Patti Smith has always had a reputation for saying exactly what she thinks. The American punk-poet laureate emerged from New York City’s downtown new wave and punk scene in the mid-1970s, quickly establishing herself as one of the most influential figures of that pioneering underground world.
After working on a factory assembly line on arrival to New York, she took to performing spoken word poetry in small clubs and venues, later forming the Patti Smith Group. While her relationship with Television’s Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith forced her to put her singing career on hold, after his death, she made an astounding return – publishing a number of immensely successful books and poetry collections and touring the world on a seemingly incessant basis.
She is an essential part of New York and, indeed America’s, complex musical DNA. Not only did she help introduce the world to punk, but she also toured with Bob Dylan on his Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, a carnivalesque, self-generating musical road trip unlike any the world had seen until that point.
It is her relationship with many of the country’s most enigmatic characters that makes her such a mesmerising storyteller. She seems to have a tall tale about practically everybody of any note. So, when Smith joined Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, the host was quick to ask her about her career-spanning relationship with Dylan, hoping to get another juicy tale from one of America’s greatest musicians and writers.
“This is you and Bob Dylan in New York City,” Fallon begins holding up a black and white photo of the pair standing outside a dressing room. “Is this the first time you met do you remember?” “No it was maybe the first night,” Smith replies. “He actually came to see our band when we were, you know, making some headway in New York City – I guess around 1974. And then he came backstage and, back in those days, Bob was scarcely seen. And I loved him so much and he came in the room and he says: ‘Hey are there any poets in here?’ And I said, ‘I hate poetry!’ I acted like such a jerk. I don’t know what came over me. Like Sixteen Candles, when you like the boy but you don’t want the boy to know you like them.”
Smith was convinced that she’d screwed things with Dylan. But, as she went on to recall, the singer-songwriter wasn’t one to take offence easily. When the pair bumped into each other shortly after their first meeting, Smith noticed that he was holding a copy of a newspaper with a picture of them together taken the night of the gig. “I looked at it (the newspaper) and said ‘you’re not mad?’, and he just laughed and said ‘no’, and that was that”.
Check out the full interview below.