SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT
In the Mailbox section of the January '98 A&U, Ira Joel Haber ("Patti Bashing") attempts to demonstrate Patti Smith's homophobia by citing portions of Patricia Morrisroe's biography of Robert Mapplethorpe. It is clear that Haber has very little knowledge of Smith's work and is merely relying on Morrisroe's ideas--interpretations which, instead of revealing Smith's homophobia, actually betray Morrisroe's prurient fixations.
Morrisroe's book focuses heavily on Mapplethorpe's sexual practices. The author appears to be much more interested in unearthing lurid scatological details than exploring Mapplethorpe's work. Morrisroe does not even seem to respect Mapplethorpe as a photographer. By emphasizing and exploiting Mapplethorpe's sexuality, she implies that a gay artist should be studied in terms of his or her erotic activities instead of the works themselves. Such an assumption is homophobic.
In his letter, Haber mentions that, according to Morrisroe, Patti Smith was very upset when she found out Robert Mapplethorpe was gay. However, Haber glosses over the fact that Smith had been in a relationship with Mapplethorpe. Since she was in love with Mapplethorpe, it is reasonable that she might feel hurt in finding out about his homosexuality. In addition, one should remember that this took place in the early seventies when there was not as much gay awareness as there has been in recent years.
Patti Smith's own writings demonstrate that she is definitely not homophobic. The fact that she would project herself in lesbian situations, as in "Redondo Beach" and "Judith," shows her open-minded attitudes towards bisexuality. Smith is also openly admiring of writers who are gay and write about gay situations: Genet, Ginsberg, Burroughs, etc.
Finally, we suggest that Mr. Haber listen to Smith's latest album, peace and noise, so he can hear the grief and outrage in her voice when (in "Death Singing") she sings of a musician with AIDS and laments, "these viral times."
Long Island City, New York
and Fiona Webster
Copyright © Alison Armstrong & Fiona Webster 1998