This weekend, Patti Smith and Jonathan Lethem had a conversation in the Great Hall of the Cooper Union. Lethem asked the questions, Smith answered. They talked about books and music, mostly. Patti recalled working at the Argosy bookshop in 1967, which must have been before her stint at Scribner's, and about how she falsified her credentials as a book restorer just to get that job, because she loved books so much.
She talked about the wonders of paper--about books made of paper, some with velvet covers and gravures, and about her plans to write more books like Just Kids, about her early days in New York City, a time rich with memory.
She told Jonathan Lethem that she liked his sneakers. He said, quickly, apologetically, "They're not vintage," because, probably, when you're talking to Patti Smith, you want to be cool in the right ways. But Patti didn't care about vintage or not vintage. She said, "Doesn't matter, they're classic."
When she was done answering Lethem's questions, she picked up her guitar and sang a song about William Blake. Then she answered questions from the audience. One woman asked if it was still possible for a young artist to come to New York City and do what young artists did when Smith was starting out.
Patti recalled coming to New York without money, when it was "down and out," and you could get a cheap apartment and "build a whole community of transvestites," artists or writers, or whatever.
Today, she said, "New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there’s always other cities. I don’t know—Detroit, Poughkeepsie, Newark. You have to find the new place because New York City has been taken away from you. It’s still a great city, but it has closed itself off from the poor and creative burgeoning society. So my advice is: Find a new city."
You can listen to the whole conversation here.