When Patti Smith was growing up, her mother handed her a copy of Another Side of Bob Dylan, and it may well have represented a zenith of fate and discovery that Graham Greene was referring to when he wrote: “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” However, despite her love of music, it wasn’t her first chosen vehicle of expression.
To begin with, music for Patti Smith was just a shortcut to wistful reverie rather than a dreamy aspiration. She had fallen in love with the poet Arthur Rimbaud who died 55 years before she was even born, so a second obsession proved rather healthy. As she said herself: “Rimbaud was like my boyfriend. If you’re fifteen or sixteen and you can’t get the boy you want, and you have to daydream about him all the time, what’s the difference if he’s a dead poet or a senior? At least with Bob Dylan, it was a relief to daydream about somebody who was alive.”
Thereafter, her love of music was crystalised in her character as literature had been before it. When Patti Smith moved to Manhattan in 1967, she remained on the fringe of the music scene, operating mainly as a poet and artist. Poetry has never been a reliable engine of income, and Smith needed to sustain herself in the Big Apple, so she lent her words and passion to the Ronseal of music mags named simply Rock Magazine.
Rock Magazine was in direct competition with a new editorial on the block by the name of Rolling Stone. Thus, when they secured the scoop of an interview with Eric Clapton, it was a chance to get their noses in front. The Cream guitarist was hot property at the time as the head of a supergroup and dubbed by many publications as the greatest guitarist around prior to Jimi Hendrix’s ensuing opus.
Patti Smith went along to the interview, sat down afore the esteemed Brit and boldly asked one simple question: “What are your six favourite colours.” With that went her journalism career. The piece never made it to print, so there is no knowing whether he did indeed list off his chosen sextet palette.
Some reports state that Smith simply fled the interview in embarrassment, others that Clapton suffered an onset of emotions from dumbfounded through to outraged and all shades of perplexed in between. What is known, is that Smith decided she was too beguiled by the music scene to be a critic for too long, and, after the interview, she decided the door was closed for good on her days of journalism.
Since then, the story has faded somewhat into obscurity as neither Smith nor Clapton have commented all that much on each other, perhaps because they sit on separate sides of the musical coin in many ways. As her fellow CBGB cohort and friend Joey Ramone once said: “Play before you get good, because, by the time you get good, you’re too old to play.”