In Her 11th Book, Patti Smith Explores Her ‘Devotion’ To Creative Invention

Nearly 30 years ago, I was in a Detroit hotel room talking with Patti Smith as she was preparing to come back to the rock ‘n’ roll world after nine years away from the fray.

She was confident about relaunching, but asked this of herself: “The only thing I’ve ever wrestled with through the years, in terms of art was, ‘Am I good enough? Do I deserve to call myself an artist?’ Or when I’ve had brief periods of the muse taking an extra-long vacation and you wonder, ‘Did it go to Zanzibar and is it in some weird hotel, never coming back?'”

It came back then, and it’s still with her. She’s still rocking, still writing and still reading from her work. Smith, now 70, has penned 11 books of poetry and prose, and will be reading from and discussing her latest, “Devotion,” at Back Bay Events Center in Boston, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. It’s sponsored by Harvard Book Store. (Your $30 ticket includes a copy of the book, but Smith will not be signing them.)

The only thing I’ve ever wrestled with through the years, in terms of art was, ‘Am I good enough? Do I deserve to call myself an artist?’

Patti Smith

Smith — whom you will almost never not see referred to as the “godmother of punk rock” — has recast herself in recent years as someone who’s more likely to show up on The New York Times best-seller list than at the top of the Billboard charts. She began that way, as a poet, as a rock critic for Creem magazine, as a lyricist for early Blue Oyster Cult.

Twenty years ago, I was talking to Smith again about the writing process, be it via music, prose or poetry. “I start [writing] to see what will be revealed,” she said. “In a way, I’ve been dealing with the same theme since I was a kid, and that’s communication with whatever’s out there, be it God or whatever energy force or heightened body of knowledge is out there.”

Her 2010 memoir, “Just Kids,” penned about her longtime friendship with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, won the National Book Award for nonfiction. “M Train,” published in 2015, was both memoir and travelogue with Smith visiting various cafés and haunts throughout the world, and reaching back for memories about her life with her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith and other stories those travels inspired.

“Devotion,” a slender volume just over 100 pages, has three parts: The first, “How the Mind Works,” finds Smith again traveling, exploring the minds, workspaces and gravesites of writers she’s long admired (among them, Roberto Bolaño, Jean Genet, Arthur Rimbaud and Simone Weil) and is not unlike “M Train” in that aspect. She drops literary names and places as well as clues, rendering observations in her travels that will soon serve as kernels of inspiration for the short story to follow.

Smith winds her way in and out of coffee shops and cemeteries, inside of her dreams and outside in a waking, more analytical state pondering the “strange remorse I felt following the writing … I wondered, since I had birthed my characters, if I was mourning them,” and then concludes, “You wrote it. … you can’t wash your hands of it like Pilate.”

That leads us into the main part of the book, called “Devotion” (the same as the book’s title), and it concerns the love-and-loss filled journey of Eugenia, a lonely teenage Russian orphan who is also a brilliant ice skater. The story is both minimalistic and engrossing, a character study that morphs into something darker. I did smile when I realized that in the opening section it took Smith only 20 pages to get to her favorite poet/reference point, Rimbaud. And surely enough, in the short story, Alexander — a mysterious, Svengali-like character who befriends Eugenia, renaming her “Philadelphia” (because it implied “freedom”) — also “found solace in the poet Rimbaud.”

How did Eugenia’s character come to Smith? In “How the Mind Works,” Smith writes that she was in a Paris hotel watching a figure skating championship on TV, noting a “sturdy blonde … a 16-year-old Russian …. A young girl steps onto the ice as if nothing else exists. Her single-minded purpose, combination of innocent arrogance, awkward grace, and daring is breathtaking.”

Smith creates passages that encourage you to step back and consider her characters and their seemingly oblique motivations, but she can also turn a simple phrase that rings true, such as this: “Some things melt before they become memories.” And in describing Eugenia’s appearance as the one love of her life turns sour: “She possessed not the glow of love, but the face of a ravaged bird.”

The third segment, “A Dream Is Not a Dream,” is a postscript, a reflection on what Smith has been doing all her life that begins with the question, “Why is one compelled to write?”

What is the dream? To write something fine, that would be better than I am, and that would justify my trials and indiscretions.

Patti Smith

Her answer: “What is the task? To compose a work that communicates on several levels, as a parable, devoid of the stain of cleverness. What is the dream? To write something fine, that would be better than I am, and that would justify my trials and indiscretions. To offer proof, through a scramble of words, that God exists.”

“Devotion” is drawn from a talk Smith gave last year when she was awarded Yale’s Windham-Campbell Prize. “The book evolved a great deal from the original speech,” says John Donatich, director of Yale University Press. “Each section of the book was addressed in some form at the lecture; the book is obviously much longer and very different from what was spoken that night, although all of it is based there. ‘Devotion’ is an expanded version of that lecture.”

Smith’s book is the first of a “Why I Write” series published by Yale University Press. Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgård gave a speech earlier this month and Yale will publish his book next year.

Smith is still, of course, a rocker. She last played Boston with her full band on New Year’s Eve at the Hynes Convention Center as 2013 became 2014. But last week, she played Central Park SummerStage in New York, and on Nov. 5, she’s at Carnegie Hall. For the SummerStage gig, her children, guitarist Jackson Smith and keyboardist Jesse Paris Smith, augmented her regular band. She dedicated a two-song medley to the late Hüsker Dü drummer-singer-songwriter Grant Hart, and closed the set with “People Have the Power,” joined by her longtime friend, former R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe.

I remember asking her back in 1988 about that newly released single. It had “anthem” written all over it, but it seemed to me impossibly optimistic, coming as it did at the end of the Reagan era and (we would soon realize) the dawn of the George H. W. Bush presidency.

