Smith performing at Provinssirock festival, SeinÃ¤joki, Finland, June 2007
|Birth name||Patricia Lee Smith|
December 30, 1946 |
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Origin||Woodbury, New Jersey, U.S.|
What I wanted in life always was to write something as good as 'Pinocchio.' I wanted to write. I wanted to evolve. I wanted to grow.
I was studying Francis of Assisi for quite some time, when Benedict was still the pope. And I was studying it for a song that I did for my last album, 'Banga.'
The moment of creative impulse is what an artist gives you. You look at a Pollock, and it can't give you the tools to do a painting like that yourself, but in doing the work, Pollock shares with you the moment of creative impulse that drove him to do that work.
I had a handful of records, but when I was 11 years old, I liked Puccini as much as Little Richard. They both made sense to me.
A lot of my audience are in their 50s. But they want me to pretend to continue to be pretending.
All I've ever wanted, since I was a child, was to do something wonderful.
My parents had three kids right after the Second World War, and we were all sort of sickly. Then I had a fourth sibling, with very serious asthma. The medical bills… So my parents always struggled.
I know that some people have different personas for the different things they do, and I'm not criticizing that – maybe it's a good thing – but I'm the same old person, so I take everything in stride.
It's taken me other places, but it was the impulse to write that led me to singing. I'm not a musician. I never thought of performing in a rock n' roll band. I was just drawn in. It was like being called to duty – I was called to duty, and I did my duty as best as I could.
I remember when the Bic pen was controversial. They came from France. They were cheap, and when one was out of ink, you threw it away; you didn't dip it into more ink.
Pop music has always been about the mainstream and what appeals to the public.
I had a really happy childhood – my siblings were great, my mother was very fanciful, and I loved to read. But there was always financial strife.
I was born in 1946, so I was born on the tail end of when everything was deemed important. You made things to last. If you came from a poor family, there was only one can opener.
I have bigger concerns than what pop stars are doing. I'm more concerned about our environment, what industrialists are doing to it.
I don't stay in one discipline because it's more lucrative than another. In fact, the most successful thing I ever did was 'Just Kids,' for which I had absolutely no expectations.
I don't think public life in and of itself can destroy you. I think it's the way people react to it, and some people are more sturdy than others… I don't think any one faction can be blamed for a person's self destruction – a certain amount of that has to be innate.
My daughter is one of my greatest inspirations. She's an environmentalist, she plays piano, she's raising money for the earthquake victims in Nepal. Every day she surprises me and teaches me something.
I dreamed of having a book of my own, of writing one that I could put on a shelf.
To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It's freedom.
Good news doesn't necessarily have to be a positive thing. Bringing good news is imparting hope to one's fellow man.
The thing is that any sophistication I have, aesthetically, comes from 'Vogue' and 'Harper's Bazaar.' In the '60s, I never missed an issue, even if I had to steal to get them.
I don't believe any artist who says, 'I had to do that because DJs will tell me I can't play that music. I will lose my job.' Well, lose the job and create a new job. If your label won't let you have the cover you want or sing the songs you want, then leave!
One of my great goals when I first started taking photographs or showing them publicly is that people might want one for over their desk. That's my goal.
Somehow I started introducing writing into my drawings, and after a time, the language took over and I started getting very involved with the handwriting and then the look of the handwriting.
Mohammed personally mapped out seven heavens. If he got to seven, you know there's more.
My parents were very humanistic, but where we lived was not the cultural center of the world. Hardly. So I came to New York for two reasons: to find my own kin and also to get a job. And that's what I came to New York for in '67.
I always wrote. I wrote every day. I don't think I could have written 'Just Kids' had I not spent all of the '80s developing my craft as a writer.
Since childhood, it was my dream to go where all the poets and artists had been. Rimbaud, Artaud, Brancusi, Camus, Picasso, Bresson, Goddard, Jeanne Moreau, Juliette Greco, everybody – Paris for me was a Mecca.
