and peace…

  17. Ben Loory says:

    good stuff, rich. i’m a sucker for stories with automats in them.

    i will have to give patti one more try.

  18. Richard Cox says:

    My comment seems to have not stuck. Let me try again.

    I said something about how I like to read about the events that lead to people finding themselves, particularly when it involves art. Like you hear a song and you realize you’ve been waiting to hear it your whole life. And I said how this was a cool post.

    Something like that. Except it was so eloquent that apparently the words overwhelmed the TNB server.

    Or not.

  19. John says:

    Two faces of Shekinah. And you in the in between! (I think that awesome that you mother showed you how to pray and you p(r)layed with Pattie.)

  20. D. B. Ruderman says:

    Rich,

    Lovely. There are few artists I admire as much as Patti Smith. I showed her to my students when I taught Blake a while back, the scene in the new documentary where she goes to Blake’s grave. btw, my mother would NOT love Patti Smith. Consider yourself blessed. Again, a lovely piece….

  21. Mary says:

    I think I just fell in love with your Mom. What a wonderful tribute Reeeechard.

  22. Nice story on how Patti Smith has inspired you, Rich!

  23. Chris Pimenta says:

    Rich: I’ve not read others’ comments and as such, forgive me if I am repetetive.

    This piece shows the talents of a pure writer.

    There is a feeling of being able to peek over your shoulder and share the words as they unfold. At the same time, the pace and efficiency of the delivery allows us to meander into our own pasts while reading, (some no doubt with a smile, and some of us, sadly, with an ache in our chests).

    Not a single phrase or breathe is wasted or ill-timed and the use of “gateway drug”, so often cliche, was apt perfection here — an umbilical chord, if you will, between different worlds.

    In reading this, I am again reminded of why I feel both satisfaction and envy from your words. They are pure, Rich, and complicated in their simplest form.

    • Wow, Chris. What an honor to have you read this piece, and to read your comments. Thank you so much. And know that I hold you in the highest regard. You’re a true artist. And a true friend. Rock on.

  24. Greg Olear says:

    Great post, as usual. Love the way you organized it.

    I attended a rally for Ralph Nader at Madison Square Garden in 2000. Even though there were many thousands of people there, and a long roster of famous performers, it was not mentioned in the New York Times the next day. But that’s another story. Anyway, Patti Smith was one of the performers. I can’t remember what she played, but I do remember her being moved by being up there. She said, “Wow. I’ve never played the Garden before.” And I remember being shocked by this. The point is, she was way cool.

  25. Linda says:

    I LOVED this! The bit about driving along the highway in NC makes me wonder if you ever read the billboards leading up to South of the Border, SC.

    And I love your mom. I totally enjoyed reading about her reaction to hearing Patti Smith for the first time. What a cool woman – both of them.

    • Linda:

      This is *so* funny that you should make the comment about the billboards leading up to South of the Border. As I was writing the billboard part of this piece my mind TOTALLY went to all those memories of seeing those billboards along the Interstate. Christ, I think you began seeing those things like a good fifty miles or so before you ever got to South of the Border. Man. That place is a TRIP.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, my dear. Happy travels.

  26. sandra says:

    Beautiful, Rich! It made me want to read Smith’s book and more about your mom too!

  27. Often, one reads literature that celebrates the differences between a woman and a man. What most strikes me about My Personal Peace and Noise: An Ode to Patti Smith and my Mom is that something finer is accomplished. What I think has been accomplished is a celebration of the similarities among women and men. Today, similarities seem more important than differences. Its the now idea, man.

    In fact, here I sit, having just finished reading My Personal Peace and Noise: An Ode to Patti Smith and my Mom, and I am as much surprised with how precisely this story describes the major influences that shaped an accomplished spoken-word artist and musician as I am with the story-within-a-story that compassionately, clearly and surprisingly celebrates a relationship between mother and son.

    Still sitting here, having finished reading, I find my imagination desiring to see this staged, against softer than louder than softer again music. It is Smith’s music, and Rich conversing across his lifetime with Smith, first as an icon on Saturday Night Live then as a colleague on the New York City stage, and then as digital gateway to a new kind of shared experience with one’s own mother.

