Saturday, January 30, 2010

Patti Smith at UCLA's Hammer Museum, Jan. 28th, 2010

This past Thursday night, I attended an event at UCLA’s Hammer Museum, commemorating the life and work of Harry Everett Smith – well-known to some, anonymous to most, mysterious to all. Smith was an admired figure of the counter-culture of the ‘50’s and onwards, best known for his obscure silent films and his important archival work to preserve American folk music. Patti Smith did the honors in this appropriately titled event ('Smith on Smith'), recounting some anecdotes about Harry, a relic of American lore, as well as sharing some interesting and funny tales of New York City in its yesteryears – describing the bohemian melting pot of poets, musicians, mystics and transients freely gravitating in and around the Chelsea hotel.

I’ve been to a few Patti Smith concerts before, but this event was particularly special: she interspersed readings of excerpts from her new book, Just Kids, with musical performances and spoken word poetry. Between stories about Allen Ginsberg mistaking her for a boy, hanging out at the Chelsea and bumping into Grace Slick and Jimi Hendrix, and more adventures with Harry Smith, Sam Shepard (then known to her as “Slim Shadow”), and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (he shot the photo for Patti’s debut album, Horses), Smith spontaneously dedicated a song to J.D. Salinger, soon followed by a politically-stirring reading of “People Have the Power” in honor of Howard Zinn. Overall, it was a very enlightening and fun event – yet another reminder that I was born two score too late.

Visit the Harry Smith Archives here.

Check out Patti Smith’s new book here. Purchase it here.