As much as I look forward to the reading, I think I’d rather listen to Patti Smith read Ginsberg than just about anyone else but Ginsberg. That spittle at 2:50 is, I think, one of the most moving moments in the history of punk performance. A post from last year that rounds up our Patti-related content on this site (and a little bit elsewhere as well).
For fun, last year, I also compiled a video playlist that traced the interlinking histories of Beats, 60s downtowners, and 70s punks, and we linked to another site with some great photos from the scene back in the day.
Last night we planned to see the new Woody Allen film (though they never bill them as the new Woody Allen films these days). Patti Smith: Dream of Life is an impressionistic film, dreamlike (as the title would suggest), alternating between candid moments and short, tightly composed sequences rather than offering a traditional documentary narrative. The movie, which involved over 10 years of filming,  has only the barest hint of chronology, and even then it relies on you to recognize her kids as teenagers and then as early 20-somethings, as it toggles back and forth through those ten years. The other pattern is weirder, and is what I think really makes the film: The woman loves graveyards. Over the years we’ve tinkered here and there with our syllabus for Writing New York, trying to fix little problems that have plagued us along the way.
The other thing there, of course, is a whole set of inroads into Downtown cultural history in the late-60s.
Per tradition, the poet Bob Holman will lead a group reading of Howl with a cast of friends and fellow poets. The line up of poets lending their voices to bringing Howl to life this year (in no particular order) include: Darian Dauchan, Alice Whitwham, Nicole Wallace, Curtis Jensen, Julie Patton, Fay Chiang, Miguel Algarin, Andy Clausen, Eliot Katz, Bob Rosenthal, David Henderson, John Giorno, Hettie Jones, Steven Taylor, Ed Sanders, sick prose, Elisabeth Velasquez, Helena D.


Our students have a couple preview chapters to make their way through this week and may come out knowing more than they ever wanted to about CBGB arcana. Turns out we had the dates wrong and it doesn’t open until Friday, so we caught a quick cab down the street to Film Forum where the Patti Smith movie (mentioned here earlier by Cyrus) was already a few minutes in progress. We get a sprinkling of early footage, lots of photos from the 1970s, some memories of CBGB and the Chelsea Hotel, but this isn’t an account of her rise to stardom so much as a portrait of her return from retirement. But it’s rarer to find someone who carries on the practice today to the extent Smith does. It’s not a concert film, and some of the music will be unfamiliar to those (again, like me) less familiar with her recent work than with her classic recordings.
How to prepare them in advance — beyond simply asking them to listen to a record many of them have never listened to before? On the PWHNY side of the fence, I once posted an entire Rolling Stone interview from 1978 in which she talks extensively about her use of the N-word and her understanding of cross-racial solidarity in the experience of dissent and alientation. When Sonic died in 1994, she decided to return to New York and to performing, her kids in tow, and she hasn’t stopped since.
First, she announces that she’s sequestered herself in a corner of her bedroom until the film is finished. In our jaded, 21c world, it seems a little ridiculous: identifying as a Poet (black hood and cloak and all), taking appreciative rubbings of headstones, scribbling in notebooks everywhere you go, never getting tired of William Blake. Like many titles in this brilliantly conceived series, Harvard’s volume is part personal essay, part criticism, part history.
I mentioned some selections from the CBGB jukebox, along with some of Television and Patti’s rival bands.


But Smith comes to figure, in the film, as an alternative not simply to contemporaries like George W. Plus it will take them through the album track by track once it provides adequate background. Little idiosyncrasies, unique mannerisms you find attractive in little Junior — here, their source is laid bare, revealed as hereditary after just a few minutes with Mom and Pop.
Bush (whom she indicts in high style late in the film) but to those members of her generation who gave birth to postmodernism as well.
It should work well for us, I think, because it both contextualizes the Velvets in the world of the late-60s East Side scene and demonstrates how just about everything that followed, in terms of rock and roll at least, was authorized by the Velvets.
Listening to the Velvet Underground I could hear bits and pieces of the aural landscape of my favorite records, elements of much-beloved bands who inhabited my world.
She comes off not simply as the last great Romantic but as someone who advocates Romanticism as a way of life — as a way through life. I’m sure Cyrus and I will both have plenty to post leading up to the June release date for both our volumes.
As much as the film relies on graveyard scenes, we find these visits (and her reflections on fallen friends) giving her the strength to survive her husband.



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