When I stopped performing for 16 years and lived in Michigan and was married and raising my children, I wrote about four or five books. I haven't published them. I just haven't gotten around to it for several reasons.
I want to be around a really long time. I want to be a thorn in the side of everything as long as possible.
The idea of redemption is always good news, even if it means sacrifice or some difficult times.
I sang 'O Holy Night' with the Vatican orchestra, but also a Blake – a lullaby that William Blake wrote for the Christ child, and I set it to music, and the Vatican orchestra played the music.
The thing is that as you grow through life, the pursuit of art and the pursuit of new ideas, all these things keeps your mind elastic.
If I'm taking a picture of Brancusi's grave, I know that there's something of him, of his mortal remains, beneath my feet, and there's something beautiful about that.
We have such a great depth of human history in all of the arts, whether it's opera or mathematics or painting or classical music or jazz. There's so many things to study, new books to read, and certainly always ways to transform old ideas and to come up with new ones.
My mom loved rock n' roll. My father hated it. We couldn't play it when he was around. He liked classical music and Duke Ellington.
I always wanted to be an artist, writer and poet since I was seven, and one has to live long enough to evolve as an artist and do one's finest work.
The thing is, it's not uncool to worry about people who seem like they're going on the wrong path. There's nothing cool about being self-destructive.
I was raised Jehovah's Witness. I was in Bible school at five or six years old, but I wouldn't say that we were a religious family.
I haven't had the most thrilling lifestyle. I was a pretty good dresser, but I would have a pretty boring 'Behind the Music.'
I loved being a rock and roll star, but it wasn't what I wanted in life.
In the period where I had to live the life of a citizen – a life where, like everybody else, I did tons of laundry and cleaned toilet bowls, changed hundreds of diapers and nursed children – I learned a lot.
There are so many great 19th-century photographers, and it's really my favorite period, but the amateurs did such beautiful work.
My son and daughter lost their father quite young, so we keep him present with us. It's just a daily practice.
There is hardly a place in New York that you can't walk a block and a half and get a cup of coffee. Believe me, I've been all over the world. There's no place like that but New York City.
I didn't love Jim Morrison 'cause he was self-destructive. I loved him because of his work. Because of the way he merged poetry and rock-and-roll. Because he did something new.
I just do my work, and I work every day, and my ambition is just to do something better than I last did.
It's not that I have compromised or anything, but it's always been important to me to take good care of myself and be a good example. I'm not much a role model in terms of hair care, though.
More than anything, that's been the thread through my life – the desire to write, the impulse to write. I mean, it's taken me other places, but it was the impulse to write that led me to singing.
I don't think the area of Jerusalem should be part of a Jewish state; it belongs to all people, to Christians and Muslims and the Jewish people.
Sometimes you're doing really well, then, after three or four years, everything inexplicably crashes like a house of cards and you have to rebuild it. It's not like you get to a point where you're all right for the rest of your life.
I was a lower middle-class kid. My family had no money. There was no room in our small house where there were already four kids, including myself, living.
My father was a dreamy fellow – he read Plato and Socrates and watched Phillies games.
I'm a worker. I do the work to communicate, and I want people to embrace it, and when they do I'm happy.
I am not really certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur.
If your label won't let you have the cover you want or sing the songs you want, then leave!
I came into music because I thought the presentation of poetry wasn't vibrant enough. So I merged improvised poetry with basic rock chords. That was my original mission.
My mother and father had so many ups and downs and stayed with each other and helped each other. My mother took in ironing and she was a waitress. My father was working in the factory and he did people's tax returns.
First of all, anybody who has lasted 30 and went through the 60's is really a survivor.
I was raised in rural south Jersey, and there was no culture there. There was a small library, and that was it. There was nothing else.
My parents were very well read. They were both New Englanders, not highly educated, but they had a sophisticated… they were both very humanistic, and they were sophisticated readers.