    As a result of this piece’s daring, concision and imagery, this vision of music, words, and performer was as highly defined as what one can capture with a Canon GL2. The reading rocked my internal imaginary. And in what became a packed house playing in the mind’s eye, there stood this cat who looked a lot like Lenny Bruce introducing Rich, Patti, mom and more. And, at the end of that experience, when the psychic house lights came up, several thousand people were clapping, then standing, then clapping some more. And they wouldn’t stop, not until the guy who looked a lot like Lenny Bruce looked stage right, where Rich had departed, and having the perfect pitch with an audience that Lenny Bruce had, the cat finally said, “that was real good Rich, what can you do for a encore?” And that anticipation brought the house down again.

    Back here in the real world now, sometimes looking at a beige wall and white ceiling to make sure everything I’ve said is exactly the truth, I feel the better for having read this piece, and I just realized I don’t have any higher praise than that. Thank you, Rich. This was inspiring work.

  28. Simon Smithson says:

    A beautiful tribute to both wonderful souls, Rich – and I love, love, love, that the two of those influences managed to find some synchronicity in your life.

    Let’s take a drive some day, listen to Patti Smith, and read all the signs along the way.

    • I look forward to that drive, Simon. We can play Count the Cows, the License Plate Game. And yes, we’ll read alllllllllll the billboards along the way, and listen to tons of Patti Smith. And Spoon, too. I’m totally digging on their new CD. Peace…

  29. Renee Thompson says:

    This was a beautiful essay, Rich. I understand completely what it is to have a hero, and just how much that hero’s art inspires and informs our lives. My own hero is Larry McMurtry. I remember well the day — the moment, in fact — that I understood, through McMurtry’s work, what it was to create characters our readers love. That you’ve included your mom in this mix is a wonderful thing — a gift of heart, and of art. Thanks so much for sharing.

  30. Erika Rae says:

    I love that I can hear you reading this. Singing the song of you out loud and proud. Beautiful. Just beautiful. I am envious of your relationship with your mother. I’ve longed for that for so long with mine.

    Also, were you asking Simon to spoon up there…or is that the name of a band? Either way, super sweet.

  31. Marni Grossman says:

    This was great. Your mom sounds fantastic. I mean, considering who you are, how could she not be?

    You’ve got to love Patti Smith for embracing her look and making it cool. Making it cool to be oneself.

  32. Rich, this is a brilliant tribute – an absolutely fantastically woven story. I love how words became your new prayer…

  33. penny arcade says:

    Rich

    Thanks for inviting me to read this. I enjoyed your journey and your relationship with your mom.
    You are a good writer. It was evocative of childhood. I recently said to someone in Berlin ,”I was a strange child” and they replied “All children are strange.” and I was shook awake because it is true. All children are strange because they are their own unique selves until they start trying to fit, hide or shelter
    or dilute their uniqueness to fit in.
    Whenever anyone tells me about their fascination or obsession with certain artists…when they tell me about how certain works of artists , including my own, moves them, or inspires them or opens them up
    I always say the same thing and now I will say it to you. “This great thing that you are experiencing when you experience someones work, a big part of it is what you are bringing to it.It is never just the work that has this powerful response in you …it is your essence that is connecting to that work that amplifies it.”

    Best wishes,
    penny arcade

  34. Ellyn Maybe says:

    Hello Rich, this is so incredibly beautiful and touching, i thoroughly loved meeting your mom many years ago and saw Patti Smith at the Hammer Museum at the end of January which was sooo inspiring.
    My mom and I are very close too and we thoroughly loved seeing Leonard Cohen together at the Nokia in April 2009. You are such a gifted writer and even better also a truly sweet person! 🙂
    Lots of love,
    ellyn

    • Hi Ellyn:

      It’s so fitting that you should read this post. Because practically every time I talk to my mom she asks about you. She so adores you as a poet and human being.

      Take good care…

  35. D.R. Haney says:

    When I last saw you, Rich — and, of course, time always passes slowly between our live encounters — you were talking about Patti Smith and your mom, so I’m delighted to see and read this post. You may possibly remember that I mentioned the recent Patti Smith documentary, Dream of Life, which I loved, though the love hasn’t been shared by some to whom I’ve recommended it. Still, here’s a clip to the trailer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpKZ2H7CC3s

    So many details I’d love to address in the post — for instance, the bit about your brother hitting you while you kept reading. Language as magic, words as incantation — how fitting to mention that in a piece about Patti Smith.

