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interview / page two

Jody Denberg: I just want to talk a little bit more about the art, because I'm intrigued. And I've never seen any of it. And we were saying there's a portion of it that's a response to 9-1-1 artistically. Do you think that a lot of the art you did over those 35 years was a commentary or a reaction to things going on or was some of it more internal?

Patti Smith: Well, my work often has to do with the process I'm going through. The one interesting thing that my drawings show is my process from being a visual artist to a performer. I never thought I would ever be a performer or a singer. But I started doing my drawings. And I like to comment on my drawings and often write or write poems. And as I evolved, I was writing more on the drawings than drawing. And I was a very physical artist. And we'd be speaking them and, you know, moving around as I was writing. And Robert kept saying to me, "You should do poetry readings or somethin' or perform." And I said, "Oh, I don't know anything about that." And finally, I did one. And I was going to do my first one in 1971. And really, that's how I met Lenny Kaye, because I went to some poetry readings and they were so boring that I wanted some more action. So I met Lenny Kaye and I said, "Do you play a little guitar?" And he said, "Yeah." And I said, "Well, will you play some car crash noise or some sonicscapes while I read this poetry?" And he said, "Yeah." And we did this thing and caused a lot of controversy and trouble. But it all evolved from my drawing. And often my drawing documents my process going from poetry into rock and roll. And so there's all kinds of things. My own personal growth, but also the way I relate to art history and the people that I admire, often my work just reflects my studies of Blake or Picasso or whoever I'm studying.

Jody Denberg: I was listening to a version of Higher Learning that has you incorporating Blake's contemplation?

Patti Smith: Yes. Well, we wrote and recorded Higher Learning while I was doing a lot of these drawings. And Higher Learning could just as well be a soundtrack to the pieces I did reflecting on the World Trade Center. They all move -- they all integrate. Because Higher Learning, of course, is concerned with the spiritual aspects of man and how we don't learn from history and how we, as a people, we evolved and have this beautiful mind and this brain and such capabilities and these great equations. And somebody like Einstein and what do we do with all of this knowledge, but we create things like the bomb. And it's one of the lines in the Higher Learning is, "We could have had music, but we made the bomb." You know, we could have like developed a cure, but we put all of our time and energy and contemplation into developing the bomb.

Jody Denberg: I'd like to think that we do both sometimes.

Patti Smith: Yes, we do. Of course, we do. Or we wouldn't be here.

Jody Denberg: No. I'd be even more desperate today than I am with, you know, the state of affairs and such. Just the way all these things interweave, I'd imagine this is almost a cliché question. But, you know, what makes you decide when you're ready to express yourself whether you're going to take pen to paper or do writing or artwork or maybe pick up a guitar now and play? What dictates that?

Patti Smith: Well, I try to keep a balance. You know, if I'm supposed to be working on an album and I have a responsibility to my band, to the people, to my company, I try to focus on that. But sometimes, I have no choice. When I did the World Trade Center pieces, I was supposed to be working on a book, actually, about my friend, Robert. And instead of working on the book about Robert, I was creating art. So I didn't think that Robert would mind. But sometimes I really have no choice. Other times, I get a sense or an intuition about which medium would be the most powerful in order to get an idea across, which is why, of course, I've always loved rock and roll. Because if you have an important issue to communicate with the people, there's not probably, for me, a greater way to communicate with large numbers of people than rock and roll. At least, as I've known rock and roll.

Jody Denberg: I'm just so glad, you know, that you're here with the band, because when I first heard you had this art opening, I thought it would be like the Nader rally when it was you and Oliver and made a point. But I think I need some loud rock and roll.

Patti Smith: Oh, we'll be loud, I promise you. We'll be loud.

Jody Denberg: And so you went to Houston to kind of check on your exhibit and then you drove into Austin...

Patti Smith: We just landed in Houston and, yeah, drove to Austin. And it was really spectacular because -- it's funny. I love storms. I love them. And the last time we were here, we saw the tornado touching down.

Jody Denberg: Yeah.

