Sunday, January 30, 2011

Last week, thanks to a tip-off from Dawn Right Nasty, Owen and I went along to The Royal Geographical Society - excuse me people - to see and hear Patti Smith in conversation about her award-winning memoir JUST KIDS. The interview was under the auspices of Intelligence Squared.

It's always a shock that a woman who can be so larger-than-life and dangerous on stage is such a chatty, unassuming person off it! She greeted us with a smiley "Hey everybody" with a wave and the onstage chat commenced.

Sadly Patti wasn't talking to herself, she was being interviewed by the writer Geoff Dyer and it didn't take too long before our eyes were rolling and we looked at each other with a weary air of "Here we go again".Once again - as with last year's South Bank onstage interviews between John Waters and Philip Hoare and Stephen Sondheim with Jude Kelly - the interviewer tried to make the chat as much about them as about the subject, with Dyer yakking away during his opening question while Patti smiled and looked about her.

He then started asking her a question that rambled on and on about her visit to London during the punk rock years which he finally told her was based on his reading of Victor Bockris' biography of her. Oooops. Patti interrupted him to say that the book was a pack of lies, that anyone who loved her had nothing to do with it and that she detested it.

"Be that as it may" says Dyer, "he tells a story where...." and preceded to chase his anecdote down to the wire despite Patti disputing it at every development of the plot. It was blatantly obvious that for all his blathering about being a big fan he had no other question he could go to.
However Patti has been at the rodeo for quite a few years now so all of his waffling - as well as the usual inane questions asked from the floor - were met with amused good grace and I felt that Patti was answering the question she wanted to hear!

She was as always winning and likable, with just the right amount of American gaucheness and spoke with obvious love about those close to her and of course Robert Mapplethorpe, the subject of her memoir.

She also happily celebrated the fact that it was Virginia Woolf's birthday when Dyer brought up the subject of her performing a work at Charleston a few years ago that was inspired by "The Waves". She spoke very eloquently about Woolf's writing and I wondered if she knew we were only a couple of blocks from Hyde Park Gardens where she had been born in 1882.

JUST KIDS won the US National Book Award for Non-Fiction and here is her emotional acceptance speech:

2010 National Book Awards Presentation of the Nonfiction Award from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

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