One hot night in July 2010 Patti Smith and her band gave a concert at the Jardins del Palau dels Comtes d’Aiamans in Lloseta, Mallorca. I had a free ticket and back stage pass, courtesy of Patti. I spent the next day with her and her long-time guitarist Lenny Kaye in Deia. It should have been wonderful.
Riding on the M Train
I was reminded of my day in Deia with Patti and Lenny, and shuddered, when I read her new memoir M Train. Like surprise bestseller Just Kids, the book is by turns preposterous and lyrical in an idiosyncratic, mothbally kind of way. I read it in one sitting.
M Train shifts back and forth between memories of Patti’s life in Detroit with her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith of the incendiary MC5 and her present life. In this, she drinks endless cups of java and embarks on pilgrimages to salute the spirit of her artistic heroes and heroines, from Genet to Frida Kahlo. (For some reason, Patti reminds me of Don Quixote.) After genuflecting, Patti takes Polaroids of relics like Virgina Woolf’s walking stick or Herman Hesse’s typewriter.
One such pilgrimage was to La Casa de Robert Graves in Deia to take a photo of his hat and it was all my fault.
Be careful what you wish for
I got my tickets from the Patti Smith show from a guy who was driving her around Mallorca. (He also drove for Lou Reed. Lou got sunburn and only said four words to my friend: Roll up the window.) Patti, by contrast, was “friendly, easy, a nice lady”.
Patti was staying in Deia, at the Es Moli hotel, and she was a fan of Robert Graves, my friend said. It was then that I made my terrible mistake.
“I know two of the sons, Tomás and Juan,” I said. “Maybe she’d like to meet them? And there’s the Robert Graves Museum in Deia, which is really good.’ I realised how excited I sounded and slowed down. “She could have a tour.”
The minute the words were out of my mouth, I realised what I’d set myself up for and began to pray I wouldn’t hear from my friend. Of course, I did. Patti would love to meet a Son of Graves and to go to the museum. Oh shit.
Joey Ramone’s sister
Tomás Graves and I met Patti and her guitarist Lenny at Es Moli the next day. It was hot and humid and the air was thick and still.
Patti looked exactly like “Patti Smith”: ratty grey hair, two narrow plaits on either side of a long, lumpy pale face that looked like it had been pushed gently back into her skull; heavy black Raybans; significant nose, downturned mouth; black jacket over a white t-shirt with a deep V neck; leather camera case slung over one shoulder; baggy blue jeans and pointed black cowboy boots.
My first thought on seeing her was “She’s going to die in all those clothes”. Then: she looks like Joey Ramone.
We had lunch at Xelini, the Deia tapas bar, where Tomás and I discovered just how much Lenny and Patti loved fish. Everywhere they went in Europe they tried the fish. (I also found out that Patti has what she calls a “wall-eye”, which makes it very difficult to make eye contact with her, adding to my sweaty discomfort.)
Patti adored Tomás and insisted on taking a black and white Polaroid photo of him. But when she launched it a wee bit of a rant about how English journalists didn’t see her as a true multi-talented artist she looked hard at me with her one good eye. I realised she probably thought I was a journalist too. Oh dear.
After lunch, Patti and I sat in the shade outside Sa Fonda. Tomás had gone ahead to open up the Casa de Robert Graves, in which he’d grown up. Lenny was in the bathroom. I’d decided I wasn’t going to speak until I was spoken to. I was sick of staining the silence with my burble.
We’d been sitting in silence for five minutes when Patti croaked “So, are you are a writer?”
“Um, yes,” I squeaked.
“What are you writing?”
“Oh, you know, um.”
Patti’s head rotated to a point to my left. The barman, a stoned boy with sprouting dreadlocks stood next to me. “I just wanted to say I saw the show last night,” he said. “You were fantastic. Could you…?”
“Why, thank you,” Patti said, her crow voice softening. “Very kind. Of course. What’s your name?”
The bed of the poet
La Casa de Robert Graves is surprisingly small, dark and cool with just two floors. Beryl Graves’s beloved pale green Aga is still in the kitchen, looking like it’s been beamed in from a British farm house. Robert’s sesta hangs from the door along with his black broad-brimmed Cordoban horseman’s hat.
Patti and Lenny followed Tomás around the ground floor. They asked no questions. Patti took a Polaroid of Graves’s hat and another of his typewriter. We climbed the narrow wooden stairs, me at the rear. It was when we passed Graves’s bedroom that Patti said she felt faint.
“I have this condition,” Patti said. “A blood heart thing. My body heats up and won’t cool down.” Lenny handed her one of his tissues and she wiped her forehead, giving the tissue back to him. She had gone very white.
“Do you want to go?” Tomás said.
“No, no,” Patti said. “Just gotta rest, lie down.”
Tomás, Lenny and I looked at Patti. All four of us looked at Robert Graves’s bed cordoned off behind a red rope. Patti wobbled, held onto Lenny for support. Tomás shrugged, stepped forward and unhooked the rope. Patti lay down on her back on the bed and sighed. It seemed to me that she might have been smiling.
She had it already written. “Lain on the ancient wooden bed of the pohwehtt…”
Bowing to no-one
In M Train, Patti mentions that she took a photo of Graves’s Cordoban hat but she doesn’t mention her trip to Deia. I’m glad. If she remembers me at all, I can’t imagine it’s with any degree of fondness.
But, although my day with Patti was excruciating, I bought it on myself. She remains one of my favourite rock and rollers and I love her prose. I should just never have met her.