Last Saturday night, November 7, accompanied by my husband and daughter, I made a pilgrimage to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to see the immortal Patti Smith.
I was never a punk. Punk came after my hippie generation of the late ‘60s. I remember the first punks coming from Europe in the early ‘70s to learn macrobiotics. I loved their fierceness and their originality. But, I was nothing like them. I would never have stuck a safety pin through my nose. I was more of a Laura Ashley, white lace, pink rose kind of girl. I never liked drugs. I liked being myself, and hated the time spent high, just to please my friends. Patti and I are nothing alike in the way we live – judging from her description of her room, she is informed by the debris of life - I am informed by the serenity of cleanliness – nor in our tastes – she likes to travel, I am severely travel challenged. I needed my entourage that night in Portsmouth. I knew only two of her songs – “Because the Night” (which was a little too commercial for me, come to find out the music was written by Bruce Springsteen) and what I like to call, The Gloria.
I love the Gloria. I love the original by Van Morrison, performed by his band, Them in 1964. For some reason, even though my name is not Gloria, the boys really did sing that song when I walked by, “G*L*O*R*I*A! G*L*O*R*I*A!” I was 12. Not ready to hear it. I was older when I heard Jim Morrison of the Doors sing Gloria. (Trigger Warning: this link is to the dirty version from a private rehearsal) That was a revelation. His smooth voice, his nasty intention, played a girl’s nerves like guitar strings. But, it wasn’t until I heard Patti’s Gloria that all of my Catholic pain came tumbling down. I have to say that hearing Patti sing, was experienced in combination with all three versions of the song, mixed together with Catholic fear, anguish, hope and a statement I’d heard from another Gloria – Gloria Steinem – really spoken to her by a female Irish can driver in Boston – “Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” What has that statement to do with a horny teenage girl going up to my house? Or imagining I was that horny teenage girl? How can you not know the answer to that question?
Sexual freedom, of course. Sexual freedom. The gender bending of Patti’s Gloria only added to the surprise and delight – and the wild, new sense of freedom. Complete freedom including, as in my Gloria’s case, the freedom to not have sex, for, like Athena, my Gloria, until she is raped, cherishes her virginity, as she calls it, “a shield and a sword.” But, my Gloria feels no shame at being raped. No guilt.
I named my character in Holy Days, the little girl who represents me, after Patti Smith’s Gloria. Gloria, the glory of God, the glory of man, the glory of woman, the glory of little girls, the seeker, the wisher for glory, glory that is natural, sexual, life-affirming, transmuting, the God-given glory of heaven and earth, the little girl Gloria who loves to hear the choir sing her name at mass, "Gloria in excelsis Deo!"
Gloria is a common Italian name. I love that. Like Maria and Jesus, to name your child Gloria is a wish for him/her to partake in the glory of God.
As everyone knows by now, Patti’s version of Gloria begins with these almost whispered words, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”
As a Magdalena, I am familiar with the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. In this gospel, hidden for centuries, and rejected from the official Bible, Jesus says, “There is no sin, except that you make it a sin.”
We apply shame to sex. The Catholic Church and many other religions wanted to control people, so they made them ashamed. And fearful. They threatened people with hell fire and eternal suffering. But, it’s all a ruse. We have the truth from Jesus himself, whom I believe was married to Mary Magdalene, and proposed that we all marry, eat well, live simply and work in small, healthy communities. In macrobiotic theory, the shame of sex comes from unhealthful elimination. Problems in the bowels make the whole area smelly and unclean. When we eliminate, it should be quick and clean. Ideally, there should be no need for toilet paper. Meat eating, according to macrobiotics, makes our bowels hard and blocked, which in turn makes us fearful, heavy, guilty (another form of fear) and depressed. It’s really that simple, and I predict that you won’t hear me, except maybe to have a good laugh.
I don’t believe Jesus died for our sins. I believe he died because of them. In other words, we failed him. I do believe he taught us how to live. And we failed to hear him, both in ancient Rome and today. When Patti sings, “My sins, my own!” I say to God, as Gloria does in her final prayer in Holy Days, “Thank you for my sins…You’ve given me wounds and the salt to heal them. I thank you.”
Patti Smith has become our mystic. She is an old soul who can communicate without words, though she chooses words. I love her line: “I did not sell my soul – to God!” I don’t believe God wants us to sell our souls to Him. That’s just another Catholic ruse. But, I admire Patti for being brave enough to proclaim her independence. I believe God allows us to be our own person, whatever that is, good or bad. Yin and yang. Consider this: I have heard on good authority that Satan is still in heaven.
When I made my small pilgrimage to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I found there an elder, shining, silver Patti, dressed simply, holding up her hands in giving graceful gesture, singing “Wing” acapella. She was generous, intimate, honest, wise, silly, tender, reverent, irreverent, sweet, shy, mad, messy, absent-minded (Her phone rang at exactly 8:00 p.m. and she said, “No wonder my phone didn’t wake me up this morning.”), sad, funny, foolish, eye-opening, seeking, searching, wonderful.
To close, rather than quote Patti's books, Just Kids or M Train again, I opened Patti’s darling Rimbaud’s book, Illuminations at random and found this – “Venus enters the caverns of ironsmiths and hermits…Savages dance ceaselessly in celebration of the night.”
And from my poem, “I Must BeAbout The Work Of My Fathers” -
You do not think it’s bravery. I do. Because I need to be quiet.
But, I adore your horses and your ties.
Kiss me with your words and your beats, Oh Prince!
I do not know if you are father or mother, but I love you.
©Patricia Goodwin, 2015
Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation.