It’s ironic. Patti Smith has influenced thousands with her art, poetry and music. A woman referred to as the Godmother of Punk and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Along came a fashion photographer named Steven Sebring. He scarcely knew of Patti or her groundbreaking “Horses” album, when he asked “Has anyone ever filmed you?” And then he wound up doing just that. For eleven years.
The documentary, “Patti Smith: Dream of Life,” will air on PBS as part of its Point of View series January 4 and 5 (check local listing for time). Smith will also be touring the country in support of the autobiographical “Just Kids.” The book of prose was written about her friend, iconic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe during the late 60s and early 70s. Ms. Smith will read from “Just Kids” at Herbst Theatre as part of the City Arts & Lectures Series, January 27 at 8pm.
Sebring was initially shooting Patti trying to get to know the singer better and gather footage, as he explained to TV critics in August for the Deseret News. Not a fan of punk rock growing up, Sebring knew nothing about Smith, “But I tend to like not knowing too much about people when I meet them. And I think immediately, Patti knew that I didn’t know much about her. I think that was part of our connection. So it all worked out. Now I know a lot about Patti Smith.”
“Now you know too much,” Smith laughed.
“Dream of Life” follows Smith from Detroit to New York as she emerges from a self imposed retirement where she and husband Fred “Sonic” Smith focused on parenting, to face the realities of a single aging punk icon who must now return to the world of performing and earn a living in the aftermath of the death of Fred, her brother Todd and good friend Richard Sohl in 1994.
“I never told Steven what part of my life to center on. It was really Steven who made the choice. I didn’t tell him to focus on poetry or to make certain that we have anti-war rallies. That’s one of the nice things about our collaboration. Someone else might have gravitated all toward rock ‘n’ roll, which is perhaps more accessible. But he had no design in what he gravitated for. He went for everything.
Taking home a Cinematography Award at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the film has been warmly received by audiences both trenched in Smith’s work and those vaguely familiar with the singer and the mark she has left on our cultural history. The film captures Smith simply being. Not the 20 foot billboard or punk rock poet, but a woman in transition.
“[The film] was shot really between the ages of 50 to 60 years old, and it reflects my lifestyle, my relationship with my children, my mom and dad. The things that I was involved in — protesting the policies of the Bush administration, pursuing writing and making new friends, being encouraged by old friends,” Smith said.
“I love being a mother. It was a difficult decision, but one that I’ve never regretted. I had done what I had set out to do in rock ‘n’ roll (by) 1979, and that was to create space for new people. I thought that it was time for me to learn new things, to evolve as a human being, and to commit myself to the person that I loved and to my children,” Smith continues.
“I wanted them to know me simply as their mother. And both of my kids will tell you that that’s what they think of me. “The rest of it, they find perhaps interesting or amusing. But I’m mom first.”
Patti Smith: Dream of Life,” will air on PBS (KTEH) January 4 at 10PM and January 5 at 4AM.
Patti Smith: in conversation with Kevin Berger will be at the Herbst Theatre as part of the City Arts and Lectures Series, January 27th at 8pm. Tickets are $20.
Ticket information for this event can be found at City Box Office www.cityboxoffice.com