I'm an intuitive musician. I have no real technical skills. I can only play six chords on the guitar.
People wouldn't know this about me, but I adore ball gowns. I love their cut, their architecture and the thought of the hands of so many seamstresses working on them.
For Christmas every year, my mother used to give me those cheap little diaries that would tell your horoscope and provide a little blank slot for each day.
Artists, musicians, scientists – if you have any kind of visionary aptitude, it's often something that you don't have a choice in. You have to do it.
I was a sickly child, not very strong physically. I wasn't really the greatest in school. I didn't really excel in anything particularly. But I was happy with who I was.
It was always my belief that rock and roll belonged in the hands of the people, not rock stars.
What a model of an artist was for me was an artist who worked. Picasso was the ultimate model, because the work ethic he had.
Polaroid by its nature makes you frugal. You walk around with maybe two packs of film in your pocket. You have 20 shots, so each shot is a world.
The only thing I daydreamed about was being an opera singer. But I was so skinny and so pathetic that that sort of wasn't going to happen.
I voted for Obama. I was very happy when he won. But Obama hasn't really been able to effectively do anything that has made me… He hasn't helped the environment. He didn't close Guantanamo Bay. He went deeper into Afghanistan.
I didn't know Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse, but I was affected by both of their deaths because I admired their work so much and mourned their youth and work they would never produce.
Truthfully, I don't really think of myself as a photographer. I don't have all the disciplines and knowledge of a person who's spent their life devoted to photography.
My dad got a job in a factory in Philadelphia, so I was raised in Germantown in a sort of a barracks for soldiers. They had housing for temporary housing. And then my parents saved money and bought a little house in South Jersey, built on a swamp.
I don't think the Palestinian people or Afghan children or some other things I'm concerned about are at the top of other people's agendas – not right now, when America is going through such a recession and people are suffering across the board financially. But I think all that will change.
I didn't begin my life in 1975 with 'Horses.' I recorded 'Horses' in 1975, but was drawing in Paris in 1969.
Some of us are born rebellious. Like Jean Genet or Arthur Rimbaud, I roam these mean streets like a villain, a vagabond, an outcast, scavenging for the scraps that may perchance plummet off humanity's dirty plates, though often sometimes taking a cab to a restaurant is more convenient.
The reason we did 'Land of a Thousand Dances' and 'Gloria' on 'Horses' was because I liked repetitious, three-chord rock songs, but I didn't understand that I could write my own. I didn't realize that you could use those chords a million times.
A lot of children don't have a developed aesthetic. I did. I made early choices in life, even about cloth; I liked flannel and not polyester.
I never felt oppressed because of my gender. When I'm writing a poem or drawing, I'm not a female; I'm an artist.
I get irritated with the world. I get irritated with politicians. I get very irritated with governments and with corporations, but in terms of imagination – my imagination is always fertile. I'm either thinking of my own things or constantly engaged by the things that other people do.
You're not a rock n' roll person four hours a day or even when you're on stage. It's become the rhythm of your whole life.
I would rather write or record something great and have it overlooked than do mediocre work and have it be popular.
I know what that tastes like, to be a rock-and-roll star – to have a limousine, to have girls screaming when they see you, girls trying to cut my hair, get a piece of me. But I don't walk around with a concept of myself as a rock-and-roll star, and certainly not as a musician, because I really can't play anything, except primitively.
When I was young, I knew William Burroughs really well. And William's secret desire, which he never quite did, was to write a straightforward detective novel.
Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.
I come from a working-class family, and I've been working since I was 13, from babysitting to blueberry picking to factory work to bookstore work. And of course, being a mother and homemaker, the hardest work of all.
I've lost lots of men in my life, besides my mother, which is a whole different loss.
Then I read Little Women, and of course, like a lot of really young girls, I was very taken with Jo – Jo being the writer and the misfit.