“I’m well aware of the overly positive aspects of ‘People Have the Power,'” Smith said. “Call it naive. I don’t think being filled with hope and still having the desire and care and vision to dream is naive. The song is trying to give a little inspiration and hope in very troubled times. I don’t see the point of just spewing negativity. If I wanted to put covers over my head, I would have never wed and had two children. If I’d wanted to put the covers over my head, I would have found some opium den and gone out in Cocteau-style.”

While she’s expanded her audience into the literary crowd over the past few years, Smith’s core fans are rockers.

What kind of power does Smith have in concert?

Here’s what I thought (and some of which I wrote for the Globe) two decades ago: It was in the middle of “Dancing Barefoot” at the Avalon club when the thought struck: You can take your Mariahs, your Whitneys, and your Celines. Smith, whose vocal range is far more limited, is the real deal — what rock ‘n’ roll should be about. There is just so much emotion, passion and poetry in her act, it’s breathtaking. If Bob Dylan has a distaff sibling, it’s Smith.

Smith was there at the beginning of punk rock — she put the poetry into punk. In 1997, she was making little forays into the world of performance to support her “Peace and Noise” album, the Patti Smith Group created a magical world onstage. There’s blues, country, folk, punk rock, garage rock — all of it melded together. Smith’s music tends to come at you in waves, some gentle, some tidal.

One of the things that make Smith’s music so special is that she’s an A-level lyricist who understands that getting lost in, or transported by the music is what matters. When she and her guys sang the redemptive refrain, “We shall live again” in “Ghost Dance,” it was thoroughly convincing. At the close of the show, she launched into “People Have the Power,” a power-of-positive-thinking song that once made me wince. Not anymore. Smith’s a believer. She can make you believe.

“Devotion” doesn’t have the multi-tiered oomph of a Smith concert — it can’t. Reading is a solitary pursuit; a concert can be about communal bonding. But in “Devotion,” Smith draws you in and brings you along on a girl’s journey out of solitude and into something both empowering and dangerous. You’ll want to re-read the first section to see what clues you missed about the thought-gathering process and when you come to the end, you’ll find a conclusion that’s hard to argue.

“Why do we write? A chorus erupts. Because we cannot simply live.”

Chef Rossi: My Surreal Hartford Dream

I spent five weeks this summer in a surreal dream. In Hartford of all places.

I watched Dana Smith-Croll, a Yale-trained actress, play me! I watched Emmy-winning actress Marilyn Sokol play my mother! Internet star George Salazar played my father! (Among other parts.)

Here’s how I got to Hartford.

My very first signing of my book, “The Raging Skillet — The True Life Story of Chef Rossi,” was in New York. It was at a huge convention with thousands of writers, editors, publishers and readers. I put out trays of peanut butter and bacon sandwiches to draw a crowd. It worked. Powerful stuff, that bacon, but oy, my mother would not have approved. A line formed. Down the line, I saw a man dressed in brown (the same shade as a UPS delivery man) with a scraggly beard. He looked like the Unabomber.

“I’m Jacques [Lamarre],” he said, “and I want to turn your book into a play.”

“Psycho,” I thought.

I didn’t take him seriously, but he stayed in touch as psychos do, so I Googled him. Turned out the psycho was the real deal, with a history of turning memoirs into plays.

While I was on book tour, he sent me the first draft. I was in my hotel room, alone, laughing out loud. Psycho was kinda, sorta REALLY brilliant. And it was commissioned by TheaterWorks, so it was REALLY going to happen. In Hartford of all places.

A year later, TheaterWorks asked me to meet the cast and work out the recipes they’d be cooking on stage. I made my home base the Hilton and ate almost every meal (and had many a cocktail) at Trumbull Kitchen. I can’t recommend that place enough — and being a chef, I don’t dole out compliments on other people’s food frequently.

The morning I went to meet the cast, I saw two giant signs announcing our play. “They can’t change their mind now,” I thought.

I met Marilyn first, a petite woman with curly white hair and a huge smile. She was Mom on impact. She tenderly pushed my hair out of my face and said, “You’re so cute. Let’s see your face a little more, dear.”

Dana walked over with arms outstretched and gave me a long and wondrous hug, the kind of hug New Yorkers never give because it takes too long.

It was a day of cooking and laughing and hugging. I met the whole behind-the-scenes team of TheaterWorks. Each one of them treated me is if I were the queen of culinary England. I’m fairly sure I floated to the Amtrak back to the city.

“Half of them are Jewish!” I could hear my mother say. “You finally have some Jewish friends.”

Preview night came. Once I heard Patti Smith blaring onstage, I felt at home. An image of my mother and father when they were young and gorgeous flashed on a screen. They’re both gone now: I lost my father last year, my mother 25 years before, but sitting in that theater, I felt closer to them than perhaps I ever had.

“How do you feel?” a woman next to me asked.

I kept trying to answer that question, but the answer felt bigger than I could grasp, as if I needed a year of contemplation on it.

Opening night came. The crowd went wild. “Raging Skillet” was a smash, and Hartford was way more awesome than I ever could have imagined.

And then on Aug. 27, it came to an end.

So that’s how it happened. Here’s how it started.

In 1991, I wrote a little thingy for Provincetown magazine about how cooking as we knew it stopped the moment my mother got her first microwave. I was doing what I loved to do most: making fun of my mother.

I mailed it to her. I expected a phone call from her screeching about my poking jokes at her. Instead I got, “Slova, you’ve immortalized me!” She made a hundred copies and mailed it to every friend and relative she had.

“Shana Madelah! Promise you’ll keep writing about me!”

That funny little piece found its way into the book and then into the play. The morning after that first-night preview, I called Jacques. I wasn’t sure what words would spill out of my mouth. I said, “Thank you for giving me back my mother.”

“Shana bubelah,” I could hear her say, “I never left.”

Rossi (she goes by a single name) is the owner and executive chef of “The Raging Skillet,” a catering company in New York City.

