Patti Smith, an artist never at rest

Singer Patti Smith performs. CBS

"Because The Night" was a huge hit for Patti Smith back in 1978. Because of her music . . . and her recent best-selling book . . . Patti Smith today is as much in the spotlight as ever. Anthony Mason tracked her down for some Questions-And-Answers:

Patti Smith said she never expected to be a rock star, nor did she aspire to become one: "I was brought up at a time where, essentially, rock stars were male."

But when Smith took the stage of New York nightclubs in the early Seventies with her angular, androgynous swagger, critic James Wolcott wrote: "Patti is on her way to becoming the wild mustang of American rock."

"There was something in me that, some kind of presumptive bravado that told me that, 'I could do that,'" she said.

One of the most influential artists of the rock era, Smith's fierce persona would open the door for Madonna, even Gaga. In 1975 her landmark debut album, "Horses," was an instant classic. Rolling Stone would rank it as one the best records of the 20th century. The song "Because the Night," which she wrote with Bruce Springsteen, put her on the pop charts.

But Smith, who turned 65 in December, only just had her greatest commercial success - not a song, but a book. One woman she encountered on the street told Smith, "You have no idea what that book meant to me. Amazing, thank you so much."

A surprise bestseller, her memoir "Just Kids" won the National Book Award in 2010. More than half a million copies are now in print.

"Just Kids" is the story of Smith's relationship with controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in 1989.

She said she'd promised Mapplethorpe she would write it: "We both knew he was going to die. So I just cut to the quick and said, 'What can I do for you?' And then he said, 'Will you write our story?' And I said, 'Well, do you want me to?' And he said, 'You have to. You're the only person that can do it.'"

Smith, a New Jersey girl, first met Mapplethorpe when she moved to New York City. They became lovers, best friends, and each other's artistic muses.

She described their connection as mutual trust. "Robert and I just - when we met we were both outsiders. Kind of wallflowers. Really shunned by our own community," Smith said. "We became, you know, each other's moral vest. We exchanged courages, if you will."

Their friend, photographer Judy Linn, said they had great style: "I was happy to be an observer."

She told Mason that when she looks at pictures of Patti and Robert, "I see how pretty she was. I feel these were kind of image constructing photographs, you know, that she would see how she looked at them and then move on."

In the summer of 1969 - "about four or five days after the moon landing" - Smith and Mapplethorpe moved into the Chelsea Hotel, a well-known refuge for artists.

Returning to the Chelsea with Mason, Smith said, "I can remember all these people coming through the door: Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers, Salvador Dali, they just whisked through the lobby."

Patti Smith with Anthony Mason outside New York's Chelsea Hotel.
CBS

She said the Chelsea was like a doll's house in "The Twilight Zone": "Where every doorway opened on some wonder."

Smith and Mapplethorpe shared a one-room apartment, which she returned to with us for the first time in more than 15 years. She said it was just the same: "Isn't it wonderful when some things don't change? It really makes me happy. It's just so heartbreaking though, in a way."

"Heartbreaking? Why?" asked Mason.

"Well, it's just I can still remember us in here. I mean, the two of us wept a lot in this room. But we also laughed a lot and created quite a bit."

Mapplethorpe, whose photographs can now fetch millions of dollars at auction, took the iconic cover shot for "Horses." The couple remained soulmates even as Mapplethorpe began to realize he was gay.

"Was letting go of the romantic part of the relationship difficult?" asked Mason.

"Well, it was difficult for both of us. It wasn't just difficult for me," she replied. "Sometimes I thought it was more difficult for Robert. But we still held hands. We still kissed. We still, you know, sometimes if we were lonely slept side by side."

After a run of influential albums, in the late Seventies Smith abruptly dropped out of the music scene, married Fred "Sonic" Smith, a guitarist with the MC5, and moved to Detroit.

"A lot of people say, 'Well, you didn't do anything in the '80s,' and I just think that's hilarious," Smith said. "You know, I did so much. I was a housewife . . . and raised two children." (Her son, Jackson, and daughter, Jesse.)

"What's harder than that?"

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