    Meantime, I remember, as a kid, seeing Patti on SNL a number of times. I remember a short film made by Gary Weiss in which she was wearing a neckbrace and she was heard to sing “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,” which shocked me, having been raised a Southern Baptist. And here’s something I rarely admit, but I will for you: I used to love James Taylor and Carly Simon as a kid. But how could one not? They, and so many like them, were omnipresent — and reglarly appeared on SNL, as a matter of fact.

    A final remark before I end this novella: I wish I could turn my mom — and my dad, too, for that matter — on to some of the stuff I like. The last time I tried was with Sonic Youth, I think. My mom, on the phone, said something like, “Well, what kind of music do you like these days?” and I played her a snatch of “Kool Thing.” Silence.

  36. Tony says:

    OK, just so you know, I’m sharing this with my writing class today as an excellent example of a creative and lovely personal essay. For all their vibrato, they just can’t let go and write, simply write. You know I love your words and can’t help but wonder if you shared this with your ma.

    • Hi Tony:

      Of course I shared this with my ma. Right now I’m at LAX, getting ready to head outta town for a few days. But just as I was about to go through security I got a call from mom. She’d just read the post, and was the happiest I’d heard in some time. I asked her if she’d read all the comments.

      Her response:

      “Of course, I did, Reeeechard. Now I feel like I should go out and sign autographs.”

      Yep. That’s my mom.

      I look forward to seeing you and your class very soon, my funk soul brutha.

  37. Kimberly says:

    Darling Rich,

    You are indeed a gateway drug. To so many things. True confession: To my knowledge, I’ve never heard Patti Smith. I’m gonna make myself a Pandora station right now and get back to you.

    xo
    k

    • Kimberly:

      Spark up that Pandora station right now and get a huge and heavy dose of Patti. I look forward to hearing back from you soon. Rage on…

      • Kimberly says:

        I find it reprehensible that I have never listened to the likes of Patti Smith. Considering her “radiomates” on Pandora are all ladies/bands I am so very, very fond of: Marianne Faithfull, The Pixies, The Velvet Underground, PJ Harvey, Blondie, The Pretenders, Lou Reed, Cat Power, Sixpence None the Richer, Cowboy Junkies, etc, etc, etc.

        Consider me converted.

  38. Brenna Fitzgerald says:

    Hey Rich,

    This is such a sweet story. I always love your details and images…especially this one:

    “How with every move, every lyric she was literally rearranging my DNA, giving it more fire, more heart, and helping to alter my life’s path.”

    Also, I immediately sent this piece to my Mom.

    Love those Moms…

    Peace,

    Brenna

  39. aleah says:

    Rich, this is beautifully written… I can feel what you must have been feeling writing it, which makes you a bit of a gateway into that wonderfully intangible high one gets when words sing. I relate neither to having a love for Patti nor motherly memories, but that’s not really the point… honest writing. Honest heart. You give clarity to what brings us… to poetry… not the words but the spaces between.

  40. Claudia says:

    Rich,

    I loved this. It felt very nostalgic to me about those artists in my own life, who left their impression on me at a very important young age. I think we can all remember that profound ‘heightened’ time of first discoveries which you eloquently captured. And then the tie in with your mother….Isn’t life just grand? Such a sweet story. Your words crackle with electricity my friend.

    Thank you for sharing this,

    Claudia

  41. I was supposed to see The Pretenders last year, on a bill with Neil Young.

    In the end I couldn’t go.

    Beautiful post.

  42. josie says:

    Sorry to be so late for the party but oh what a grand one it is! Never have you written anything so moving and compelling as this, Rich. Big kudos to your mom and Patti for all they did to help you grow into the magnificent poet/performer you are today. Job well done.

    As all really good stories do, you pulled me into a place in my own life where I could feel what you were saying. My mama passed when I was 5 but she was the one who planted the seeds for both my love of words and of music.

    I love being read to more than just about anything. Through the years friends have taped themselves reading books and sent them to me, or phoned me daily to leave chapters on my voicemail. But most times when I read, it’s her voice I still hear in my head.

