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Patti Smith on how Jim Morrison changed her life

It goes without saying, Patti Smith is one of the true greats. Such is her undoubted stamp on the history of popular culture, it would be a struggle to find any music fan in their right mind who has nothing but the utmost regard for The Godmother of Punk.

Few people have enjoyed the kind of dynamic career that Smith has experienced so far; she has seen the good and the bad that the world has to offer and emerged smiling. Not everybody comes out smelling of roses from troubling circumstances, however, and Jim Morrison, the enigmatic leader of The Doors, offers the prime example of a rock ‘n’ roll tragedy.

During a Q&A on CBS some years ago, Smith answered a series of questions from a selection of her most loyal supporters. One topic in particular, however, provoked the most personal response. Smith was asked about a passage in her book which touched on her emotions of witnessing The Doors live act for the first time; a moment described as a life-affirming occurrence. Jim Morrison’s performance was so full of imperfections that it was complete to Smith, who, at that moment, had been instilled with the belief that she too could be a singer just like him. From that day on in Smith’s life, something changed in her mind, and she no longer had the struggles of self-doubt. 

“I was also a little embarrassed that I thought that,” Smith said as she added context about the effect of the show. “It’s not that I wasn’t inspired. I just felt this strange kinship. I was just a girl from South Jersey working in a bookstore. I don’t know why I thought that,” she reflected.

Smith then started waxing lyrical about her admiration for Morrison, adding: “Jim Morrison was one of our great poets and unique performers. His body of work will always endure.”

“I had a few times in my life when it never occurred to me to perform or to be a rock ‘n’ roll singer. I had a strange sense of something that I still can’t explain,” Smith says about that night that changed her life. 

The punk icon then explained how, on one occasion, their paths crossed, which she loosely remembers being around 1970 and, by this time, she had started to follow her dream to be a singer. Still, Smith was yet to make more than baby steps towards her goal and, in truth, was just another skint dreamer living in the Big Apple.

Smith remembered how she used to attend press parties that bands would hold, as it was always loaded with food and she couldn’t turn down the opportunity of packing up her bag with as much as she could get away with stealing. “The Doors party was really cool because you had these long tables with all the food, then you went into the party,” she said. “So, I had this bag, and I’m getting food for me and Robert (Mapplethorpe), I’m getting fruit and bread, all this stuff.

“Then I hear this voice go, ‘The hamburgers are really good too’, then I look and way at the end sitting all by himself was Jim Morrison. I was caught, so I just went over and grabbed a hamburger then said, ‘Thank you’. He nodded, and that was it,” she gleefully recalled.

Not only did Morrison help make Smith believe that she could be anything she wanted to be, but most importantly, they also shared a bond built on an appreciation of hamburgers and free food. While Morrison’s career was cut short following his death in 1971, the way he carried himself inspired an endless amount of others. Although he never lived to see Patti Smith storm the stage, I’d wager every ounce of my being that he’d like what he saw.