From very early on in my childhood – four, five years old – I felt alien to the human race. I felt very comfortable with thinking I was from another planet, because I felt disconnected – I was very tall and skinny, and I didn't look like anybody else, I didn't even look like any member of my family.
I liked being on stage; I just didn't like the theatrical aspect of being in front of people.
I was quite an insomniac. I rarely slept as a child. Having God to talk to at night was nice.
I have a daughter who's 11 years old. Maybe she'll grow up independent and really really heavy and become a movie star and she'll play me in my life story.
Robert Mapplethorpe asked me to write our story the day before he died. I had never written a book of nonfiction, and so it took me almost two decades to write that book.
The thing I've always liked about performing is that I decide what I want to wear, whether I want to comb my hair.
I come from a real working class background, and I didn't know anyone sophisticated – except I saw Edie Sedgewick once at the Art Museum in Philly. She had these black leotards and little black pumps and this big ermine cape and all these white dogs and black sunglasses and black eyes. She was classy!
I have great respect for my parents. I got such beautiful things from both of them. It doesn't mean that we didn't have our rough times, but they were remarkable people who were open-minded, creative and hard-working, and had great senses of humor.
It's no secret – I love detective fiction. One of the reasons I love being in London is because I like to watch all the shows on TV. I watch them all. I like 'Detective Frost.'
My father's mother was from Liverpool and she had this very beautiful English china. I only wanted to drink my cocoa out of my grandmother's cup and saucer.
Sure I destroyed my guitar at every concert, but it was okay, because I'd always get a shiny new one the very next day.
I work to Glenn Gould in the morning and go to sleep listening to Parsifal.
My siblings were a bit younger than me, and I was always entertaining them and making up stories.
My mom loved rock 'n roll. My father hated it. We couldn't play it when he was around.
The issue of gender was never my biggest concern; my biggest concern was doing good work. When the feminist movement really got going, I wasn't an active part of it because I was more concerned with my own mental pursuits.
I think we have a creative impulse where suffering can magnify our work, but so can joy. You can be in love and write the greatest love song ever. Sometimes I think too much suffering makes it difficult to do one's work.
Hopefully if you create something fine, people will relate to it, so you're communicating with people, and you're not in a void. On the other hand, because you're always creating and transforming, art always separates you – always.
Well, I'm not one of those people who needs the limelight. If I'm performing, that's what I'm doing. If I'm not, I don't long for it. I don't need the approval of an audience, or applause.
I try not to give too much advice, really, because people have to do their things their way. I got lots of advice when I was young, and I ignored most of it – the good and the bad.
I'd just make sure with anything I say I know what I'm talking about.
I learned a lot from Arthur Rimbaud. People talk about how he wanted to be a seer and do that through the derangement of the senses. What they forget was that he also advocated, sternly and austerely, that one must be able to go through all that – and then articulate it.
In the '60s, I used to love rock magazines; I'd cut out pictures of Bob Dylan and John Lennon.
Everyone thinks of God as a man – you can't help it – Santa Claus was a man, therefore God has to be a man.
I was actually born in Chicago, and then when I was a toddler, my parents moved to Philadelphia.
Usually when I go to a place for the first time, unless there's something historical or spectacular that nature has to offer, the first thing I like to do is see what's on the minds of the people.
If I've learned one thing in life, it's not to be so judgmental of other people.
I knew William Burroughs really well, and I was always star struck being around him. I adored him.
Of course, every artist has 'minor works' that they do, but I don't think I have any 'minor disciplines.' Each discipline I approach as a major undertaking that I put my whole self into.
I don't believe people playing rock n' roll should have crowns. We're not kings and queens. Anybody can play it.
When I was younger, I felt it was my duty to wake people up. I thought poetry was asleep. I thought rock 'n' roll was asleep.
I wrote every day. I don't think I could have written 'Just Kids' had I not spent all of the 80s developing my craft as a writer.
I love playing the Fillmore. I love the walk from the hotel and climbing up those old, iron stairs that lead to the stage. I imagine Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors and all those other great bands climbing those same stairs.