Book Scene provides avenue to living a dream

Book Scene co-owner Alda Pool rings up another satisfied customer at the at her store on 43rd.

Alda Pool cannot imagine a greater purpose in life than what she’s doing in her later years.

Pool, the 66-year-old co-owner of The Book Scene on West 43rd Street along with business partner and longtime friend Cathy Stringer since November of 2015, had envisioned owning her own store almost since she can remember, and that dream has finally come to fruition.

Pool learned to read by spelling words out for her grandmother (who was blind), and a passion was born that could almost never be fully quenched.

“She would tell me the words for me to spell out, and that’s how I learned to read—after that I just developed a love for books. I was never without something to read, and it just grew from there,” Pool said.

Opportunity awaits
From crosstown treks to the old Heights Library as a young girl, to working under The Book Scene’s previous owner – who she has known for more than 30 years — beginning in 2013, Pool was never without a novel in hand. Then, in early 2015, a door opened.

“Eventually [the former owner] decided to retire to spend more time with her family, she asked if I wanted to buy the store. I wanted to, but didn’t know if I could afford it, so I passed it around to some friends,” she said. “I always went to her store and bought her books, so it was perfect. I didn’t know the business, but I knew the book store, and as I worked with her I learned a little bit of the business.”

Pool and Stringer had worked together at Exxon since the 70s until retiring in the early 2000s, had traveled together, and gone to book conventions together long before The Book Scene was even an idea. Additionally, Stringer had always looked to break into the business world — so the stars were aligning.

“Our lives have always been very intertwined — she likes a lot of the same things and books that I do. We read different things, but we have the same passions,” Pool said.

A dream come true
So, a partnership rooted in friendship blossomed. However, though she had cursory business knowledge, Pool quickly discovered — with Stringer’s help — that owning a passion and owning a store represented completely separate ideologies, especially considering her seniority.

“It’s really been an eye-opening experience for an older senior person — I’ve had to learn on the go, and it’s a scary experience. Cathy and I are responsible for this,” she said. “But we have a greater love for the people who come into the store — that’s really what it’s about.”

Simple as that—people invigorating people. Right or wrong, today’s perception of the older adult may be that they want to simply retire, and wait for life’s hourglass to run out—but not Pool.

“I like people. I’ve always been a talker, always been a reader. You meet people who have the same passion for books that you do—you talk books, you talk about life; you talk about anything,” she said. “Owning a bookstore, every person you meet is like opening up a new book — everybody who comes in has their own story to tell. We truly feel welcome in the neighborhood. The people I meet make this worth coming in every day. I get emotional sometimes, because it’s like one big family.”

Pool’s joy Tuesday afternoon in helping customers was evident and infectious, her passion unbridled — all seemingly a product of being in the perfect place at the perfect time.

“I’m living my dream, so it doesn’t really get better than that. There’s some reason this all fell into place and seemed meant to be,” she said. “Maybe something else is in the pipeline — I don’t know, but there’s some reason that I’m supposed to be here at this point in time. I’m where I wanted to be years ago, now. I’m doing what I wanted to do.”


‘The Snowy Day’ Captured in New Stamp Series


United States Postal Service

On Oct. 4, the United States Postal Service will issue four stamps, part of the “Forever” series, featuring Peter, the little boy from Ezra Jack Keats’s “The Snowy Day.” The book was published in 1962. The next year, Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and “The Snowy Day” won the Caldecott Medal. It’s a simple story: Peter wakes up, puts on a red snowsuit and plays in the snow, making tracks and snow angels and sliding down a “mountain” of snow. He puts a snowball in his pocket and is sad when, after his bath, it’s gone. But the next day he’s delighted that it has snowed again. Simple, but world-shifting: Peter was black, and no black child had ever been the protagonist of a full-color American picture book.

I can’t help wondering if King had seen “The Snowy Day,” maybe even read it to his own four children, who made such a momentous appearance in that speech. He might have found in the elegant collaged art and spare, poetic words by Keats, an American born to Polish Jewish immigrants, a glimpse of the world he was dreaming about, in which his children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

More than half a century later, that world hasn’t arrived — not even in children’s books, where brown children are still far underrepresented, relative to their percentage of the population. Peter is still, in a sense, a figure out of a dream. But those stamps will remind us that the dream still stands strong.

Continue reading the main story

For the love of books – News – The Star, Port St. Joe

Ken Dykes, Sr., dreamed of a retirement surrounded by books.

Ken Dykes, Sr., dreamed of a retirement surrounded by books.

The Port St. Joe native carried a life-long love of reading and books on his journey, but passed away in 2016 before he could make his dream reality.

His dream was to retire to the Saunders Circle home of his parents, where he was raised, and line its walls with the many books he had read and kept throughout his life.

To honor that love, that passion, his family donated a rocking chair for the children’s department at the Port St. Joe Public Library, dedicating it last Friday during a ceremony that became visibly emotional for daughter Irene Latham.

“He dreamed to retire where he could have a library and where he’d be surrounded by books,” Latham said. “This rocking chair is one small way to make that dream come true.”

“Rocking chair” barely describes the chair the family gifted the library.

Created and painted by June Moon and her Poppy’s Cottage out of Philadelphia, PA, the chair is decorated with titles and quotations, from Whitman, Longfellow and Coleridge, that spoke to the soul and heart of Ken Emon Dykes, Sr.

A sampling of those works were read by the children during the dedication.

On the chair’s seat is painted, “If you are a dreamer, come in.”

Books, and their ability to transport to another place, another reality, were Dykes’ passion beyond his family, including three children.

“He read a book a day,” said son MicaJon Dykes. “Not just a small book, but a novel. Every day.”

Latham noted that later in life, in order to increase the number of books he had read, Ken Dykes would sometimes have an audio book playing in his ears while his eyes were trained on a printed, and completely separate, book.

