Thursday, October 4, 2012
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, 2010 National Book Award winner, poet, artist and punk icon Patti Smith is always working. She just returned from a two-month tour in Europe behind her recently released 11th studio album Banga. She has photography exhibits in Toronto and Cincinnati. She has a new book in the works and is in California for performances at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco and a “Happy Birthday John Lennon” show at Golden State Theatre with her band. In November she kicks off a tour with Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
Across all of her works, Smith chooses her words, images and angles carefully. It was no different when she spoke with the Weekly.
MC Weekly: Which comes easiest: poetry, art, music or writing books?
Patti Smith: I can’t say that any of them come easy. Certain disciplines come forth when I need them. I think performing comes easiest. It’s complex and involves collaboration and technology but it’s just something that comes very natural. It requires physical stamina but doesn’t require the mental stress that writing, drawing or painting does.
It’s been more than 35 years since Horses was released. Do you think it would have the same impact if it were released in 2012?
When Horses was released I had no sense of it having any impact. We didn’t have any hit songs on it and it didn’t have a lot of airplay. I didn’t think about the record having impact; I just felt that it was the record I was destined to make so I made it and it allowed me to travel and communicate with people around the world. It’s hard for an artist to judge how their own work will impact other people. I still make records with the same energy; I made Banga with the same conviction as Horses so one doesn’t have much difference for me. But Horses came from a more youthful place.
How has your songwriting evolved over the years?
I think my lyrics have evolved but I’m not the kind of person that sits around analyzing my own work, I just do it. I work all the time and leave analyzing to other people.
But you’ve done some music journalism yourself.
I only did stuff that I liked and wanted people to be aware of. Whether it was something more obscure like Clifton Chenier or my feelings about Jim Morrison or Bob Dylan. I would never analyze another artists’ work but I can speak of how it’s inspired me or where it takes me mentally or emotionally.
You’ve been a prominent voice supporting the release of Pussy Riot. Why is it an important cause for you?
It’s generational. These girls represent what our new generation is doing. They gave us revolutionary prayer, they were concerned about the state of their country and I’ve seen over the years people fearing the ideas or revolutionary approach of the younger generation. The government attempts to keep them down and snuff their voice. I think it’s very important what these girls did.
Having studied scriptures, I find that it’s cowardly and hypocritical of the government to punish them in such a manner. These girls came into a church for refuge and to voice something in a manner they would call a “revolutionary prayer” and the clergy should have protected them and been more open-minded and never allowed for them to be given such a harsh sentence. The church doesn’t belong to the clergy, it belongs to the people. I think [Jesus] would’ve found [these girls] interesting. Jesus championed the outsiders.
Are you a religious person?
I’m a humanist. I don’t have a religion but I study scripture, I pray and I have a relationship with God. Religion is a manmade thing. I’m interested in communication with my conscience. I go into churches all the time but I don’t feel fettered to one particular ideology.
What means more: being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or winning the National Book Award?
They’re not comparable. The Rock Hall of Fame is to be acknowledged for contributing to rock and roll, which is, for my generation, the most important aspect of our cultural voice. It’s an honor. And as a girl who worked in a bookstore for several years and sold hundreds of National Book Award-winning books it was particularly poignant to win the National Book Award. An artist doesn’t need these kinds of accolades, but I’m the first to admit that it gives me great pleasure and I’m proud to receive them.
You were also recently chosen as Bryn Mawr College’s 2013 Katharine Hepburn Medal winner.
Katharine Hepburn was a strong woman; intelligent, innovative, ahead of her time, but also a woman who was deeply in love with the man of her choice. She was a strong role model for my generation and the one before me. I’m proud to be acknowledged that way.
Your show in Monterey is billed as “Happy Birthday John Lennon.” What’s that about?
I noticed it was going to be John Lennon’s birthday when we play [in Monterey] and I thought we might as well focus on him. He was another very important voice – a voice for peace. He was also a big advocate for women’s rights. He has such a fantastic body of work and had such a wondrous sense of humor. We love John Lennon and we miss him. I always think about him on his birthday so it will be nice to salute him.
PATTI SMITH and her band perform at 9pm Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $43; $60. 297-2472. www.goldenstatetheatre.com.