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Ask The Angels

Publication Date: January 19, 2010

Dear Friends of my blog: It has been my great pleasure and privilege to work with Patti Smith on her memoir of her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. I was fifteen years old when I wandered into Cutler’s record store and was captivated by a record cover like none I had ever seen: a woman in a white shirt, suspenders, a jacket tossed over her shoulder, slim hips, and her stare defiant and cool. Horses. I had to have it. From the first line, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,” I was blown away and I was smitten. As many say of that record, it changed my life.

Just Kids is about two poor kids, outcasts, who met by chance and became lovers, then friends, and remained soul mates throughout their lives. Their story is the embodiment of a dream of how two artists provided each other with encouragement, ballast, inspiration, and love. Just Kids is a love story, an elegy, and a prelude to fame. The background is NYC in the Seventies: Max’s Kansas City, Coney Island, Horn & Hardart, Warhol’s Factory, CBGB, Scribners, 42nd Street, and of course the infamous Hotel Chelsea.

I hope you’ll get to read it. And tell me any Patti stories if you have them. Or about your own creative soul mates. Your sustenance.

23 Responses

  1. Holy shit… Nice job Betsy.

  2. While I was away recently, Betsy, I read that you worked with Lucy Grealy on her Autobiography of a Face. I was impressed by this news, assuming it’s true and now to read you’ve worked with Patti Smith on her memoir. Wow is all I can say.

    I loved Lucy Grealy’s book. It suggests to me that you are one fine editor and now agent, whatever.

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for just a week now, jotting down notes to post, and then today there’s this one.

    Just yesterday I was rereading some notes I typed up from a 1996 interview she gave David Fricke in Rolling Stone, and what she said echoes very much your own reaction to her first album:

    When “Like a Rolling Stone” came out, it was so overwhelming that nobody went to class. I didn’t now what Dylan was talking about in the song. But it didn’t matter. It needed no translation. It just made you feel like you weren’t alone – that someone was speaking your language.

    I aspired to that. In a grateful way. “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Blonde on Blonde,” “Electric Ladyland” – I waited for those records, pored over them. So when we did “Horses,” I was really conscious of that responsibility.

  4. Of course I’m getting it– I’m 53 and I think I have finally reached the point in my life where I can be in the same room with Patti Smith’s book and not feel like I have to apologise for being so uncool.

    I bought Horses. I wanted to like it. I really, really wanted to like it. I slunk back to my Doobie Brothers albums and then, when Michael McDonald joined the band, I wrote him the only rock star fan letter I’ve ever written.

    I apologise for being so uncool.

    • Try cranking up Feats Don’t Fail Me Now in a roomful of Rimbaud-besotted girls who keep slipping Horses back on the turntable when you go to the bathroom … talk about uncool.

  5. Congratulations Betsy. I know you’ve been excited about this project for years. Can’t wait to read it

  6. Congratulations. From your projects I’d say you have a pitch perfect picker. Will read Just Kids for sure.

    As for me.

    Discovered Mapplethorpe at CalArts—grad school—and met my Mapplethorpe, an angelic, swishy, taller than God pantheistic mind taken hold of a Mid-western Lincolnesque body. Writer, artist, social commentator, Mark Niblock-Smith died of Aids in the early ‘90s and I miss him every day. He’s the only person who was ever truly proud of me and let me know it. That is friendship forever and a day, amen.

  7. The 60s and 70s were rich with song that influenced all of us. I think we all have a music/song story in us, one that holds a memory, shaped us, reflected us. Contemporary music had such a way of reaching people then. There seemed to be more of an art to it than there is now.

  8. I Just heard an interview with Patti Smith last week (2 weeks ago?) and she was out of this world. Here’s what I’ll never forget: her version of “Because the night” from the 70s. I’ve always been a big Bruce Springsteen fan, but hers is the hands-down best ever. I love her for that. Also, she was a female rocker before just about anyone else. When rock and roll was so sexist, guess what? There was Patti Smith.

  9. I didn’t get her when “Horses” came out, but I was a rube. I still am, but an older one. So I get her. The documentary on PBS last week was thoroughly enjoyable. Somebody to learn from and savor.

    Bonne chance.

  10. Awesome. I will definitely read this book.

  11. I cultivated androgyny when I started college, and PS (along with David Bowie) was definitely a stylistic influence. I’m not as well acquainted with her music as I should be, but Because the Night makes me swoon, and I’m sure it always will.

  12. Just pre-ordered–and can’t wait!

  13. “Horses” is amazing.