“It was his primary obsession in life,” Latham said.

Ken Dykes, Sr., even documented his reading, a 3-ring binder “Book Inventory” which he updated every few months.

When he passed, his wife, Debra said, their home contained, literally, thousands of books.

“Books were his passion and his comfort,” Latham said, adding that his children were raised on the stories of Brer Rabbit and the poems of Shel Silverstein.

Dykes’ passion was sparked when his father gave him two volumes when he was a lad: Alexander Botts: Earthworm Tractors by William Hazlett Upton and dictionary.

He was later to pass those same two volumes on to Latham.

Latham grew to be an author of children’s books.

As part of her visit to Port St. Joe from Birmingham she led a writer’s workshop at the library the afternoon before the dedication of the rocker.

Coincidentally, and fortuitously, the rocker arrived by truck from Philadelphia at the exact time Latham’s workshop was underway.

“It was really great timing,” said Nancy Brockman, manager of Gulf County Libraries.


Turning Fear Into Your Friend

Fear – The Great Protector

Think of fear as this lovely uncle. He means well, but he’s just a bit over-protective. You see, as humans, we have these amazing brains that have our best interest in mind, but don’t always know what’s best for the heart. Fear flies in and tried to protect us, but can’t fully be trusted when making dream-crushing, goal-setting decisions. 

Exercise: Placing your hand on your heart, acknowledge good ol’ Mr. Fear. Let him know you see him and that while you appreciate him making an appearance, you’re driving this ship and it’s headed toward Dream Town, not Dudsville where dreams go to die. Then listen to your heart. Ask for clear guidance and trust that you are right where you’re meant to be.

Fear – The Great Excuse-Maker

Have you ever had a big huge whopper of a goal, like submit that dream job application or write the big book and become an author? It’s shiny and new. You set up a plan and then fear comes in and starts giving you reasons to slow your roll. Who would actually want to read your book anyways? That job is probably already going to someone else. You need more connections. You’re not ready. You never follow through. And on, and on, and on. Here’s the thing, my friend. That dream was placed on YOUR heart for a reason. Regardless of the outcome, it’s part of your path. There’s a purpose behind your desire. Why waste time wondering what if? 

Exercise: Act as if you were talking to a friend. Write down those thoughts and excuses. Then record yourself or talk to yourself in a mirror. What would you say to a dear friend who was chasing those dreams and giving those excuses? 

Bonus: Write down affirmations or statements that help you flip the script and raise your vibes around each excuse. Then when that little sucker pops into your head, simply repeat your high-vibing statement!

Fear – The Great Comparison Ninja

Comparison is one of the quickest ways to clip the wings off of your dreams. Somebody else launched that business and has a perfect website. That other chick at your yoga studio already sells a jewelry line, so you don’t want to look like you’re copying. Get ready for some real talk. Have you watched the news lately? There’s some heavy stuff going down. The world needs more thought leaders, more positively amazing businesses and more awesome people making the money, so we can truly be the change we wish to see. You are the only person who can bring YOUR dream to life in your own unique way.

Comparison is one of the quickest ways to clip the wings off of your dreams. -Dajon Smiles

Exercise: Write down why you want to follow and build that dream? What would you do with your success? How could you show up in the world and make an even greater impact? Who would you serve? How would it make a difference? Get detailed. Get excited.

Dreams aren’t random. They certainly aren’t sporadically spread out amongst people’s hearts. There are various paths to get to your dreams. It’s not a matter of right or wrong when you know it’s your desired destiny. There’s no success or failure. Simply lessons to learn along the path. For this life isn’t a destination. You know that. There isn’t an end game where you’ll be like, “Yes, my life is now complete and whole. I’m ready to be done now.” Stop pressuring yourself to be all of the things right now. 

One step at a time, each and every day. Take inspired action and always remember to shine on!

Auckland teacher creates cultural resource for children

Vanessa Peterson with her first three books in the series Kuaka's Journey.


Vanessa Peterson with her first three books in the series Kuaka’s Journey.

An Auckland teacher has created a book series celebrating different cultures.

Early childhood educator Vanessa Peterson said she discovered a lack of resources for teaching children about different cultures during Samoan Language Week four years ago.

From there, she started thinking about creating her own books to meet the curriculum of teaching kids bicultural development.

The main character, Kuaka, was illustrated by Vanessa Peterson.


The main character, Kuaka, was illustrated by Vanessa Peterson.

“It became a bit of a pipe dream,” the Te Atatū resident said.

After years of thinking about it, Peterson put pen to paper in December 2016 and the Kuaka’s Journey book series came to life.

Peterson worked at The Secret Garden Preschool in Huapai and said the majority of students were Pākehā.

Vanessa Peterson reading her book to preschoolers at The Secret Garden in Huapai.


Vanessa Peterson reading her book to preschoolers at The Secret Garden in Huapai.

She said the book series helped them learn about different cultures.

The book series followed Kuaka, a bar-tailed godwit (bird), on her journey though different countries.

Kuaka Visits Samoa, Kuaka Visits Niue and Kuaka Visits Fiji have been published. 

The first three books in Vanessa Peterson's book series to celebrate different cultures.


The first three books in Vanessa Peterson’s book series to celebrate different cultures.

​Peterson was writing the next book about India, with the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Iran next in line.

In each book, Kuaka travelled to the country, met the native animal, ate local food, visited iconic destinations, attended a cultural celebration and wore cultural clothing.

It was about capturing the country, she said.

Preschooler Josh Parkes, 4, reading through Kuaka Visits Fiji at The Secret Garden in Huapai.


Preschooler Josh Parkes, 4, reading through Kuaka Visits Fiji at The Secret Garden in Huapai.

Peterson said she had always planned to have a bar-tailed godwit as the main character of the series.

“It’s a bird that travels long distances and is native to New Zealand,” she said.

