Patti Smith gently rocked the Getty Center Saturday, April 30, performing two acoustic shows in honor of her "life-long friend" Robert Mapplethorpe, whose poignant artworks and photographs are on exhibit there and at LACMA through July 31.
Using poetry, song, reminiscence and readings from her National Book Award-winning Just Kids, Smith took those lucky enough to have acquired tickets to this event on a journey through her and Mapplethorpe's life together from the time they met in 1969 - penniless, guileless and both strikingly handsome - to Mapplethorpe's death from AIDS in 1989.
Warning that "memory is like cubism," she spun their entwined tale and revealed how the duo had a remarkable penchant for letting fate guide them to the right place at the right time and for getting out of their own way in service of their creativity and their work.
Wearing an ear-to-ear smile and her uniform of black combat boots and jacket (at one time she wore only Ann Demeulemeester), Smith began by reading a poem that she wrote for Mapplethorpe's memorial booklet. As photographs of and by Mapplethorpe were projected on the wall at the back of the stage, Smith described their journey.
Against the backdrop of a photograph of the "kids" in Coney Island on Sept. 1, 1969 -- Smith in rolled up white pants and a black bandana around her forehead and Mapplethorpe, dapper in a black hat and a white bandana around his neck - she set off on a trip through their starving young artist days, during which she cooked them lettuce soup - basically just lettuce and bouillon cubes - while they listened to Tim Buckley and Tim Hardin.
"We had a great way to weather all kinds of personal storms," she explained, adding that though their romance was physical, too, it was essentially "work-based," its foundation being their "common belief in one another" and the key to their long friendship. Smith revealed that her friend was funny, mischievous and liked to laugh and that he was "smitten" with photography, long before it became a respected art "like painting and sculpture."
Her readings from the book and her other memories were punctuated with song - she sang some of her most well-known numbers like Dancing Barefoot and Because the Night, her one hit song (written with Springsteen.) She sang the very moving Paths that Cross, which she wrote for Mapplethorpe after his lover, mentor and benefactor, Sam Wagstaff, died of AIDS in 1987. Smith was accompanied on guitar or piano by her long time collaborator Tony Shanahan.
When Rani Singh of the Getty Research Institute introduced Smith at the 4PM show, she enumerated her many creative attributes - poet, author, singer - and even created a new one calling her a "songer," which she quickly corrected to songwriter but which foreshadowed the singer's own talent for making up words. I found it especially fascinating that Smith kept referring to Mapplethorpe's early pen and ink, complicated yet delicate drawings, as "drawlings," definitely adding an "l" to the word. Was this intentional, a reference to Mapplethorpe's own "drawl?" Smith used this word to describe how, towards the end of his life, Mapplethorpe had sardonically drawled "where's the dance song?" when she and her husband, musician Fred "Sonic" Smith visited him in New York and she sang him Wild Leaves, which she had written for him.
"He always wanted me to have a hit," she fondly remembered.