Patti Smith & Lenny Kaye celebrating the 40th Anniversary of their 1st Poetry Project performance

Thank you to all of you came out to The Poetry Project the night of February 9th to hear Patti Smith with Lenny Kaye and Janet Hamill. It was a magical evening! And it was a benefit for The Poetry Project. All proceeds fund the presentation of more outstanding literary events. Below is Anne Waldman’s glorious introduction for Patti and Lenny.

(c) photo by Todd Colby

Introduction by Anne Waldman for Patti Smith & Lenny Kaye at the Poetry Project at St Mark’s, Feb 9, 2011

This event honors the historical debut reading at The Poetry Project at St Marks Church In-the-Bowery by Patti Smith, accompanied by Lenny Kaye on guitar. If nothing else I will go down in history as the 25 year old girl Director of the Poetry Project who introduced Patti at her first reading and performance, and her debut with Lenny. And Gerard Malanga was on this stage too. It was Feb 10, 1971 and as Patti reminded us back then: the birth date of Bertolt Brecht. It’s Feb 9 and the closest I could come up with is Amy Lowell and Smokey Robinson, not bad company and actually an interesting hybrid. Forty years ago… How much consociational history we all have shared in this great swathe of radial belletristic and radical “musicalogic” time. A magic time as well in these progressive streets, and in what we were making, and what this Poetry Church, as Allen Ginsberg so fondly called it, was providing us with. A temporary autonomous zone that continues to this day outside academic institutional mainstreams, that keep its ethos of open form, of projective verse, of improvisation and investigation and curiosity and inquiry, and of brilliant poetry and song, and gives newcomers a chance and sometimes they make it to the big time. And some who do don’t forget their roots, and keep their humility and grace and generosity as these two artists so marvelously do.

Lenny Kaye – musician, writer producer – is a living legend and has been making music these many moons since his early days, and his first gig with the Vandals at a Rutgers fraternity in 1964. A New Yorker by birth, growing up in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, Lenny has been karmically linked with Patti these many years as her guitarist, from the times when he produced her debut single “Hey Joe/Piss Factory”. He has a key role in the four Arista albums “Horses”, “Radio Ethiopia”, “Easter” and “Wave”. He kept working on many projects including his own writing after 1979 when the Band broke up, and reunited with Patti in 1995. He has been key and an inspiration all the performances and productions since: It’s a combo made in heaven.

And he’s also worked in the studio and played with artists such as Suzanne Vega, Soul Asylum and our own beloved Jim Carroll who worked here at the Poetry Project in the earliest days, sneaking coins out of the donation plate, teaching a workshop and befriending Patti.

Lenny is a terrific writer as well and co-authored Waylon: The Story of Waylon Jennings. He also edited the 60s garage-rock anthology Nuggets and wrote the bookYou Call It Madness: The Sensuous Croon, an impressionistic study of the romantic singers of the 1930s.

He has a beautifully honed, weathered, powerful sinewy sound. Subtle and sensitive, and because he is a word worker as well, there’s great magic of reciprocity in the collaboration. He can listen, he can respond.

I always enjoy seeing Lenny, watching and listening to him play, or just out on the street, and here at The Project on New Year’s Day. His warmth and intelligence radiates. He’s extremely knowledgeable yet unpretentious. A history scholar as well.

Always a nod of recognition, of witness, of mutual respect. In an interview Lenny speaks of rock being a “youth-driven medium” but then saying he also believes “it is like the blues in that you only know how to play when you’ve been doing it over 25 years”. It’s that sustained commitment and practice that sparks his work -the long vow to his art that deepens and soars as it goes.

I love Patti Smith. All the conglomerations of tendencies that make up the person the artist the rock star the memoirist the mom the neighbor. Patti Smith with her polyvalent gifts and talents, and shyness. She is one of my girlfriend heroes for her powerful and memorable lyrics her kinetic performance, her inestimable wit, her innate down home no nonsense wisdom about flossing teeth or council about hair dye! She is a local treasure and National Treasure and a National Book Award Treasure and a Best Seller Treasure and A Hall of Fame treasure and an international beyond measure Treasure as she is newly minted Commander of the Ordre des Artes et Des Lettres in France Treasure, and all this brings immense pleasure….to us. She is unique and she one of us. Congratulations to Patti for all these high achievements, may you be honored forever in the Blakean-Rimbaud cosmos.

I love her big mind as they say in Buddhism, her sense as she says that progress isn’t the future it’s keeping up with the present. That she’s synchronized in the present, that it enters the work, the consciousness of what she desires and what she aspires to. Which she does heartily and with gusto. I love her courage, her politics, her poetry, the depths and range of her deep priestess-rocker voice. I hope I hear it in the Bardo. I love that she extends the horizon to include others. I love that she is awake to Somalia, that Somalia is included in her expansive heart:

I don’t know why I feel this way today
The sky is blue the table is laid
The trees are heavy with yellow fruit
And in their shade children happily play

The pears have fallen to the ground
My child places one in my hand
The sun is warm upon my face
And I dream of a burning land

Mother of famine take this pear
Upon an arrow through the rings of time
This small fruit this golden prayer
May it pass from this hand to thine

If I were rain I’d rain on Somalia
If I were grain for Somalia I’d grow
If I were bread I would rise for Somalia
If I were a river for Somalia I’d flow

And this luminous line also sticks in my mind:“weeping yarn from Algiers”

I love that she was singing “Power to the People” and keeping the pressure on all those Bush years not just hiding out in some lotus land god realm of fame and denial.

Reading Just Kids– and you can’t stop it is so deliciously compelling – is a magical sometimes heartbreaking journey, somewhat like a tale by the French novelist Honore de Balzac – a chronicler of his own time – in scope. A tale like Lost Illusions which is the classic story of the young artists coming to the big city to seek their fame and fortune. Her psychological insights into the complexity and person and art of Robert Mapplethorpe are riveting, their early time together before they became stars makes you weep. Fixing up their digs, cooking their skimpy modest meals… Their aspiration and their love for one another is searing It is a testimony to the beauties and frailties and power and heartbreak of friendship, and of facing death and loss. Just Kids is panoramic and exquisitely luminous in detail. Look to the little one, the minute particulars, Blake instructs us and this writer does. Kaleidoscopic and beautifully written, deeply moving, honest and visionary. It’s a compendium of the lore of some of the amazing denizens of the Chelsea Hotel beyond as well- a world that includes those we treasure in our legacy. William Burroughs, Allen, Harry Smith, Jim Carroll, Gregory Corso. A pantheon that haunts these premises and my own psyche.

Patti is a daughter of the Beats in public space and of this downtown Poetry-Art culture that raised some of us, nurtured as, that took her in when she needed it to. Patti raised the stakes of what you can do in public space higher and higher and. And now I think she sees herself – with the publication of this extraordinary memoir – that she is also a great storyteller and chronicler of these powerful times as she gathers up tenderly all the shards of this realm and takes these wild and imaginative and “best minds” within her ken with gentleness and love. With Just Kids she does help move the Culture forward – to know itself and understand itself and have some sympathy for itself and shows a way forward as well out of blame out of gulag out of torture, fear, repression. It shows how to be human and creative and feel empathy and sympathy and love for your people – all the lovers in the dream -and your own fleeting, yet highly palpable and beating time. And as Blake says, and Patti seems to concur: for everything that lives is holy. Patti has tracked and metabolized the desires and aspirations of several generation of seekers through her example, through her imagination and thru her fascinating migration through this windblown world.

Welcome and kudos Patti Smith, we bow to you and your perspicuity and genius and tender heart.