Peterson said the book series would be useful for teachers as it had resources in the back.

This included information about what was on each page in the book, printable pages children could colour in, and websites that had extra information about the country the book focused on.

“My hope for these books is to develop a usable resource for teachers in early childhood education centres, and for children to have a chance to learn about the different cultures in our culturally diverse country,” she said.

Although doing a lot of research on each country, Peterson said she had never been to them.

“It would be good to travel and give them (books) to the local schools,” she said.

Each book in the series cost $16.99. All three could be purchased for $45.

For more information about the Kuaka’s Journey book series, head here.

 – Stuff

Anne Doyle on pay: ‘You do the same job, you get the same money’

Doyle, who worked as a newsreader in RTE for over three decades, retired in December 2011, and told that she still has dreams about deadlines from time to time.

“I’m retired a lifetime now! I have to say, you know when you dream that you have exams coming up and you haven’t opened a book or you’re going to miss the exam? I still dream about work, and it’s always about deadlines,” she laughed.

“Two nights ago I had a horrific one, where I was going somewhere or other and I suddenly realized that I was four hours away from where I was meant to be, and I hadn’t phoned. And that’s five and a half years later, so I presume these things last! Otherwise, no, I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘Oh I wish I was going to work,’ but who would? In any job. “

Following the publication of RTE’s top 10 highest earning presenters in August, which listed just three women, Doyle (65) said that her thoughts on the gender pay gap are simple.

“My feelings about this are very straightforward. I believe, as I think that any right-minded person would, in equal pay for equal work. And I wouldn’t necessarily limit that to a gap in terms of gender.

“I mean it is evidently possible that you could have two men or two women doing the same job, and one might be conceivably earning a lot more than another. It could be for historic reasons, it could be for all sorts of reasons. So I think it’s a no-brainer that we get paid the same for the same job.”

However, the station stalwart noted that there are different factors to consider when it comes to pay.

“The complexity of it comes down to how you quantify the same job. Because not all jobs that look the same, are the same. Also, I would have thought that another interesting aspect, which I haven’t followed with baited breath, but there is also the issue of opportunities. That’s sometimes worth looking at. Sometimes opportunities come one person’s way and not another.

“The basic thing is, you do the same job, you get the same money.

“You can’t just look at A and B. Who knows whether A and B are doing the same job or not, but if they are, they should be paid the same.”

The former presenter, who just returned from a week’s holiday in Spain, originally missed George Hook’s controversial comments on Newstalk regarding rape, but says she “wasn’t surprised” by the reaction they received.

“I missed them because I was away. I in fact read the Sunday papers without knowing for sure what it was that he had said. I wasn’t surprised in the slightest at the reaction. I welcome the fact that he gave, it would appear, a very whole-hearted apology. What could anyone say about them? They’re beyond unfortunate.”

Anne Doyle was speaking at the Yellow Tail Wine Tasting Experience in Drury Buildings.

Mert and Marcus Talk 20 Years in Fashion, Taylor Swift album

Since meeting at a party in the early ’90s, photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott (or Mert & Marcus as they’re better known to most of the world) have been a joint creative force to reckon with. In the two decades since the pair started collaborating from a DIY East London loft-turned-studio, they’ve brought an element of highly-stylized glamour to the fashion world.

The pair are known for their polished, hyper-saturated images and unapologetic use of digital manipulation, creating fantasies in picture form in projects that run the gamut from Kate Moss’ high-fashion, 60th anniversary Playboy cover to the edgy album art for Taylor Swift’s highly-anticipated upcoming album, Reputation. Now, with 20 years in the industry to their credit, Mert and Marcus are looking back at their work with their first retrospective book, a limited-edition, 400-page glossy tome from Taschen titled simply, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott.

We spoke to the photographers about their two decades in fashion, Instagram, and what Taylor Swift’s new album sounds like. See some of their most iconic images from the book above.

When did you two first start creating images?


Mert Alas: Twenty years ago. In 1994, we met and started sort of making pictures and then from 1995, we were doing photos of ourselves and our friends at home, nothing to do with fashion, just a lot of portraits and nudes, and then in 1997, we started doing this.

Marcus Piggott: We’d call up friends at night and be like, ‘come over,’ we were always excited about doing something. I had studied [photography] for about 10 years before that anyways, so we were always taking pictures. We met and we started working together.

Do you both shoot and edit?

Mert: We give birth to the idea together, we shoot together, we’ll swap the camera because we only have one camera on-set. So he might say, ‘give me the camera, I have some angle here that I’d like to try’ and vice-versa. And then we will edit together and we have a team of artists, digital artists and printers that we work with. We go over all the details ourselves.

Do you only shoot digital?

Marcus: Well, we do now. You know, never say never because film is so great, but after years in the darkroom, printing, digital just gives you so much freedom.

Mert: It’s fast.

Marcus: You’re not chasing the Polaroid, you know? You’re not trying recreate something over and over again.

What would you say is more important to you two as image makers in your style, the editing of the photo or the shot itself?

Mert: The shot, always the shot! Sometimes we have an idea, and the idea is a dream, it’s the middle of the night, there’s a moon, there’s a wolf, so we paint that idea onto a photograph by shooting different elements and putting them together, and finessing it. I always prefer getting the shot, of course, as a photographer, but I also love making something out of nothing. Putting elements together and creating an image.

Cover of Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott; Back cover of Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott featuring Kate Moss, Love Magazine, London, 2009. Charlotte Cotton; Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott 

You were on the forefront of digitally altering images to make them fantastical. What inspired you to create really stylized, staged photos?

Marcus: Well, as much as they are staged, they’re really quite loose as well.

