King of the Road: Michael Stipe and Patti Smith’s Journey
Much has been said about Robert Mapplethorpe’s effect on Patti Smith (best by the legendary musician herself, in her runaway hit memoir Just Kids), but relatively little has been done to extol her own influence on generations of performers. R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, for instance, credits her plenty of the inspiration and artistic success of his band.
In 1995, Smith was just returning to the public eye, joining Bob Dylan on tour across the United States for her first public performances in over twenty years. Along for the ride were Allen Ginsberg and Stipe, who served a short two-week stint as unofficial tour photographer. The result was a 1998 book, Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith, re-released today with Akashic Books, comprising Stipe’s and collaborator Oliver Ray’s photographs, as Smith reclaimed the throne she’d seemingly abdicated years ago.
The crisp black-and-white photographs record motion and chaos, euphoria and repose. Smith growls and coos, backstage, in cars and up-close. A constant but unpretentious sense of history and self-documentation abound. Ginsberg appears with a camera; a still-life intro features an accordion-like old Polaroid camera. More abstract shots include the silhouette of Smith’s sleeve. Stipe appears in a mirror, in profile, balancing the roles of star and voyeur. The book also includes a new introduction by Stipe, and text by William S. Burroughs and Patti Smith, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lenny Kaye and Tom Verlaine.
Stipe has carried a camera with him everywhere he goes since he was a teenager. “To be able to document this important time for her and for her band was really significant to me as an artist and as a supporting fan,” Stipe told Interview. “It was clear to everyone present that there was something electric happening, watching her and Dylan basically spar onstage every night, reaching this place of cross-inspiration.
“The unwritten story is that I had just come off a yearlong tour with my band and I was adrenalized to the teeth,” says Stipe. Jumping onto Patti’s tour proved to be a godsend, because “it got me close to the stage, but without being the focus or the center of attention.” During that time Stipe was concerned with a scan of his lungs that looked like cancer, “so the entire two weeks that we were on tour, I was certain that I was going to go from this into a fight for my life.” The scan turned to be merely a scar from childhood pneumonia. “I don’t think even reading between the lines of the photographs in this book you might have guessed any of this.”
TWO TIMES INTRO: ON THE ROAD WITH PATTI SMITH IS OUT NOW. STIPE WILL SIGN THE BOOK TONIGHT AT DASHWOOD BOOKS IN NEW YORK, FROM 6-8 PM.