patti smith


Walking home from seeing Acid Mothers Temple play live in town last night I received a text from my partner about going to see Stewart Lee. 

"I know you like to do these things" she wrote.

She's referring to going to see live music and live stand up and she is correct. I do. One of the beautiful things about my partner, aside from the fact she goes to these things with me sometimes when she would rather not, is how she has made me much more analytical and critical of myself. I use those words with their most positive connotations intended. I spend time wondering why I love live music, live stand up etc. It is hard to put into words. It's very much an emotional thing and goes beyond the shared communal aspect. I like that aspect but there's more to it. 

Walking Bailey this evening I listened to the latest in the always compelling podcast series from the New York Public Library. On this episode, Patti Smith talks about her new book and discusses the connection she has with graves of artists she admires as well as their notebooks, their artefacts etc. This is something I share with Patti. I like being near the graves of loved ones and artists I admire. I like museums, particularly tactile ones where an artist's life is on display and can be grasped and smelled and soaked up. 

This is something I've struggled to really put into words but Patti nailed it for me in the podcast. She says for her, it's the proximity. That's what it is. It sounds ridiculous and pretentious and that is largely because it is so difficult to put into words but proximity matters to me. It gives meaning to things that a digital engagement cannot. 

I like first editions. When my partner asked me why I couldn't answer. For a while I wondered if it was just snobbery. But it is the proximity, I think. It's not the proximity to the author, but the moment. I feel, at risk sounding horrifically sentimental and yes pretentious again, that the proximity of the artefact to the moment somehow causes transference so that when I fall for something I fall deep and gain some connection to the moment it was created. Like I said, sentimental, nostalgic and pretentious.

It's why I like old records, as well as old books.

It's why I chose to see Patti Smith and her group perform Horses in its entirety earlier this year. It was a no-brainer and wouldn't matter who else was on another stage at the same time. To be close to the woman who wrote that record as she sings that record (with Lenny Kaye playing alongside her of course) meant proximity to what I believe is greatness. I can't wait to read M Train, in hardback, Patti's follow-up to the astounding Just Kids. 

I also think it's why I like podcasts but simultaneously why I can only listen to them through headphones. The intimacy of the voices is vital and when they escape speakers into the air it's not the same and I can't focus and concentrate and take it all in. I like the proximity of the voices. 

Writing this has made me realise even more how much I miss my partner. Our long distance relationship is necessary for now and we both lead excellent, fulfilling lives but I miss the proximity. Because, when I'm in her proximity it all makes sense and the deepest connection I've ever had is renewed in its tactile intimacy. It is a tactile intimacy which surpasses all things digital and all the idiocy I conjure in my head.