Mert: It was not really a plan, we would do a photograph and then it would be like, “Oh my god, maybe the sky should be like this.” It was kind of following our fantasies and dreams a little bit, falling into that, not being concerned with the reality, you know? We are artists, we’re not journalists, so we’re meant to be selling dreams. For us, it was like, “Let’s make the sky red! Let’s make her eyes bigger.” There were details that you could change and in the end, it isn’t so fake that people think, “Oh my god, this is like a drawing,” it’s in the borderline, so you feel like it’s a dream. Our photography has a dream-like sense: how can we portray dark dreams in a beautiful way, in beautiful packaging? So you look at it, you like it, there’s some darkness in it. It’s a camouflage of our dark side.

How did you two meet and how did you start collaborating creatively together?

Mert: We met at a party in England. We became very close, very quickly, we had a very interesting bond when it came to art, creativity, music, and fun.

Marcus: In our home, there was always an element of playing or fun or cameras, but then we kind of fell into it and gave it our life and our passion. We gave a lot of our life, really. Most of the 2000s, we spent at home, making photos. It was our passion together.

You two were on the same page for that.

Mert: Same page, but at the same time, very different people. Most of our greatest photos are the result of a giant fight that we probably had. That’s the way it worked and still does. We just had a fight ten minutes ago [laughs].

Marcus: I think it’s important not to just be satisfied, that you’re willing to keep pushing.


2017 Harper's Bazaar Icons

Mert: In this world, people surround you, especially when they work for you, and everything you do is “great.” And you can easily fall into that “greatness” if you were alone. But we never had that! It was always, “it can be better” or “it’s not working” or “the light is sh-t,” so there was always a little dissatisfaction in what we were doing and at the same time, trying to impress each other.

Marcus: And, you know, it’s someone where you value their opinion. Pushes you along.

Mert: We both do some personal work ourselves, even though before I would show it to anyone, I would show it to Marcus. It’s almost like our inner voice, outside of us.

How do you stay inspired after 20 years in the business?

Mert: It’s very hard, but what drives us is the force and love of life. We’re both very into life, love, fun, friendship, culture. Anything and anyone who’s got anything to say, a dancer, a singer, a painter. Or dreams. We both have very vivid dreams.

Marcus: You have to stay inspired, don’t you? We take a nice summer and we take a good Christmas break and that’s good for recharging.

What’s changed about your creative process since you two started taking photos?

Mert: colorThe industry’s changed. Society’s speed of acknowledgment has changed. Everything is available, information is everywhere. You can get something in two hours instead of waiting for a book to come out. Instead of waiting for someone to tell you about something, you can Google it. Because we didn’t have Internet when we started, we didn’t have Instagram, we didn’t have any of that, so everything for us was a fantasy and we weren’t two rich kids where we could buy loads of books, so to learn, we had to go to the library and look at photos and digest them.

I think it’s the inevitability of having so many sources out there; in my opinion, it’s reducing the creative juice of mankind. We stop thinking and asking, “What should be the color? What should be the location? What should be the light?” We are so full of references, we just look and we say “Oh, I should do that hair, that light, that location [claps] — I’m a photographer!” Some good, some bad. I feel lucky to have gone through that process where we actually made it out of nowhere.

I see that both of you are on Instagram, do you feel like that’s something that’s really changed the way we see and consume and create images?

Mert: Why am I on Instagram? I am on Instagram because it’s not something that is serious, it’s not something that relates to my work so much, I post something that I might have worked on every now and then, but most of the time, it is of my family, my dog, my cat, my face, my leg, whatever. So it’s almost like this selfish satisfaction of our fast society, like “Oh we did a picture, everyone loves it, haha!” It’s random.

I don’t dislike the kinds of photos that people do, I actually get inspired by a lot of them and I show them to Marcus, like “Look at these kids, they’re amazing and they do it all on iPhone and it looks great.” It is what it is. I like the fact that a lot of kids now have a voice of some sort so that they can actually show things that they couldn’t have otherwise afforded to do. They can’t do a photoshoot, they can’t get a camera, they don’t have a studio, they don’t have models. And it looks great, and I like that.

You often feature strong, powerful women in your work and it’s become somewhat synonymous with your work – why such strong feminine energy? Is it because of commissions?

Marcus: I think it’s personal taste. We both had very strong mothers and that was a big influence on the type of work that we do. But I think it’s what attracts us. I like a strong, intelligent, powerful person whether it be male or female.

Mert: I like a woman when I don’t define her solely as her sexuality but also defining her bravery. So for instance, for me there are two types of nude: you could be a sexy girl, you know what I mean [gestures] or you could be completely nude and still not be the sexy that we are all thinking of. We like a woman who has got balls [laughs], that has an identity, a power, a strength, is an authority as opposed to being just a sweet, feminine figure.

You two just shot the Taylor Swift album cover for reputation; what was it like working with her? Was it a collaboration?

Mert: Amazing! Super collaborative; she’s got the most incredible photographic eye. The first time that we worked with her years ago, we connected then and there. I like when someone has an opinion and a point of view and Taylor had an incredible point of view. We had a lot of different ideas to do before the shoot and then the day of, we were changing everything, like maybe we should do this, maybe we should do that. It was totally fruit of collaboration. She’s a very cool chick.

Did you listen to the new album?

Mert: Yeah!

Did you listen to the whole album?

Mert: Not the full album, but what we heard, it’s good.

Mother! Mastermind Darren Aronofsky Explains His Disturbing Fever Dream

Before screening his surrealist horror spectacle Mother! at the Toronto International Film Festival last week, Darren Aronofsky did something strange for a filmmaker: he apologized.

“Sorry for what I am about to do to you,” he told moviegoers from the stage, where he was flanked by his stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, and Ed Harris. (The fourth member of his quartet, Michelle Pfeiffer, was absent from the festival.) Until that point, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) had been secretive about his Paramount project, describing it as “an assault” and “a cruise missile shooting into a wall.”

