As you may have heard by now, Patti Smith—poet, activist, and rock 'n roll star—won the National Book Award last night, for Just Kids, her memoir of life with artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 1960s. Clearly she's come a long way as a writer since I solicited, edited and published what I believe was her first piece for a national magazine back in June 1975, when I was senior editor at the legendary Crawdaddy.
Patti had just started recording with Lenny Kaye and her original band but her first album, Horses, would not be released until the end of that year. But I'd followed her work for several years and felt certain she was about to break through.
The article—I still have the original manuscript and a snapshot she gave me over coffee in a shop that used to exist just below our office at 13th Street and Fifth Avenue (which we later turned over to The Nation)—was titled "Flying Saucers Rock and Roll." It recalled her childhood in New Jersey and then the move to New York City where she experienced Jimi Hendrix, and met Mapplethorpe in 1967.
You can read most of it here. One passage, more evocative than ever given the period covered in her (now) award-winning book:
Destiny plagued me. I never slept, I laid, and watched the night unravel like the future. Music crystallized like snowflakes; gradually the entire storm. Guitar necks sticking out of the ground like bayonets. The war between sounds. Alexander coming to conquer with a fender and a saucer. I knew it was coming and I wanted to be in on it. I knew it came and went and I wasn't in on it.
I was at this party. All I knew was James Brown and somebody put on "Third Stone from the Sun." Everybody was looking at me, so I pulled out my whistle, the one shaped like a cigar with black pick-
It was 1966 '67 '68. Every place I went it was somebody else. I could-
A new edition of Greg Mitchell's award-winning The Campaign of the Century, one of his ten books, has just been published.