    She used to call me her little Opry star, play guitar and try to teach me harmony. Maybe if I’d found a gateway drug like you found Patti I’d be on the stage today. But for now I settle for sharing in the art of words and music from friends.

    To which, I thank you much for sharing.
    xo

    • Ah, what wise and beautiful words, Josie. Thanks so much for chiming in. Also, I gotta say…that wonderful stone you gave to me. I carry it in my pocket every time I perform. Helps to keep me a little more on my game. Big love…

  43. josie says:

    Oh I’m so glad to hear that.
    Always wear in good health.
    Buckets of love to you, buddy.

  44. Jerome Dunn says:

    Rich,

    Big smile, and a punch from your brother,
    xo
    jtp

  45. Jerome Dunn says:

    triple p.s.
    I’ll take that check.

  46. chingpea says:

    Brilliant and beautiful, Rich…

  47. O what a deep deep breath through your beautiful timeline ALTER.
    …i feel the little boy in the man—and the man in the little boy.

    …i feel your openings
    your woman/man • child-heart…wondering • dreamgift—PS/mother/muse.

    I get it.
    I get it—in so much as I get that “hat”.
    that CAT-in-the-hat.

    bless you for your own stamp of inspired discovery.

    i am truly rocked.
    michele

  48. David McKinney says:

    Aye, that’s lovely. My mother read to me, the best thing a parent can do. After my Dad died, my Mom had heard Dave Alvin reading his poetry on KCRW and bought a book of his poetry. She didn’t know about the Blasters or X, bands in which Dave Alvin played guitar and I saw. She gave it to me and said read something. I told her to chose a number and I’ll read that page. The poem was about a woman whose father had died and she wanted to spread his ashes in some meaningful way. She and Dave carried them in a can to a beautiful place then knocked them over while making love. The woman cried because she wanted it to be special. Life is poetic sometimes and we don’t know it.

  49. Chris Hill says:

    Rich,

    Congrats. Very well developed piece. I have liked Patti since my sister played pissing in the river from Raidio Ethopia for me when i was 16… after i got done laughing at the name i was won over by the power of the song. Let hope the DIY days again return to the front of pop culture and move away from the horrid corporate crap ruling the airwaves and my daughters mind….

    • Hey Chris:

      Thanks for reading, my funk soul brutha. I’m honored. Right now, I’m in Florida visiting my dad, where pre-programmed lackluster music clogs the airwaves. So yes, let’s bring that DIY attitude back to music (and other forms of art in pop culture) in a big way. If for no other reason, we gotta unclog your daughter’s mind.

  50. Steve Cronin says:

    Rich, Great piece. Particularly loved
    ” Someone who with power of voice, power of presence, and power of intention helped to slay my doubts and fears; cut off that beast’s head and serve it up to the Gods of Raw, Savage, Sensual Expression.” and the description of the family car trip with the scent of pine in the hot summer air.
    It’s writing that puts my back in a ’65 Nash Rambler heading down to the shore. My only wish – more Norm!

  51. Mikey says:

    This is an incredible look at who you are man, was very pleased to read this. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at all at how great this turned out but such a good piece and good stories. So glad to have crossed paths in this _______ city and hope to see you around again soon! Peace and noise compa,

    Mikey

  52. bc says:

    rich…
    as beautiful as ever, and i hate to say it but it’s been way too long since i’ve read the eloquence of your heart-speak. thank you and hope we play together again real soon…
    love, bry

    • ah, bry:

      so great to hear from you, my friend. and yes, we need to play together soon. i just love your music, and your band. you guys certainly do make my heartstrings thrum and hum in a key that is most agreeable to me. peace…

  53. We only live up to those we came from came when we’re humble enough to admit it we wouldn’t be who we are without them. I judge the men I admire based on their willingness to reveal the feminine sources of their inspiration – and I don’t mean pining for them or howling about how “in love” they are. And since I consider willingness a distinctly feminine attribute, it follows that these men are more masculine in direct relation to their femininity. You have been judged, my friend. You fly above most men having written such a moving tribute to the women who gave you wings.

    I admire you a lot, Rich.

    And you made me miss my mother even more than I usually do, which is no small feat.

