meeting with patti smith
By Peter Lucas Erixon, June 18th
Lenny Kaye meets as promised in front of the glass
doors. Izzy Young (now famous from Scorsese's No Direction Home) and his daughter
is there too. Lenny welcomes us, I give him a copy of Kerstin Ekman's "Blackwater",
we chat a little, then walk along.
When we reach the right corridor Lenny
quickly tells Patti who we just saw a glimpse of.
She comes out with a dark
cap on her head, a little bit looking like a holy man or a prophet. Less than
thirty minutes ago she stood in front of me, less than two metres away, and ended
an extraordinary eleven minute version of the still controversial Rock n' Roll
Nigger, shouting: "Dag Hammarskjöld was a nigger! Strindberg was a nigger!"
She says hi to Izzy and his beautiful daughter. She takes my hand and says:
- I recognized you in the audience tonight!
She then politely shakes hands
with the record company representatives, or whoever they are, and then she comes
back to me.
- I've been thinking about you. We should do a travel sometime.
I've got things to say, things to ask; she shows me into the dressing room where
refreshments are laid out.
I present my idea about a book
to her and she likes it.
I ask her if she has read the novel I sent her, Kerstin
Ekmans "Blackwater", and she has and she liked it.
I give her another
really good one, Per Olov Enqvist's "Downfall: a love story" and ask
if there's any possibility for her to perform in the town where I happen to be
right now, she says: just write me or Lenny.
She tells me to help myself,
to whatever refreshments I want.
Behind us Lenny - with Izzy, daughter and
my childhood friend Agnetha - sits down at the table, the other people have already
left since nobody gave them any attention.
Patti says: give me five minutes
and then we can go into the other room.
I try to open a bottle of red wine
and I remind her that all museums are closed Mondays, even in Manhattan. She,
who had to walk away earlier today from the closed Strindberg museum, says:
- I know.
When she asks if I had my glass of wine I show the broken cork screw
in my hand. She says casually: it doesn't matter, take the bottles with you when
you leave, we don't want them anyway.
- Are you satisfied
with your new album Twelve and how it came out?
Well, I'm not usually satisfied with any album. You do an album and then you do
the songs live and sometimes they grow. But I'm satisfied that we did the best
we could do when we recorded it. Some of the songs have grown quite a bit live.
I'm happy with it and I think that I achieved what I wanted to, which was to present
twelve songs, to present them lyrically. And to give people the opportunity to
really examine the lyrics of these songs.
- I'm really a bit sad 'cause those
two extra songs aren't released for sale and are only included as a bonus single
if you happen to buy the album in certain places. For example the Lou Reed song
you did tonight...
- Perfect Day.
- It's lovely.
- I didn't finish it
in time for the album. So
I don't know, they'll probably go with something.
You made fun recently at a concert on the American West Coast of a music critic
in Los Angeles who said that you've been singing bad for over thirty years and
now are singing karaoke.
- Is that correct?
- Yeah. Well
Were you angry when you read that review?
- ...No. I just thought it was -
stupid. Some journalist said that but... - I don't know. I didn't expect
People can say what they want in the end, though. I just thought it was a little
It seemed like - of all the things she could say about the album or about the
content or about the lyrics or the songs... It just seemed like...sort of a...stupid
- Sure it was.
- Sure it was. I happen to think
Twelve is a small masterpiece.
- I'm not joking, I really think
it's an unexpected choice of songs and that you do it with great emotional power.
The thing is that, as I said, I was very focused on the lyrics of the songs and
to sing them well. I don't feel that the record lacks emotional content. I just
think that the concentration was... focused on the
intention of each of the
writers, trying to understand what they were trying to say lyrically.
felt almost like a dream when I saw that the Dylan song you chose for the album
actually was Changing of Guards.
- It's a very difficult song to do, very difficult.
Yes, I think it was the hardest song to do. It's nine verses and...to really...get
the right syntax and the right rhytm of each verse... I mean, I think of all the
songs... I think I can do it maybe better now; but at the time it was as good
as I could do it.
- Because you've done it at concerts very recently.
Yeah. But it's only a slight difference, but it's just such a hard song.
I think it's lovely.
- Thank you.
- Did you bother your parents a lot during
the first part of your career? I see pictures from that time period, the Seventies,
and I think, as a parent myself: how did her parents take THAT?
- Well, I mean
don't forget, I was not that young. I was
or twenty... -
you know... By the time that I had recorded I was twenty five years old and I
was also sending money home to my parents and helping my parents.
- You did?