Aronofsky’s careful wording was not inaccurate. Mother! concludes with a ferocious 25-minute crescendo, subjecting star Lawrence—a dewey Mother Earth—to all manner of man-made atrocities and violent acts inside the octagonal home she lovingly restored from the ground up. Bardem plays her husband, a self-centered poet tortured by the task of creation. Harris and Pfeiffer co-star as an unnerving surgeon and his seductive wife, who take occupancy in the couple’s home and kick-start the destructive opus swirling inside its pulsing walls.

The day after debuting the film in Toronto, Aronofsky sat serenely inside a hotel room, signature scarf wrapped around his neck, relishing the conversation that Mother! had sparked.

“One of the highlights of my life was after I made Pi and would walk into a coffee shop hearing people talk about the movie,” Aronofsky told Vanity Fair—referencing his 1998 directorial debut, another psychological thriller that launched plenty of conversation, along with his career. “I’d be eavesdropping for a half an hour. The worst thing you could make would be a disposable meal. You throw away the wrapper and forget what you had.”

To understand the inception of Mother!, it helps to know that Aronofsky is a passionate environmentalist who studied as a field biologist in Kenya and Alaska while still in high school. Speaking about his last film—a different kind of biblical epic, Noah—he warned that it carried “a huge statement . . . about the coming flood from global warming.”

The idea for Mother! came one morning when Aronofsky was alone in his home. He had been contemplating his complete helplessness to combat the world’s environmental destruction—the global-warming crisis, collapsing ecosystems, extinction at startling rates. He decided to spin a story around a single emotion—rage—and spent the next five days writing “about how it must feel to be Mother Nature,” the script pouring out of him “like a fever dream.” The result is a psychological thriller loaded with religious and environmental symbolism, and a few nods to unexpected inspiration.

“Another big influence on the movie was The Giving Tree,” Aronofsky said, referencing the Shel Silverstein picture book. It inspired the film’s central relationship, between the title character and everyone around her. “Here’s a tree that gives up everything for the boy. That’s pretty much the same thing.”

Aronofsky had not written the script with Jennifer Lawrence in mind. In fact, when he heard that the Oscar-winning actress wanted to meet him, he complained to his producer that flying down to Atlanta—where Lawrence was filming Passengers—was “such a waste of a day” because he did not think the actress was available or would be interested in his project. But Lawrence, moved by the idea Aronofsky presented her, immediately signed on.

With Lawrence lending her star power to the project, the film was made within a single year. (Aronofsky told New York magazine in August that it “wasn’t such a hard [film] to convince people to [make]. I imagine that probably has to do with the fact that we attached Jen Lawrence to it as a first move.”)

After a three-month rehearsal process, Lawrence dove into character so completely that at one point she hyperventilated hard enough to damage a rib. Her appropriately force-of-nature process was unlike any Aronofsky had seen from his past leading ladies, including Jennifer Connelly, Natalie Portman, and Ellen Burstyn. She would so quickly and completely channel her character’s torment while filming that the production crew constructed a tent where she could watch episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians to decompress between takes. After especially haunting scenes, she’d cue up Christmas music to immediately export her out of the experience. Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” was an unlikely favorite.

“With Jen it’s very strange,” Aronofsky said. “She is an autodidact. She’s never taken an acting class and is completely self-taught. She absorbs all the information and the second she gets it, it clicks. It’s just there and it comes alive.”

“The character is really different than anything I had ever done, so I tried to find this new part of myself that I didn’t even know I had,” Lawrence told Vanity Fair in Toronto. “I didn’t know I could be vulnerable. As the film goes on, more and more was demanded of me, and it was exhausting and dark.”

“It’s a very unique ability, because she’s more engaged while filming than anyone,” said Aronofsky. “And then as soon as you call cut, she’s Jen Lawrence. She’s joking. She was reading Wuthering Heights while filming, so she would go off and read her book. We’d say, ‘Jen we need you,’ and she’d come back and put the book down on the little ledge [of the house]. I’d say, ‘Jen, not there.’ And she’d say, ‘I’m going to just grab it in a second anyway.’ And I’d say, ‘O.K., fine.’ You’d say action and she becomes Mother, and the minute you say cut she walks off. I don’t know how she does it.”

For Aronofsky, the film was an evolving art project that accumulated new layers of symbolism during each stage of production. For example, the octagonal theme—seen in the shape of the house, the lighting fixtures, the door panels, picture frames, and more—did not take literal shape until Aronofsky began working with production designer Philip Messina. The pair discovered in their research that some Victorian homes were actually built in the shape of octagons because, said Aronofsky, “at the time, scientists believed it was the perfect shape for the brain.”

Aronofsky liked the idea that the number eight signifies resurrection and regeneration in the Bible. And the octagonal shape also offered a cinematography perk: “When we shot through a doorway, you’re not looking at a flat wall. You’re looking at a diagonal wall that adds depth and just makes things more interesting,” he explained.

The case of casting Kristen Wiig, in perhaps one of the most bizarre cameos ever committed to film, was pure coincidence, which married well with Aronofsky’s fever-dream ambition.

Aronofsky explained that he did not cast the role—she plays Bardem’s publisher—until the last minute.

“There were actors we were talking to, but when I heard Kristen was available, I said, ‘Sure.’ I think it works with the whole weird dream vibe of the movie. That suddenly this familiar face shows up. I don’t want to say that Kristen shows up in a nightmare, but it’s very strange and odd. You’re not expecting it, and it kind of throws audiences. I think it’s just another way of people going, ‘What’s she doing?’ and seeing her character take all these surprise turns you would never expect of her. It was fun, and about giving audiences a little gift in the middle of the film.”

Coming off of Noah, with its reported $125 million budget and special-effects bonanza, Aronofsky mistakenly thought that making Mother! inside a single house would be “a walk in the park.”