    I was a Jersey girl who used to ride the path train from Hoboken (where I moved after college) into NYC each Saturday morning, on my way to the St. Mark’s Place Poetry Project workshops held in the St. Mark’s Church basement.

    There was always a buzz amongst the poets about how Patti Smith was part of St. Mark’s, that she’d given her first reading there, etc. and etc. A person couldn’t help but feel cool by association.

    It was wild to be gathering at one of Patti’s old haunts, esp. those of us who were, ourselves, middle-class Jersey girls clutching our poetry and riding our dreams into the Big City.

    Afterwards, I took a route through the city that led me past Marianne Moore’s home on 35 West 9th Street.

    (Love your blog, love your books!)

  14. OMG. I should have known something was cooking. Patti is certainly my favourite guardian of ghosts, and Mapplethorpe one of her sweetest. I’m looking forward to reading the book. When I was a kid, I found the nature of their bond hard to believe, but now that I have developed something similar myself, I am grateful to her for sharing this story with us, and to you for helping her shape it.

  15. Dancing around my bedroom to “Because the Night”, wearing huge, ridiculous, puffy headphones with a tangled curly cord while my dad yelled “What are you doing up there?” It made me feel cool. I wasn’t. Patti’s voice is the essence of cool.

  16. Patti Smith has been a huge influence on me as a writer, since I fell in love with Horses and the way she merged rock with poetry. As soon as I heard this book had come out I knew it would be amazing, the idea of her writing her own memoir- I knew it would be more then a memoir, it would also be art. I’m currently on page 178 and completely in love with it- and I only just checked her thanks page and saw that you are her agent! To me it seems like the absolute perfect marriage…

    So I’m just trying to say thank you, this is the book I’ve always wanted to read.

    My own personal story to go with Horses, riding in a car with a friend in Maine at night, and the car was climbing up the hill as Birdland played on her radio- and we climbed up and the stars streamed by and she cried up in the chorus…and later trying to capture the experience of it in a poem. (this was..8 years ago?)

    And then there was this morning, when I was reading the book on the train, and the train rocked and the book flew out of my hands up in the air and landed in someone else’s lap…

  17. I was in love with both Ivan Kral and Patti Smith when I was fifteen. When my three best girlfriends decided to make me odd girl out, after my Sweet Sixteen party, I sat in the closet and read Babel and wrote death poetry.

    Soon, though, I found pen pals from the back of Rock Scene magazine. I wrote a letter to Ivan Kral. I loved him so much, and all I could write to him about was whether to copyright my songs. But he wrote back—about copyrights.

    Patti was my first girl crush, and Ivan was just one of a long line of man crushes. But I still have his letters.

  18. Oh, man, Patti!

    I’d met Lenny Kaye years before, when I was a teenager; he and my sister worked at Changes together, in the sixties. Come 1976, I’d already move out to NorCal long before, but in 1976, I put out a couple of issues of a fanzine called Spirits in the Nights, and Igot to renew old acquaintance.

    I agree with Leslie Miller, Ivan Kral has to be one the sweetest people on earth. He and his SO, Lynette Bean, were warm, welcoming, and without any pretentious BS anywhere. The people who worked at Patti’s management office were just as nice. And stopping en route from San Francisco to London, I got to see the New Years Eve show at CBGBs.

    I also write books about music (fiction, although with a lot from my own experiences), and I’m loving this one. Thank you!

  19. NPR has a nice page on the book, including an excerpt and a seven-minute talk with Patti, here:


  20. I was entranced when I saw that album cover, too. And then I listened.

    “Land” is the one that really gets me. Especially the part about the angel looks down at johnny in his sperm coffin and says, hey prettyboy can’t you show me nothing but surrender.

    God. That song still blows me away.

    I failed to see her before she retired, but then she came back, and I went to an Indigo Girls concert at Red Rocks about ten years ago to see her. Most of the crowd ignored her, and my stupid gayboy friends sneered. Idiots. So many people strayed away, I was able to go right to the front and watch her close up. She was magical. She looked a little possessed up there, channeling something powerful. The Indigo Girls were OK.

    I can’t wait to read the book.

  21. I don’t do reviews, they are book reports and here’s one for “Just Kids”:


  22. […] e tagliente sull’industria editoriale americana. Grande fan dichiarata di Patti Smith, ha annunciato qualche giorno fa ufficialmente la realizzazione di un progetto che doveva essere in cantiere da un po’. […]

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