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How to be Patti Smith: A Guide in 10 Steps

Listen—we can’t all be a rocker, a genius lyricist, a Bohemian New Yorker, a style icon, and an award-winning author. That particular blend of legendary is reserved for Patti Smith, and we on the SAL staff are just her acolytes.

So if you, too, find it impossible to achieve even “Step 1” on this how-to guide, know you’re not alone—you can find the rest of us in the crowd at Smith’s event on October 6, listening to her speak, perform, and just praying some of the cool will rub off on us.

Step 1: Publish a number of poetry collections in the 1970s—Seventh Heaven, Early Morning Dream, and Witt—earning high reviews in New York’s literary and arts communities. Despite this success, call the 70s poetry scene dead and say, “I was trying to kick poetry in the ass.”


Step 2: Develop a style of performance poetry so ahead of its time that it morphs into an experimental rock band. Later on, get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as “The High Priestess of Punk-Poetry” for your “literate yet street-savvy lyrics.” Wowza.


Step 3: Write and record “Piss Factory,” a song that arguably birthed the punk-rock genre, about the depressing time you spent working in a baby buggy factory. “What ‘Piss Factory’ is all about,” you’ll later tell Rolling Stone, “is: someone who in the midst of the dead felt alive.”


Step 4: Add Bob Dylan to your concert guest list, and set a reminder to send him a thank-you note for the subsequent record deal with Arista Records.


Step 5: Release a debut album, Horses (1975), that’s unlike anything  anyone has ever heard and is considered to be one of the best albums of all time. In your lyrics, include references from everything to Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud, to Beat poetry, Jim Morrison, William S. Burroughs, and psychoanalysis. Also: don a gloriously androgynous outfit on the cover.


Step 6: Keep an extensive Polaroid collection that documents your entire life. When the legendary German filmmaker Wim Wenders passes on his final camera to you, keep it and eventually go on to exhibit your work in museums.


Step 7: Meet up with Bruce Springsteen, who is recording in an adjacent studio, and write a hit single with him called “Because the Night,” because you can be mainstream, too.


Step 8: Fall in love, get married, have kids, do life as a family, and then, after a series of intense personal losses, come back strong with the highly elegiac and personal hit album Gone Again in 1996.


Step 9: After 35 years in the music industry and 11 albums, publish a New York Times bestselling memoir, Just Kids, and get yourself a National Book Award. When you receive said award, be sure to say in your acceptance speech: “Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.”


Step 10: After two successful memoirs under your belt, come talk (and perform) rock, writing, and your highly anticipated new memoir, Year of the Monkey, on Sunday, October 6, at Benaroya Hall.

Follow Patti (@thisispattismith) on Instagram and Facebook (@pattismithauthor) for all things music, writing, and life-size teddy bears.

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