until the very end”
accepted, desired or praised. When I was married I lived in Detroit in almost total obscurity, and I worked just as hard.”
Weaving in and out of public consciousness through the years has meant that, while revered by many heavy hitters (the list includes Michael Stipe, Bono, Johnny Depp, Lou Reed, Morrissey, Shirley Manson), there are thousands more who aren’t fully aware of what Smith does or who she is. This changed somewhat last year with the US National Book Award-winning Just Kids, a graceful fusion of love story and elegy, a salute to New York and a celebration of her time with Mapplethorpe in ropy, pre-fame days when food and books were stolen to pay for various types of sustenance. Was it a therapeutic book to write?
“No, it wasn’t,” comes the straightforward reply. “It was a difficult book to write because I had to write it intermittently. I kept putting it away for very long periods of time. If I hadn’t promised Robert I’d write it, I’m not so sure I would have written it at all. So therapeutic, no, but what it did do was accomplish a mission, and when we do that we have a certain satisfaction of having kept a promise, and honouring it. The greater satisfaction, however, is that people seemed to have, through the book, a better understanding of Robert. That was my primary focus – that knowledge of him is not just filtered through other details that are either negative, exaggerated or imagined. The book gives the reader a more holistic picture of him, and that makes me happy.”
Speaking of happy, this weekend Smith returns to Liss Ard Estate, Skibbereen, Co Cork, as part of Cork X Southwest Music & Arts Festival 2011. She was there in the late 1990s, when the estate hosted what were Ireland’s first ever boutique music events. She wanted – needed, she says – to return. The estate’s owner had presented her with a stone, which was a marker for nearby grounded ships. A master carver then carved the stone, and it subsequently became her husband’s headstone.
“My husband loved the sea,” she says with a hint of regret, “and I knew he would love that. His grave initially had no headstone, because I couldn’t find something that I knew would be meaningful to him. And so I arranged to have this stone shipped by boat to Detroit – it’s now in a very old cemetery and it’s now the marker of a very good man.
“So I have a strong feel for Liss Ard. What am I going to do when I’m there? Well, my band will be there so we’ll definitely do a rock concert. But I’m also going to do whatever I can. Maybe I’ll just sit in the middle of a field and play songs; some things will be announced and some things won’t. I’ll be participating, you know, interacting with people.
“One of my hopes is to walk the grounds and meet people who will be there. I’m always happy to come to Ireland. I have Irish roots, and I’m always happy to be on Irish soil. It’s really one of the most beautiful places in the world.”