The Outrageous Lie (Part 2)

by Tobe Damit

Around 1969, Patti became quite involved with the Warhol drag-queen crowd They were part of the same cast in some plays and were all hanging out at Max’s Kansas City, It was around that time that they developed the concept of the Outrageous Lie. The idea was that if you simply lied, you would get caught but if you created an absolutely Outrageous Lie and truly believed it yourself, people would buy it, hook, line and sinker. During a rehearsal, Patti confessed that she had become pregnant at nineteen and as the baby grew inside her, it became impatient and it kicked until WHAM! A leg came right through her stomach wall and was hangin’ out! . ”Like all things that happen, it had a purpose. It was the right time for the Outrageous Lie. Everyone began to think of themselves in mythological proportions.” –From Patti Smith’ by Victor Bockris

Q and A with author Victor Bockris, esteemed chronicler of the New York Underground, about ”Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography” 

Patti Smith (Spanish Edition).
(Click HERE to read the review)
LAN: The most common editions on the market now say: ”Patti Smith:An Unauthorized Biography” by Victor Bockris. The copy I have doesn’t have the word ”Unauthorized” on the cover or anywhere else for that matter, so what’s the story?
Victor Bockris: O.K. I gave you the U.K. edition published in 1998 as opposed to the U.S. edition published in 1999. I prefer the first edition because it has more of a punk sound to it than its U.S. counterpart. I think Smith’s attorney asked us to add unauthorized on the cover. I never cease to be amazed by how little people in the rock business fail to understand the value of a good biography. After all the purpose of biography is to celebrate the subject’s achievements. I know my Keith Richards and Lou Reed biographies did their subjects a lot of good in six to ten countries. Keith was published to coordinate with release of his first solo album. Mine was the first book about Keith and the first to put his songwriting talents on the same level as McCartney and Dylan’s. I always had a hard time reading my books after they were published. So much time and work goes into them yet they seem woefully less than I expected. E.g.  I was surprised when the Smith book got published in four other countries.The simple fact is that I had not stopped writing biographies for more than a couple of weeks since 1983. I was burned out when I started to write the book in 1995 and things got worse end worse over the ensuing years. I should have taken a vacation before I began to research the Smith book,  but I was involved in an expensive marriage among other things. In hindsight I think an author who marries his work and sees his books as his children should not get married. Anyway, if is probably easier for American and Canadian fans to buy the U.S. edition, completed in collaboration with Roberta Bailey, from Amazon, etc. Those determined to get the U.K. edition would have to look for its black cover with Patti’s face partially obscured. Your review serves both books equally well because you really pinned the essence of the book.

 