“It ended up being technically one of the hardest things we ever had to do, because we had to deal with hundreds of extras,” he said. “There are actually more visual effects in this movie then there were in Noah.

Aronofsky considers Mother!’s final 25-minute sequence—a deeply disturbing crescendo of violence—“one of my best accomplishments, just because it’s a nightmare. It just builds and builds on top of documenting the horrors of our world, and throws a pregnant woman into it.”

Lawrence herself said that after seeing the images unspool on the big screen at the Venice Film Festival, she was “shaking” and wondered whether they had “gone too far.” Though Lawrence has said she is proud of the film, and hopes that it will inspire audiences to exhibit more empathy, Lawrence also told Toronto International Film Festival moviegoers, “I don’t know that I would make a film that made me feel that way again.”

As for Aronofsky, he clarified: “I think it’s important for people to recognize I am not condoning the violence in the movie. Some people might think, ‘Hey, it’s messed up.’ But we wanted to show the story of the world and how it feels to be her. And what we as a species do to her . . . We also wanted to make something that would floor people.”

Aronofsky said that he edited out a few scenes that “went a little too far,” but did not make any major changes in post-production. Because the film is such a carefully engineered climactic build, taking out one on-screen atrocity would have been like upsetting a game of Jenga.

Some critics have called the final sequence—particularly what is done to Lawrence—misogynistic. Entertainment Weekly even titled its review “Jennifer Lawrence Gets Put Through the Torture-Porn Wringer.”

But Aronofsky has a response for those people: “They are missing the whole point. It’s misogyny if it says that this is good . . . I think [any spit-take revulsion is] just like an initial reaction to being punched. We are telling the story of Mother Nature turning into a female energy, and we defile the earth. We call her dirt. We don’t clean up after our mess. We drill in her. We cut down her forests. We take without giving back. That’s what the movie is.” Referencing Hurricane Irma, which was touching down in Florida as the film premiered, Aronofsky added, “Naomi Klein, one of the great eco-feminist out there, sent me a text yesterday, talking about the irony of the film premiering yesterday with what’s happening right now in America.”

Aronofsky has proven through his haunting imagery that he isn’t afraid of creating deeply disturbing visuals—or of courting controversy to spur conversation.

“The darkness is not something I’m afraid of. I think Hubert Selby Jr., the author of Requiem for a Dream, said you have to look into darkness to see the light. It’s important to reflect back on ourselves and think about what’s really going on in the world to be able to change course.”

Get Vanity Fair’s HWD Newsletter

Sign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.

Full ScreenPhotos:Jennifer Lawrence Dressed to the Nines for Who Else, But Mother!
September 13, 2017

September 13, 2017

Jennifer Lawrence finished her press tour as she began it: wearing Dior. She saved the most classically princess look for the Radio City Music Hall premiere in New York.

Photo: By Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic.

September 12, 2017

September 12, 2017

Lawrence stopped by the The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon wearing Sally LaPointe.

Photo: By Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images.

September 10, 2017

September 10, 2017

Lawrence wore a look from Dolce & Gabbana’s cruise collection to the Toronto premiere.

Photo: By George Pimentel/WireImage.

	September 10, 2017

September 10, 2017

Lawrence chose a celebrity favorite, Sally LaPointe, for a Toronto International Film Festival photo call.

Photo: By Emma McIntyre/Getty Images.

September 5, 2017

September 5, 2017

At a photo call prior to the Venice premiere, she wore a tea-length Giambattista Valli dress. The princess gown would come later.

Photo: By Elisabetta A. Villa/WireImage.

September 5, 2017

September 5, 2017

Here it is. The princess gown. One of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s for Dior Haute Couture (the darker overtones make it a good fit for the stressful horror film).

Photo: By Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images.

September 6, 2017

September 6, 2017

Lawrence and the Mother! cast moved on to London for its premiere. She ratcheted up the sex appeal with this Atelier Versace dress for the occasion.

Photo: By Fred Duval/FilmMagic.

September 13, 2017

September 13, 2017

Jennifer Lawrence finished her press tour as she began it: wearing Dior. She saved the most classically princess look for the Radio City Music Hall premiere in New York.

By Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic.

September 12, 2017

September 12, 2017

Lawrence stopped by the The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon wearing Sally LaPointe.

By Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images.

September 10, 2017

September 10, 2017

Lawrence wore a look from Dolce & Gabbana’s cruise collection to the Toronto premiere.

By George Pimentel/WireImage.

<pre><code>September 10, 2017</code></pre>
<p>“/><br />
<pre><code>September 10, 2017</code></pre>
<p>Lawrence chose a celebrity favorite, Sally LaPointe, for a Toronto International Film Festival photo call.</p>
<p>By Emma McIntyre/Getty Images.</p>
<figure><img src=

September 7, 2017

She’s wearing Dior Haute Couture for the premiere in Dior’s home, Paris, France.

By Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images.

September 2, 2017

September 2, 2017

Lawrence arrived for the 74th Venice Film Festival in an Ulla Johnson printed maxi and combat boots. This looks is what one might call, “The airport, but not schlubby.”

From Photopix/GC Images.

September 5, 2017

September 5, 2017

Lawrence made a quick change for her arrival at the Hotel Excelsior, into a buttoned-up but dressed slightly down cropped plaid pants look.

By Jacopo Raule/GC Images.

September 5, 2017

September 5, 2017

At a photo call prior to the Venice premiere, she wore a tea-length Giambattista Valli dress. The princess gown would come later.

By Elisabetta A. Villa/WireImage.

September 5, 2017

September 5, 2017

Here it is. The princess gown. One of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s for Dior Haute Couture (the darker overtones make it a good fit for the stressful horror film).

By Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images.

September 6, 2017

September 6, 2017

Lawrence and the Mother! cast moved on to London for its premiere. She ratcheted up the sex appeal with this Atelier Versace dress for the occasion.

By Fred Duval/FilmMagic.