  54. Liz Foster says:

    Rich,
    You continue to enlighten, transport, intrigue your audience with your brilliant words. This tender glimpse makes you all the more real and true to yourself. Well done – as always. You have been a gateway drug for me – no kidding. I’d never been inspired to create and perform spoken word until I saw you perform it, feel it, and live it. When I saw you perform for the first time, I was effected. And in that moment, like a member of a rare band of poets passing a secret, you passed it on to me. Thank you for that.

    With great love and admiration
    Lizzy

    P.S. One note – having become a sappy folk artist myself, I take offense, and fully defend the likes of “James Taylor, Carly Simon, and other sappy folk artists” :0) (wink/spank)

    • Hi Liz:

      Thanks so much for your kind words. And likewise, you continue to be an inspiration to me as well. Your voice, your words, you as a person, you move so fluidly and gracefully through this world. I can’t wait to perform with you very soon. That’s when we’ll get a chance to celebrate the release of your new CD. And how cool is that?

      Also, I actually think that James Taylor and Carly Simon are pretty cool. At least, I enjoy them now more than I did when I was younger (is that something that simply just happens as one gets older?). I didn’t really mean them disrespect, I was simply trying to make a point as to where I was, and how I was as a teenager in Bumfuck, New Jersey, and how Patty really changed things for me, both musically, lyrically, poetically, you name it. Peace…

  55. zoebee says:

    I read this the day you posted it (but I was feeling shy and noncommental [new word!])

    Patti Smith is a righteous queen, as I’m sure your maman is too.

    Mothers who spawn eccentric, wonderful, freakish children are the best. xxx

  56. Jude says:

    Thanks to you and your post Rich, Zara has given me Just Kids for my birthday today. Sooo looking forward to immersing myself in her memoir.

  57. First off, Happy Birthday, Jude. Also, what a wonderful gift Zara has given you! I finished Just Kids this past week, and it was so, so insightful and satisfying on so many levels. I’m honored that I could take part in the process of you receiving such a wonderful gift. Be well…

  58. iris Berry says:

    Rich,

    Thank you for writing this. It’s beautiful and captivating and celebrating and sentimental all at once. The way you jump around, is not like jumping around at all… it moves smoothly and perfectly, unfolding in the way where all the pieces fit perfectly exactly as they are telling an important story.

    My life too, was changed by Patti Smith. I saw her perform poetry at the Fox Venice Theatre, (before it was a smart and final, or whatever it is now) with Lenny Kaye. And the next night I saw her perform with her band at the Hollywood Palladium. I had already been awakened by the sex pistols on TV, for a brief 10 minutes, but this was different. She got into my bloodstream, she got into my heart. I was never the same since then. And I am truly grateful, in the way, just as you explain in this piece, perhaps.

    I love how you and your mother can share Patti Smith. I love that you shared the stage with Patti Smith. I love that you wrote this piece. It covers so much and the line, “As for Patti, she’s fed me in ways too numerous and mystical to coherently list,” is stunning and I had to read it 5 times, not to get it, just to have it. It also, got in my bloodstream. Thank you.. I love it. Iris xoxo

    • Oh, Iris. How you move me. I’m truly honored that you read the piece, and commented in such a comprehensive and compassionate way. You’re the absolute best, and I feel truly blessed to know you, and to have you as part of the TNB family. Be well…

  59. […] 9. It’s decreed: the people rule. […]

  60. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Hey Rich,
    Thanks for inviting me to read this, and for putting the Patti Smith memoir on my pop culture radar. Cheers to you and your inspiring mama.
    Lisa

  61. Cesar Palacios says:

    Do you remember how Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man begins?

    “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo …”

    That was Joyce’s father reading to baby James. The beginning of your piece reminded me of that sentence; and it reminded me also of my own mother- reading to me those dark tales by the brother’s Grimm when i was a child.

    I sometimes skim the comments left by your readers to see if i can add something new. This time I have to agree with everyone else and simply say: Thank you for letting me read your post.

    I heard about Patti Smith just recently. I read the L.A. Times review of her memoir. Now, I am looking forward to reading it.

    Cesar

  62. […] kick-ass rock biographies, Lifetime movies, moms, Nigeria, […]

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