It's not uncool to worry about people who seem like they're going on the wrong path. There's nothing cool about being self-destructive.
The cult of celebrity in the '60s and '70s was really more reserved for movie stars or high socialites. Paparazzi didn't care about Janis Joplin.
No matter what anybody thinks about any of them, every record I've done has been done with the same amount of care, anguish, pain, suffering, and joy.
I'm always writing. And, I mean, I always counsel people when they call me a musician: I really do not have the skills of a musician. I really don't think like a musician, though I love music and I perform and sing.
I had this idea that the coolest thing that could happen to you was talking with God. My father was always talking about God, and I idolized my father, so I'd spend hours trying to have mental telepathy with God.
My mother had no end of tragedy in her life. She would make herself get up and take a deep breath and go out and do laundry. Hang up sheets.
I felt alien my whole life, but I didn't feel alien because of my gender. Other people made me aware of my gender.
For everything bad, there's a million really exciting things, whether it's someone puts out a really great book, there's a new movie, there's a new detective, the sky is unbelievably golden, or you have the best cup of coffee you ever had in your life.
I was so unhealthy as a child, and at least three or four times my parents were told to get ready, that I would not make it.
What I really like is an intelligent review. It doesn't have to be positive. A review that has some kind of insight, and sometimes people say something that's startling or is so poignant.
I was never a singer; I can't play any instruments; I had no training. Plus, I was brought up in a time when all the great rock stars were male. I didn't have any template for what I was doing. I did what I did out of frustration and concern.
What I wanted to do in rock 'n roll was merge poetry with sonic scapes, and the two people who had contributed so much to that were Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.
New York is a great city. There is no question of that. It's such a diverse city. I've walked down the city and heard four or five different languages simultaneously. I think that's beautiful.
In 1974, when I started working with the material that became 'Horses,' a lot of our great voices had died. We'd lost Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, and people like Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Ornette Coleman is a real musician. He takes all of the things he's thinking about in the world – which is a whole universe upon universe – and translates this into music.
The Bible is very resonant. It has everything: creation, betrayal, lust, poetry, prophecy, sacrifice. All great things are in the Bible, and all great writers have drawn from it and more than people realise, whether Shakespeare, Herman Melville or Bob Dylan.
If I have any regrets, I could say that I'm sorry I wasn't a better writer or a better singer.
People came at me with all sorts of offers, wanting to make me into a hard-core Cher. I had no desire for any amount of money to be reformed for someone's vision, because in the end, that's what you got: your clay in someone else's hands.
Even as a child, I knew what I didn't want. I didn't want to wear red lipstick.
We didn't have the phrase 'style icon' when I was young, but I have to say, I really copied Bob Dylan when I was younger: a little bit of Bob Dylan or a lot of Bob Dylan and the French symbolist poets – I liked how they dressed – and Catholic school boys.
Since I was a child, I hated having to deal with my hair. I hated having to change my clothes. As a kid, I had a sailor shirt and the same old corduroy pants, and that's what I wanted to wear everyday.
Why do people want to know exactly who I am? Am I a poet? Am I this or that? I've always made people wary. First they called me a rock poet. Then I was a poet that dabbled in rock. Then I was a rock person who dabbled in art.
When I was a child, I was certain that I could remember what it was like to live on Venus; I could remember what it was like to live in the American Plains. I could remember. And it's ancient memory. We all have it. It's just that some of us access it more than others.
What I say should always be prefaced with this: I'm not really politically articulate. I just try to be like Thomas Paine: what is common sense? So when I say these things to you, I am speaking from a humanist point of view. I just look around and see what's wrong.
I had a penchant myself for doing several things at once. I wanted to draw, write, speak.
Grief starts to become indulgent, and it doesn't serve anyone, and it's painful. But if you transform it into remembrance, then you're magnifying the person you lost and also giving something of that person to other people, so they can experience something of that person.
