You know what, objectively I think, is not punk? Substack. You know who is very punk? Patti Smith. And so, by the transitive property, has Smith conferred some amount of punk status onto Substack by joining? Hm. Probably not.
Nonetheless, I certainly won’t complain about having another way to access Smith’s writing, and I know she’ll use the platform for good, not evil.
Smith announced her forthcoming subscription newsletter in an endearingly digressive 10-minute Instagram video on Wednesday: “It’s on this thing called Substack,” Smith says haltingly. “And what you do is you go to pattismith.substack.com.”
She then holds up a piece of paper with the web address on it before realizing the text is backwards on camera; the next 40 or so seconds of the video involves her attempting to write the address so that it will appear left to right for viewers. “That’s disgusting,” she says, studying her own handwriting.
A more concise description of her newsletter appears in an introduction on her Substack page: In addition to publishing “weekly ruminations, shards of poetry, music, and musings on whatever subject finds its way from thought to pen” every week for free, paid subscribers will have access to a weekly installment of Melting, a journal of Smith’s pandemic life that she’s serialized.
Perhaps all of this makes more sense in the context of a quote Smith gave the music site Cuepoint in 2015, telling journalist Alan Light that the biggest misconception about her has been that when she wasn’t releasing music or publishing books of poetry she wasn’t “doing anything” in the eyes of the public. “I’m not a celebrity, I’m a worker. I’ve always worked,” Smith said at the time. “I was working before people read anything about me [in the newspaper], and the day they stopped reading about me, I was doing even more work.” If you’re a writer who considers themselves a worker, this sort of gig work—Substack—is what many of us writers have now.
Smith said publishing Melting on Substack will mean “finally fulfilling [her] Jo March fantasy, as she serialized her Gothic tales for the newspaper.” This is a more romantic vision of the platform than many of us can abide, but I’ll allow it for Smith, who remains a master of reinventing forms.