The great singer/songwriter and poet Patti Smith sent along her reflections on the month of August. Patti lived in the Chelsea with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the early 70s. She returned to the Chelsea and lived her for a time in the late 90s as well.
August 9 full moon. This is the day Jerry Garcia died. He was born on the first of August and passed away on the ninth, so it's nice to think of that span as Jerry week. It certainly seems that he well deserves a 9 day week. So it's winding to a close. I lit him a candle, listened to him singing Palm Sunday, and looked at his paintings in a big Jerry book.
August 2, the birthday of my sister Kimberly, was the anniversary of William Burroughs' passing.
While in my old house in Michigan I found my seventy year old bottle of Chartreuse squirreled away. I
bought it in the eighties with him in mind. We promised each other we'd share a drink one day, but we never got around to it. I reread his Port of Saints and looked at a catalogue of his gun shot paintings. I traced my son and daughter's names written in his hand on an old Christmas card.
Then I cracked open the Chartreuse and poured us each a shot. The green sugary liquid put me in mind of nineteenth century absinthe, so while I had my ritual drink with William, I kept in mind the likes of Paul Verlaine, Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud.
August 3, on the birthday of Beverly Lee, a member of the wondrous Shirelles, Arthur Lee passed away. I met him a long time ago. He was just a little older than me. He was soft spoken with a vague criminal air. Forever Changes left its mark. I was in Michigan when he died and I walked down to the end of my dead end street and sat on a bench beneath a weeping willow. It was at least one hundred degrees but I still had my trusty black coffee, steaming fresh from Seven Eleven. I played back Amoreagain and Orange Skies in my mind. These songs of Love are so deeply rooted I can hear them as clear as if they were wafting from a turntable.
My son's birthday rolled around. August 6 was the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Over one hundred thousand people were massacred in that drop. Too many candles for one to light. I was back at my post on the bench looking out at Lake St. Clair. A huge Monarch brushed my cheek. I figured the butterfly, symbol of immortality, served to evoke them.
A few weeks ago I was in London. I visited a small bar painted green and lit with a green light. William used to frequent this joint some years ago. You can only enter through private subscription. I wasn't drinking. I was just visiting. It was three in the afternoon. There were a few old-school characters nursing their whiskies. Suddenly, in the center of the friendly yet oppressive silence, one of them cried out "Syd Barrett is dead." This took me off guard. But the fellows spontaneously raised their glasses, issued a " here! here! Syd!" and then retreated into their private worlds. For that one moment they were of one mind. And I was with them, saluting someone I never knew. Someone who made music. Someone who loved Arthur Lee.
Today is my friend Betsy Lerner's birthday. It's the day the United States dropped an Atomic Bomb on Nagaski. It's the day Hermann Hesse died. The day Jerry died. I have returned to the city. Children are racing up and down my street. We humans keep in mind. That's what we do. Tonight is a full moon. Guess when it sets, I will get me a cup of black coffee, sit on the stoop, and contemplate the bombing of Qana, the miracle of love and Dark Star.