Music television is all about the media-oriented version of what it is to be a rock star; it's not about what Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix were about – which included great images, sure, but they had spiritual and political and revolutionary content, too.
When I was young, I was offered my first recording contract in 1971 and was offered quite a bit of money if I would change my character and be a '70s version of Cher.
You can't change the world; you can't fix the whole environment. But you can recycle. You can turn the water off when you're brushing your teeth. You can do small things.
I was in musical comedy. And I did very well, but the memorization killed me. I'm not good at memorizing, and it gave me a lot of anxiety. I hated the makeup. I hated all that pancake makeup. I didn't really like dressing for parts.
I've always looked the same. Since I was a child, I hated having to deal with my hair. I hated having to change my clothes. As a kid, I had a sailor shirt and the same old corduroy pants, and that's what I wanted to wear everyday.
'M Train' is as close to knowing what I'm like as anything. I don't know exactly what the book is about. All and nothing, I suppose.
I loved books; I read my childhood away. I was more interested in my interior world.
The new artists coming through were very materialistic and Hollywood, not so engaged in communication.
As I go through life, I can see why my mother directed me that way, or why my father counseled me in that way. But some things you're open to when you're young, and some things you need to find out for yourself. I think that that's pretty universal.
I had to learn, really, how to rein in my energies and discipline myself. And I found it very very useful. I rebelled against it at first, but it's a good thing to have.
I'm a human being, I'm a friend, I'm a mom, I'm a writer, and I'm an artist. I do play electric guitar and all of that, but in the end, I'm just a person.
I'm not saying I wasn't flawed or amateurish. But you can never say I did anything to appease the music business.
Let's just say that I think any person who aspires, presumes, or feels the calling to be an artist has a built-in sense of duty.
I get up, and if I feel out of sorts, I'll do some exercises, I'll feed my cat, then I go get my coffee, take a notebook, and write for a couple of hours.
No, my work does not reflect my sexual preferences, it reflects the fact that I feel total freedom as an artist.
I've said this over and over, but I'll say it a million more times – I'm concerned more about the death of a bee than I am about terrorism. Because we're losing hives and bees by the millions because of such strong pesticides.
I'm not really a musician. I'm a performer, and I love rock n' roll. I've embraced rock n' roll because it encompasses all the things I'm interested in: poetry, revolution, sexuality, political activism – all of these things can be found in rock n' roll.
In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.
If I feel any marginalisation, it's because the things that concern me aren't so important to other people.
When I'm writing a book, I don't have any responsibility to anyone. I'm solitary. I'm writing on my own. I write by hand. And I write every day. I mean, it's part of my daily discipline.
Nothing is a hobby – each discipline is its own world with its own high standards. Of course, every artist has 'minor works' that they do, but I don't think I have any 'minor disciplines.'
We never threw a record together. Each record was done really seriously, as if our life depended on it.
I'm not afraid of terrorism at all. I'm afraid of loss of our freedom, loss of mobility, loss of global comradeship.
I like revisiting my early work, and people like to hear it. I don't make people suffer through any experimentation or new material. When I go see an artist, I want to hear the songs that drew me to them, so I do the same.
An artist may have burdens the ordinary citizen doesn't know, but the ordinary citizen has burdens that many artists never even touch.
Bringing good news is imparting hope to one's fellow man. The idea of redemption is always good news, even if it means sacrifice or some difficult times.
Robert Mapplethorpe, I met in 1967. He was a student at Pratt, though even as a student a fully formed artist. We went through many things in our life together. He became my loved one, then my best friend.
As an artist, I used to think that my responsibility was to do good work. But I had to learn from the '70s on that being a public figure presents another aspect of responsibility.
I remember the first club we played in San Francisco. There were a lot of people on motorcycles standing around outside, and I had trouble getting in. I didn't have any ID, and the guy at the door wouldn't let me in, even though I told him I was gonna be singing in there.