Patti Smith transfixed her audience at the Lenfest Center for the Arts Thursday night with music, poetry, and anecdotes about her life in New York and her devotion to writing.
Smith, an artist, musician, and writer, read and performed her songs for the Columbia community in order to promote her new book, “Devotion.”
Attendance for the event quickly reached capacity. Audience members who arrived after the room had filled were directed to two lecture halls in Lenfest, where a live feed of the event was shown, while Smith ascended the stage and joked with the crowd.
Throughout the night, Smith exhibited wit and eloquence as a speaker. After joking about her lack of preparation for the night and showing the audience her sparse notes, Smith continued to read excerpts from her novels “Devotion” and “Just Kids,” as well as sing songs, recite poetry, and comment on her relationship with New York City and how it has changed with age.
“I don’t depend on New York for my identity. When I was 20, I did. I don’t now,” Smith said to a laughing audience.
Throughout the night, Smith referred back to her time as a young artist in New York City. She emphasized her past and her relationship with fellow artist, boyfriend, and Just Kids’ subject Robert Mapplethorpe, who died in 1989. Additionally, Smith griped about the recent news that the rent on her and Mapplethorpe’s apartment has been steadily increasing and recently hit $8,000 a month, a huge increase from the $80 she originally paid.
“I thought it was an interesting demonstration of what’s, to me, the most heartbreaking, the biggest, and probably the worst change of what’s happened to our city,” Smith said. “When I was a young girl, Robert and I could get a little apartment near Pratt Institute for $80 a month, and now it’s with a spiral staircase and a hot tub, and it’s like, who needs that shit?”
Smith took quick breaks for hot water with honey, making jokes and saying hello to the audiences in screening rooms. The 200-person room felt intimate as Smith drew the crowd into a narrative.
In her final act of the night, Smith performed a song about work, devoted to Columbia students and professors.
Smith connected the entire evening to the artist’s calling and the importance of a writer’s duty. Students in the audience asked politically charged questions, such as Smith’s opinion on the “#MeToo” movement, as well as questions about her writing process and connection to New York.
“I love New York because it seemed to be the most open, it was the most diverse racially, anyone could get a job,” Smith said. “I was in New York when it was a wonderful place to be. I mean it’s still wonderful now, but when it was affordable wonderful.”