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patti smith from the observer

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  • stevolende
    i got the land cds on cdr last week great compilation though i wish somebody wouyld stick Hey Joe out again and give WKBAI 75 an official release she was also
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 29, 2002
      i got the land cds on cdr last week great compilation though i wish
      somebody wouyld stick Hey Joe out again and give WKBAI 75 an official
      she was also on Later on Friday -is that repeated tonight on BBC2 or
      was that last night?

      This is who I am
      She rejects the title High Priestess of Punk. She advocates
      compassion for terrorists. And she's fond of golf. At 55, Patti Smith
      remains as wayward as ever

      Burhan Wazir

      Sunday April 28, 2002

      'I have a reputation.' Fifteen minutes into a rare interview, Patti
      Smith is angry. We are sitting on a sofa backstage at the BBC and
      she's pursing her lips. 'People sometimes see me as this high
      priestess of performance. Like I am constantly out to shock people.
      But often I just feel passionately about things. And I just have my
      own way of bringing across that passion.'

      She fidgets with the cuffs of her shirt. 'I guess some people take
      that the wrong way. But I don't listen to them.'

      It's difficult to realise that Smith is 55 years old. It's now more
      than a quarter of a century since her friend, the late artist Robert
      Mapplethorpe, immor talised Smith against a white wall for the sleeve
      of her breakthrough record, Horses . That picture, in which Smith
      wears a white shirt with a jacket draped over one shoulder, is among
      the most powerful images in rock photography. Except for her once
      dark hair, now silvery-grey and running thick and wild down her back,
      that photograph could easily be replicated today. She looks now as
      she did then - classical, thin, androgynous and unburdened by time.
      Her face is remarkably smooth, with few wrinkles, and there remains,
      on the surface, a coiled insolence: 'I've always looked the same.'.

      She is friendly and chatty, sipping tea and relating anecdotes,
      occasionally leaning forward to emphasise or clarify a point. This
      affable humour is at odds with her reputation as a fierce,
      argumentative critic. Two months ago, she was on stage at an annual
      fundraising event at New York's Carnegie Hall: 'It's a Free Tibet
      concert, right? So you'd expect the people there to be sympathetic to
      all kinds of things. I mean how much more of a left-wing cause can
      you get?'

      Introducing a poem about John Walker Lindh, the 21-year-old
      Californian who converted to Islam and joined the Taliban, she told
      the audience: 'We should reach out to him with our humanity. We
      should be compassionate in our judgmental attitudes towards him. He
      was seduced by an ideology and deserves our compassion and

      One section of the crowd booed. And Smith remembers someone from the
      front yelling out: 'Fuck Walker.' Another shouted: 'Screw

      Unperturbed or, more likely, encouraged by the heckling, Smith
      continued. And finished. 'I have had disagreements with many of my
      fans over my career. People are always walking up to me and telling
      me that I'm wrong about this or wrong about that. But I have an
      obligation to get people to accept me. And they have to accept my
      opinions. I have to show them another way of looking at things. It's
      a way of saying who I am.'

      She argues that her true audience knows how she feels. 'But my peers
      and most Americans don't think the way I do. I have been threatened
      and people get angry with me. So I have to sit and explain to them.
      And talk to them. And tell them to respect the fact that Walker did
      an American thing. Americans have the freedom of speech and the
      freedom of expression. He wasn't a dilettante, he was pursuing things
      in a different way. But it was an American way.'

      The singularity of her self-belief has been a hallmark of a career
      which has seen her record only seven albums since her debut, Horses ,
      in 1975. 'I do them only when I feel ready and not before. I have no
      need to be famous,' she says. Horses is frequently mentioned,
      alongside The Beach Boys's Pet Sounds and Nirvana's Nevermind, as one
      of the most influential albums of all time. Seven years ago, the late
      Joey Ramone described Smith to me as 'a groundbreaking act. She took
      what had traditionally been seen as boys' music, and reclaimed it.
      She didn't care what anyone thought'.

      Yet long before her canonisation by the rock fraternity, Smith had
      abandoned rock music. Her long absence fermented her reputation among
      successive generations as 'the godmother of punk'. It's a title she
      disputes - in slightly irritated fashion. 'I was an artist before I
      was a poet. And I was a rock'n'roll singer later.'

      As if to prove the point, her latest undertaking is her first
      compilation: the 2-CD set Land: 1975-2002. The first CD was compiled
      after 10,000 fans polled their favourite songs. Opener 'Dancing
      Barefoot' won the most votes and is track one, with the rest neatly
      following in order of popularity. But the rest of the lavish package,
      including archive material and an essay by Susan Sontag, proves that
      Smith comes from a musically gentler genealogy than punk; one that
      deified instead of denied literary instincts. 'I call this
      rock'n'roll. But in a way I'm just saying, "This is who and what I
      am. And you have to try and accept me for it".'

      That avowed intent is still on display. The same night, she's at the
      BBC singing 'Because the Night', her only major chart hit to date, a
      song she co-wrote in 1978 with fellow New Jersey musician Bruce
      Springsteen. Accompanied only by the acoustic guitar of her partner,
      Oliver Ray, she dances and flails her arms. Her fingers move and she
      snaps her heels on the floor. Then, suddenly, inexplicably, she is
      moved to tears. She returns later for 'Dancing Barefoot', prefacing
      the song with a short monologue about war.

      The in-house audience of fans and music industry workers grows
      silent. Smith carries on. She dances erotically and carefully
      controls her voice. The noises she generates have little in common
      with those of most rock singers. She looks for rhythms, exploiting
      the backbeat of a song with a mischievous sense of adventure. But
      that war monologue sounded predetermined, a way deliberately to jolt
      the comfortable audience who had contentedly sashayed their way
      through the evening's other performances.

      She had told me earlier: 'I think terrorists should be looked at as
      soldiers. We should sit down with them and try and include them in
      the diplomatic process. After all, their way of fighting is their
      only way of fighting. And remember, the Americans come from that
      history, too. Terrorism was the only way in which we were able to
      defeat the English.'

      She sounds scornful, the embodiment of 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger', her own
      song from 1978 that bases itself on the premise that artists are
      often lone outsiders. She should know. In 1979, aged 31, and after a
      huge concert for 70,000 people in Florence, she suddenly resigned
      from the music industry. 'One doesn't grow on the road with a
      rock'n'roll band. There is a lot of indulgence and pressure. You're
      only working towards fame and fortune, and they were not my prime

      After moving to Michigan, she married the musician Fred (Sonic)
      Smith. It was eight years before she returned to public life. 'Fred
      gave me something I'd never come across before.'

      The married life Smith then led hints at a conventional side to her
      nature that has rarely presented itself in her albums. 'I wanted to
      study, be an artist. As a person doing records, I wanted to not only
      give people fun and excitement but to serve them in a way. I met a
      person who I greatly respected and loved. And who knew more about a
      lot of things than me. And I went to Michigan and got married. He
      learned how to become a private pilot and together we studied
      everything from golf to Proust. Because we didn't have much money, I
      learned how the average citizen lives.'

      Fred Smith died aged 45 in 1994 after a heart attack. Lost in memory,
      she looks off into the distance, occasionally cupping her hands over
      her face. Then she smile and for the first time in our interview
      breaks that unlined face into laughter. 'I have a tendency to go on,'
      she says. 'But sometimes our minds just go somewhere and you can't
      stop them.' She walks away, her mind presumably already preoccupied.

      Land: 1975-2002 is out now on Arista
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