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Her moment continues. In fact, Patti Smith is starting to feel like the artist who defies time. Her breakthrough album “Horses” still sounds like right-now. Her National Book Award-winning and heart-breaking memoir Just Kids, about growing up with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, reads like a classic. Smith is more magical fairy than musician or writer. She sprinkles creativity everywhere. The latest evidence is Two Times Intro, by Michael Stipe.
The slender book is part travelogue, part photo album, and part scrapbook tribute re-issued by Akashic Books. The first version came out in 1998 and is long sold-out. Now, post Just Kids—and with Michael Stipe post-R.E.M.—the book is a bittersweet object, a momento-mori from a rock-n-roll past that no longer exists.
In 1979 Patti Smith disappeared. She moved to Detroit with her husband and kids and planned to live happily ever after away from NYC, the place where she had seen so many friends die of AIDS. But in 1994 her husband died prematurely and Smith was lost. Or as Smith writes in the intro: “His early death in November of 1994 obliged me to leave Detroit and return to New York.” Bob Dylan “learned of my plight and invited me to tour with him.” She did, and this is a book about that tour.
Sort of. The book includes photos taken by Stipe and Smith’s band-mate Oliver Ray along with short essays by band members, friends and fans of Smith including William S. Burroughs, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, painter Jutta Koether, and filmmaker Jem Cohen. Each offers a heartfelt memory; each is wonderfully humble. Though there are moments were the cool-factor is ice cold and off-putting, for every unfortunate insider reminiscence there is a lovely feeling of finding someone else’s high school yearbook and getting to read all their private inscriptions.
Crucial to the book’s success is its design by Chris Ashworth, one of the most iconic—and rebellious—graphic designers working today. If you remember the almost-unreadable magazine Ray Gun, that was his baby.
Two Times Intro is quintessential Ashworth : multiple layers, juicy smudges, full-bleed photos stretching the book’s dimensions. Each page is printed in such deep black and white it’s as if he created the entire book with an old Xerox machine and Scotch tape. He took everything he wanted in the book and went crazy, copying and taping and copying again until the book resembles a scrapbook from Hades, or at least an East Village gutter.
And because anyone who has walked through the East Village lately will tell you…that “place” is gone, too. Shuttered bars have not been replaced with chic eateries, but with dingy sushi joints, nail salons, and expensive apartments. An odd mix that may someday yield magic like the neighborhood did in the 80s. Until then, we can reread Two Times Intro and remember that with the right creative energy—or with Patti Smith on board—art is possible.
Two Times Intro
by Michael Stipe
Paperback, 9781617750236, 272pp