Patti Smith's Dream

Nov. 30, 2008
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For Patti Smith, the names of the dead echoed loudly: Robert Mapplethorpe (1989), Richard Sohl (1991), Fred Smith (1994), Todd Smith (1994). Mentors and collaborators, her husband and her brother, all died within a short timeline. Allen Ginsberg rang with his condolences, saying, “Let go of the spirit of the departed and continue your life’s celebration.” Soon enough he was dead, joining another literary inspiration she had known, William Burroughs.

Many scenes from Steven Sebring’s documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life (out on DVD) amount to a sad song of loss with many verses. The bohemian New York City Smith was drawn to in the ‘60s and the new scene that emerged during the following decade under the heading of punk rock are ghosts now. CBGB’s is nothing now but an excuse to market t-shirts and trinkets.

But Smith heeded Ginsberg's call. Sebring’s film shows her continuing on the path of motherhood, poetry and rock’n’roll (and her dream of being an important artist) in a stream of concert footage, home videos and voice-over narratives. Smith’s anecdotes are often illuminating as she tries to fashion her life into an epic poem inspired by William Blake, Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan.

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