LAN: Are there differences between the various editions??
Victor: The difference between the books is their length. The U.S. edition is sixty pages longer than the U.K. edition, but I think it’s just that I took longer to say the same thing. If anybody does a comparative reading of the two books I’d be glad to know whether they agree with me or not.
Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography, 1999 U.S. Edition by Victor Bockris with the help of Roberta Bayley
LAN: How would you describe your collaboration/relation with Patti?
Victor: Part of the problem I had with writing about Patti was that despite launching her career in the UK at a great Telegraph Books reading in London and publishing her first book Seventh Heaven, both in 1972, she soon developed a hostile attitude towards me, insisting that I had ripped her off. Telegraph Books sold for $1.00 each, which meant we would have received sixty cents per book if our distributor had ever paid us which of course they didn’t. Meanwhile we sold less than three hundred copies of her book. Even after doing the great interview with her the same year she continued to badmouth me. Patti did one lovely thing when she tried to set me up with her little sister Linda. Maybe it was because I didn’t follow through on it that made me such a bad person in her opinion. Linda was great and very pretty, what was wrong with me? I still haven’t found out!! No, the real problem with Patti was that when people make it out of the New York  underground they either continue to be themselves or they get weirdly arrogant and distant. The more successful Patti was the more arrogant, less likable and less truthful she became. On top of that I betrayed my calling by ignoring in my book a lot of nasty stuff she was involved in for fear it would upset her children, who had recently had to contend with their father’s death.  In short, what should have been the most fun book to write, since we came out of the same world, quickly turned into a nightmare. It is only now when I am looking at all my books as part of one work that I recognize the value and place of this book. And I intend to look more deeply into it.
Patti and her sister Linda, at a Saturday afternoon party hosted by Terry Ork in 1971 (photo by Gerard Malanga)
LAN: Do you feel that because of her huge literary background that maybe she is responsable for transmitting ideas and concepts from the Beat Generation, making that connexion with the Punk movement?
Victor: Patti is definitely the cross over figure between the Beats, the Warhol school/Dylan etc and the Punks. My book Beat Punks was an attempt to draw some connections between these three generations. In fact, the focus of all my work now is to trace the development of the Beat Punk Generation that ran through the last great art movement to come out of New York in the seventies and early eighties.
”Lou was a very special poet – a New York writer in the way that Walt Whitman was a New York poet. One thing I got from Lou, that never went away, was the process of performing live over a beat, improvising poetry, how he moved over three chords for 14 minutes. That was a revelation to me.”-Patti in Rolling Stone
LAN: Do you think she had a special role in music because of that?
Victor: Patti’s roll in music may still need to be properly judged. On the one hand, she was in the front lines of punk. On the other, since she never really took any social part in New York punk’s scene,  holding herself above us, New York punk is not really her home. Her self-image as a Paul Revere – Field Marshal off Rock figure puts her in a larger though somewhat lonely category. She may best be seen as a figure who dances between the cracks from Dylan/The Byrds-Yardbirds through the punk seventies, who just has not yet crawled out on the other side of it. I can see a whole other golden period for Patti if she figured out a way to take her whole crew of Saints, from Marianne Faithful and Rimbaud to Blaise Cendrars and Anita Pallenberg (R.I.P) etc, etc, on the road. She needs a family of visionary artists to protect her from the ancient crone syndrome that comes to those who have been careless with their friends.
Patti and Bob Dylan Bob Dylan, Rolling Thunder Revue tour, 1975. Photo by Ken Regan.
LAN: Apart of the fact the she adored her husband Fred ”Sonic” Smith, do you think that the MC5 had any kind of influence on Patti’s music. Was she a fan of the MC5?
Victor: Most of us embraced the MC5 as punk pioneers. There’s no question when Patti married Fred she foresaw a John and Yoko type of collaborative musical scene. They were going to make albums, tour etc. But like so many plans made by couples in the early days of their romance, reality robbed her of those victories.

 

LAN: In England, May 1976, Patti played 2 dates at the Roundhouse,the next night, Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols really dissed Patti’s performances, deeming them hippies. Patti herself felt that it was over. Looking back, do you think this was some kind of a turning point?
Victor:  It was not so much Patti as it was the Patti Smith Band’s album, Horses, that rang the call of the new. Horses is it. A great album, a game changer, still sounds fresh, their most valid contribution to the culture. The British punk scene was not as art oriented or romantic as its New York counterpart. Rotten was the #1 punk figure, whose voice and lyrics cut through everything to the hard-core of reality. His criticism of Patti also came out of a long history of English resentment of Americans and their baggage. I’m sure Patti had experienced the hippie slice of life on wonder bread in the summer of love, but she was more influenced by the Velvet Underground than The Big Balloon Band. John was just throwing darts.
The Patti Smith Group, Copenhagen, Denmark, May 1976. (L-R) Lenny Kaye, Richard Sohl, Patti Smith, Ivan Kral and Jay Dee Daugherty.
LAN: Do you think the lack of commercial viability of punk can be overcome?
Victor: I think it was overcome by Nirvana. Even the Mighty Ramones were superstars in Japan and South America. The main thing about the punks is that like the Beats they never faded away. Punk will never die, but I don’t know a lot of people who learned how to live from disco music. Punk defies commercialism, Punk just is. Everyone who cares passionately about what they do and will never give up is a punk.
The Ramones on stage in the Netherlands, 1977. L-R: Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone.
LAN: What would be YOUR ”Outrageous Lie”?
Victor:  That I am just getting started, that you haven’t seen anything yet, that I’m a gift to the women of this world.

 

LAN: You never give up don’t you, punk!  I can’t wait to see what you have been up to!! Thanks so much for your time!!
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