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Homecoming is hard but happy for Patti Smith

for Journal Register Newspapers

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Patti Smith says that even more than 17 years after the death of her husband, former MC5 guitarist Fred Smith, "coming to Detroit is difficult for me."

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and award-winning author -- who lived with Fred Smith and their two children in St. Clair Shores from 1979-95 -- is in town for a happy occasion this week, Friday`s (June 1) opening of "Patti Smith: Camera Solo," an exhibition that features more than 70 of her photographs, mostly Polaroid shots, and some personal items at the Detroit Institute of Arts. She`s accompanying the exhibit by performing three concerts with her son Jackson, who lives in Detroit, and daughter Jesse, as well as a poetry reading.

"It`s not bad. It's just pure pain..not a bad thing," Smith, 65, said about coming back to the city during a media preview of the exhibit Thursday, May 31. After pointing out a photo of Fred at a rented cabin on Lake Ann, Smith noted that, "I don't go to any of those places" the family used to visit. "Truthfully, it`s just too painful. We loved going to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and maybe one day me and the kids will go...It`s just something I don't want to do (now)."

Nevertheless, Smith -- who handed reporters promotional buttons for her new album, "Banga," which comes out Tuesday, June 5 -- said that here time in Detroit "were the years I cherish," when she and Smith gave up their public lives to live a mostly quiet time as a family. "As a human being and a mother and a wife, those were the most beautiful years I spent with Fred and the kids growing up," Smith said. "We were never parted. We both went off the road completely...We were together all of the time, and I did everything. We didn't have any help. I did all the cooking and the cleaning and the sewing -- not very well, but I did everything. It was a really good time for me."

She added that she also "learned to be a very disciplined writer" while living in St. Clair Shores. "We had our children, and I was no longer able to just sit up all night writing and sleep during the day," Smith recalled. "I had to make a very disciplined way of working to accommodate my husband and children.

"So I learned to wake up at 5:30 in the morning and write from 5:30 to eight o'clock. At first it was difficult, but then it became very addictive. I can honestly say I wouldn't have been able to write my book 'Just Kids' had I not developed that kind of discipline in those years."

Those memories, not surprisingly, make the DIA exhibit particularly poignant for Smith.

"Having the exhibit in Detroit is, of course, very moving," said Smith, who opened "Patti Smith: Camera Solo" last fall at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn. "There was a lot of discussion about where this exhibit could go, including Europe." But Smith -- who first came to the DIA in 1973 with a friend to see the Diego Rivera murals -- said the facility "was Fred's favorite. Fred and I went to the museums around America in our travels, but to him this was THE museum...He thought this was the greatest museum in the world. I've been her many times with Fred, and to be able to show photographs is not just an honor but it's personally moving in ways I can hardly express."

Smith was also pleased to add one particular item to the DIA show -- the Mosrite guitar her husband played in the MC5 and in subsequent bands, which has been unplayed and stored under her bed since his death. It was hand-transported to Detroit by friends and sits in the center of the exhibit, in a case specially designed by Steven Sebring, who also directed the 2008 documentary "Patti Smith: Dream of Life."

"He expressed to me that he dreamed of the Mosrite being shown in a museum because he thought it was a real work of art -- and, of course, it's filled with his own history," explained Smith, who's accompanying the exhibit opening with performances with her

explained. "So we're able to give Fred his dream and bring the guitar home...There's an infinite amount of love in this guitar and no one's played it since Fred and his spirit looms within it."

"Patti Smith: Camera Solo" opens on June 1 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave. The exhibit runs through Sept. 2. Smith and her children Jackson and Jesse perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday; the show is sold out. Call 313-833-4005 or visit www.dia.org. Smith and her children also perform an benefit for Covenant House at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 2, at Sinbad's, 100 Saint Clair St., Detroit. Call (313) 822-8000. Tickets are $20 and available at the venue or at Joe's Music, 24525 Gratiot Avenue Eastpointe. Call (586) 777-2333.

Web Site: www.dia.org

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