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an interview with
patti smith on auguries of innocence

page four

TODD BAESEN: You said that The Writer's Song was written in the eighties.

PATTI SMITH: Yes, The Writer's Song I writ in the late eighties, when I was living in Michigan. I had a lot of tasks raising my kids in the eighties, but my one private time from all of my domestic tasks used to be on Saturday afternoons. Every Saturday afternoon there were these two shows I loved to watch, Kung Fu Theater and Martial Arts Theater. They used to show these old martial arts movies, one right after the other. One guy was dressed like Bruce Lee, and he'd say, "Today Shoalin monks will be flying through the sky." So I used to get a little jar of sake and some cheese and crackers and sit there in the afternoon and watch my martial arts movies. That's when the kids couldn't bother Mom, because it was Kung Fu Theater time. And then one Saturday I got my sake and was all ready, and I turned on the TV and Martial Arts Theater wasn't there. Another episode of Cheers, or something else was on. So I thought, "alright, I won't be greedy, I'll just wait for Kung Fu Theatre. So I waited, and there's no Kung Fu Theatre either. It was gone. There was some infomercial for one of those vacuum cleaners that only weigh six pounds. I can't tell you how upset I was that it wasn't there. But I wasn't just upset that it wasn't there, I was really upset that the week before they didn't tell us. Then I waited the next week just to see if maybe something was wrong, but they never came on again, so there was no closure, and the guy in the Kung Fu suit didn't ever say, "Patti, and everybody else who is watching, happy trails…" It was just over. I was really heartbroken, so I had to sort of dream my Kung Fu movies, and I wrote The Writer's Song.

TODD BAESEN: What was the inspiration behind Death of a Tramp?

PATTI SMITH: That's a poem I writ in Belfast, we were on tour there and I read this little thing in the newspaper about how a tramp was murdered in the hills, and what a kindly tramp he was.

TODD BAESEN: What about To His Daughter. Was that written for Jesse?

PATTI SMITH: No, it was written for my niece Simone, after my brother Todd passed away. The poem that I writ for Jesse was The Pride Moves Slowly.

TODD BAESEN: I know you're a big environmentalist and recently Prince Charles was in San Francisco warning about global warming and speaking out against the destruction of the environment.

PATTI SMITH: Good for him.

TODD BAESEN: It's rather alarming that so many species of animals on the planet are in danger of becoming extinct. Was that part of the idea behind your poem for the Dodo bird?


PATTI SMITH: Yes, the little Dodo poem resonates right now with all of our concerns about the environment, and all the different animals, fishes and birds that are dying out from abuse. Because of the destruction of our environment, all these animals no longer have homes or they no longer have the food chain that they need to survive. And the story of the Dodo bird is so heartbreaking, because they were a very kindly bird; very family oriented, and were vegetarians. They lived on Mauritius Island, off the coast of South Africa and they were very specific to this one particular island. They were just a big lumbering bird with a huge beak, just like you saw in (Lewis Carroll's) Through the Looking Glass. Then when the Dutch and Spanish and other new people came to this island, they found them so hilarious and so clumsy they just killed them off for sport, because they really weren't that tasty. In fact there were very bad reviews written in the in the 17th century about Dodo meat, saying it's very fatty and unappetizing. So they eventually just wiped the Dodo bird out, slaying them for sport, this sweet, friendly bird. So I wrote this little poem, Sleep of the Dodo, in memory of the Dodo bird.

TODD BAESEN: Pablo Picasso's painting, Guernica was the inspiration behind one of my favorite poems in the new book, and it also harks back to an earlier poem you wrote, Picasso laughing.


PATTI SMITH: Yes, I wrote Picasso laughing back in 1973, right after Picasso died. It appeared in my book Witt. But I always loved Guernica, so when I was young, I would go to visit it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York whenever I had the two dollars to get in, and I'd just sit and look at it for hours. Then I was sort of heartbroken when they took it back to Madrid, although I knew that's where it was destined to be. But last year, when I played at the Festimad in Madrid, I visited the Reina Sofia Museum and really contemplated Guernica again, and while I was there, I thought about Picasso in the act of painting Guernica. Then I wrote this little poem, The Geometry Blinked Ruin Unimaginable.

TODD BAESEN: Of course, the incident that led Picasso to paint such an enormous canvas was the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish civil war.

PATTI SMITH: Yes, it was on April 26, 1937, when a massive air raid by the German Luftwaffe all but leveled the Basque town of Guernica. 100,000 pounds of bombs were dropped on this peaceful little village, killing a third of the population. It was a major and tragic milestone in the Spanish Civil War. It inspired the grieving Picasso to respond by painting his masterpiece. Picasso had such an emotional grasp on the aftermath of the air assaults on the citizens. It's a really great painting that still serves as a prophetic vision of war as well as an international plea for peace. His work draws one to contemplate the events of August 6 and 9, 1945, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We must continue to remember and be diligent. A lack of diligence and misguided nationalism led to allowing the Bush administration to invade Iraq. We must remember it was not a war. We invaded them with manpower and technology that they were powerless to defend. We brought that country down, destroyed its infrastructure and killed thousands of citizens. We cannot ignore that fact.

TODD BAESEN: Jimmy Carter recently said the same thing. It isn't really a war in Iraq, because outside of the soldiers there, nobody in America is really being asked to give anything up, or sacrifice something, as every American did in World War II or even during Vietnam. Instead, under Mr. Bush, we've been told we can have a nice big tax cut! So it's a completely absurd situation, spending billions of dollars in Iraq and having a tax cut which results in a 7 trillion dollar deficit! Anyway, since three of your poems in Auguries of Innocence deal with bombings, I'd like to insert another of your souvenances here on the bombing of Nagasaki. It's very sobering to realize the only time any country in the world has ever used offensive nuclear weapons was when the United States bombed Japan. And as Jimmy Carter points out in his new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, under the leadership of Mr. Bush, a radical shift has occurred, where it has now become America's policy to preemptively attack any country on the planet our incompetent President thinks may pose a danger to the United States.

Nagasaki - August 9, 1945

We remember Nagasaki and mourn her children.

At 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki. This weapon of mass destruction destroyed a third of the city, killing or injuring over 150,000 people.

The people of Nagasaki have labored long to rebuild their city and their lives. Life and vegetation bloom once more. But we should never forget the terrible consequences of the misguided and inhumane decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There are no righteous wars. There is no righteous use for the atomic bomb. Only a globally united people can stop our governments from building, stockpiling and testing weapons of such magnitude.