- I think my mother would have liked if I
looked a little different
or dressed different, but she always felt that way. And my parents are pretty
open minded and I think in the end they were proud of what I did.
- Have you
finished your book Just Kids yet?
- Everyone is waiting
- Instead I wrote a detective novel.
- So you continued working
your Nadja inspired detective novel you told
- You did?
- Yepp. I finished one now and am writing
- I remember the quote from André Bretons Nadja on the
Horses cover: "Charm, sweet angels, you made me no longer afraid of death."
Oh no, that's mine. Mine.
- It's yours?!
- That's mine. The Nadja quote
is: "Beauty will be convulsive or not at all."
- I mixed them up,
sorry. Anyway, it's yours - that's even better.
- "Charm, sweet angels"
is my own quote, it's my own line.
- Even better. Although, I'm sorry.
That's okay. That's a compliment.
- My question is: are you afraid of death?
I don't think so. I mean, I don't want to die. I mean, I have
a son and a
daughter and I wanna watch them grow and there's much work I have to do and
I feel like I have a lot of work to do. So, it's not that I fear death, it's just
that I'm not ready yet. I think when the time comes I will be ready and
- take the leap.
- What about your interest in mathematics? Arnold Schweitzer
was your first kind of idol, right.
- Albert Schweitzer.
- Albert, yes!
- I loved Albert Schweitzer when I was young. I liked him
because... Albert Schweitzer was a mathematician, he was
- he helped the
people, I think he was a doctor and a missionary. But when I was younger I was
very interested in microbiology and mathematics but I had no gift for either thing.
When I was a child I loved looking at books on microbiology, I liked looking at
books of mathematics, higher mathematics books, 'cause I found it beautiful, but
I had no gift for doing it.
- But you still have a fascination for mathematics?
I think mathematics is beautiful and the lives of mathematicians are very interesting.
there are so many different... - Pythagoras and
all these people. So I like to study the lives of mathematicians because I'm not
very good at mathematics (laugh).
- You have this timeless, mystical swirling
dervisch energy, an energy that I think only can emerge from something deeply
felt. And something true. Have you, in spite of that, ever in your career hesitated
for the price of fame? I mean, what it would cost to be famous, being PATTI SMITH?
I don't really think about those things. When I quit in 1979 I quit for sixteen
years because I felt that
you know I did
what I set out to do and
did all that I knew how and then I spent sixteen years
studied and wrote and... And I'm not a celebrity, I'm not like a popstar... I'm
well known and things, but...
- But you're received as a popstar.
- I don't
think so, I mean...
- You don't think so?
- No, I mean... I think when I'm
performing on stage it's obviously it's my stage and I'm out on the street and
the people are friendly. I mean - I'm also at my age, I'm not like a young sex
symbol or something, I
- (Laughs) Are you sure?
- (Laughs a little)
I think people are respectful and they, you know... I don't feel... I've always
tried to live the same life, I've never changed my life. You know, I never got
really rich and... I just try to do good work and be a fair person and... If people
want me to sign autographs and I can - I do, and if I need to go I leave and try
to keep...balanced. I think balance is very important. And you have to remember
who you are to convey that to the people. And I always want people to know - I
always did, in the Seventies too - that I'm a human being, I animate the gifts
that I have but I'm no different then somebody else.
"Hello! How did things go tonight?" A man comes through the open door
and into the room where we are sitting side by side in a red sofa in the comfortable
room, "our sound person" says Patti; she laughs a little and says to
him that "those people were great", he and I shake hands, I take a sip
from the beer I had from Patti's dressing room; a room full of fruit, cheeses,
nuts, all kinds of snacks, delicious food, beer and a couple bottles of good red
- I think we are finished here.
- Sure everything's
- Yeah. I have about onehundred and two more questions but this is fine
(I look at my paper and she notices, things I wrote down, things I'm
interested in and want to know more about).
- Well, I mean I think that
Do you have one more question?
I just want to say that I really...hated
to interrupt you last year at the hotel, remember?
- OH NO
know, acting like a stupid fan. I'm a writer. I don't have any idea how to behave
in this music business.
- Me neither.
- (Laughs) Thank you for this time,
Patti. I'm grateful, not that you GAVE your time to me but for sharing these moments
in time with me.
We walk to the dressing room where the other
people are, Izzy has been waiting. I chat a little with Lenny and Agnetha, somebody
takes a couple of pics. Patti starts reassembling her things, she and the band
are leaving for Copenhagen.
- How soon?
- We are leaving now. Did you
take the wine?
I hug her and, which may have surprised her just a little,
whisper god bless you and good luck with the rest of the tour.
- See you next
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