Patti Smith: Which was really fantastic. As long as nobody gets hurt, I love storms. But as we were coming in, it was one of the most spectacular lightning storms I've ever seen. The whole sky was like white and gold and it was just breathtakin'. But it did make me contemplate one thing … as we were driving into Austin. I thought, there I was in this truck with my band, able to look out and just be totally entranced by nature and knowing that the sky was white and just like totally ablaze with light from God and nature. And it made me think about the people in Baghdad who have to see their sky continuously lit up at night -- orange, yellow, white and it's not God or nature that is setting their skies ablaze. And no matter what we think about what's happening, if we take it to the most human element and think about those people. You know, if people don't have it in them or it's not their policy or they don't feel against the war, if they just at least say a prayer for those people who do not have the luxury of riding on a highway with their band thinking, it's just nature, you know, lighting up the skies. Just think of those people and say a prayer for 'em.

Jody Denberg: Yeah. Our people, the Iraqi people. All the people, because they're all the same. We're all the same. I know it seems painfully obvious to me sometimes and probably to you. But you know, it's been a comfort to me when natural elements trump the confusion in my mind, because I know that they will trump this whole situation ultimately and that the sun will survive and we will survive. And the rivers will flow. It's just getting past this, you know, the quickest way possible would really be a wonderful thing. You were talking earlier about you have a new home, Columbia Records. And that is so exciting.

Patti Smith: Yeah, I'm really, really excited and happy about it.

Jody Denberg: And I really love Land. I feel like Land was a big brick at the end of a road that said, "This is a marker and this is the end of this book or volume." And now you're starting a new one. So I remember talking to you when you were putting it together and, you know, you had some mixed feelings…

Patti Smith: Well, I was really proud of it. And we worked really hard and we gave them just about everything we could give them to give the people a nice piece of work. I haven't seen much done with it, but hopefully, it's out there for people to find. I hated to leave my company, because I'm a pretty loyal person. As I said, I'm like the Al Kaline of rock and roll. You know, it's like lifetime on one team. But it didn't work out that way. But the beautiful thing about what did happen is when I was a kid, the first record company when I started realizing there were record companies, was Columbia Records. I got my jazz records from Columbia. I had my Bob Dylan records from Columbia. And I always had a soft feeling about them, in terms of my life and my childhood. And when I was going to be on a record label, I was hoping I would be on Columbia. But I signed up with Clive Davis, which was good. But now it's, here we are. And I'm where I, I guess, was destined some day to be, at Columbia with Bob Dylan.

Jody Denberg: And really, that's where Clive came from anyway before he started Arista.

Patti Smith: Yes, it was, exactly. So there is like some kind of magical little circle.

Jody Denberg: There's justice. Every once in a while in the world, there's justice.

Patti Smith: And they're such great people. I mean, they're interested in live things, poetry. They're interested in all the things that I do. And they don't make me feel like I'm going to be a failure or of less importance if we don't have hit singles or anything like that. They're really offering me a home so that we can do our work and they'll put it out and get it to the people, best as they can.

Jody Denberg: Amen. So now that you're out with the band and it's been a while since Land and Jay Dee's feeling better and drumming, are you writing the songs?

Patti Smith: We are in pre-production now. And I'm really excited and happy. We're writing great songs. All of the band has contributed songs. They're relevant and we're all in good form. We're all in good health. And we're all both joyful and angry, so I just actually can't wait to record these songs.

Jody Denberg: You think you'll play a new song or two tonight or are you at that place yet?

Patti Smith: Well, no, because I have to say, at this point, I think if -- you know, I take a piss and it gets bootlegged. So -- excuse me. But I think we'll keep the new songs under wraps for a little while, until they get a little more developed.

Jody Denberg: And anyway, there's a symmetry in that statement with Piss Factory, but we won't even go there. But we invite you to come out to La Zona Rosa tonight for Patti Smith and her band at 9:00 ready to play for Austin, Texas. And one of the last times you were here, I'm always curious about the setlist. That's my thing. So will you do Wild Leaves tonight? What's going to be played? You know, I always want to know. And I said, "Would you be doing the song "Frederick"? And you, at that time, since that's a song about your late husband, you weren't ready for that.

Patti Smith: No, I wasn't ready. But actually, Oliver will push me into doing a song that I'm not ready for. He pushed me to do Pissing in the River and he said, "You know, why don't you just give it a shot?" And actually, it was fun to sing. It was actually -- because it's such a happy little song. So it was fun to sing. And it was really nice to do it with Jackson. You know, it is his dad. And so it was a nice moment.

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