Patti Smith Communicates

[from Hit Parader, 1978]
by Lisa Robinson

Back from her smashingly successful tour of Europe and England, Patti Smith sat in her New York City apartment and reminisced about some of the highlights.

Wearing a newly bought, unconstructed man's jacket, she said, "I went to Italy for a few days to do some press interviews, and Italy is so disorganized and uncommitted to rock and roll. 1 want to play there, but it's totally chaotic, and I feel that has a lot to do with the fact that there's no artistic or spiritual underground-it's all political."

"But there's a tremendous energy there, a real animal, magnetic atmosphere in Italy that l really respond to. I was different when I was there, I go through a transformation in certain countries, it's like I leap out of my skin."

"So, I talked to some government people and a lot of influential radio people and people at EMI (who distribute Patti's records in Europe) and got a commitment from them for us to tour Italy. Not to make a lot of money or anything, but just so we could go there with dignity, and perform with our proper equipment."

"I was in Italy for a few days and I felt like the prize specimen in the zoo. They threw a huge party for me in this large discotheque. It was supposed to be a big press thing, and I was supposed to come there and somehow express what I was. Sometimes in those situations you feel like a caged rat. But this time, I felt that I might not be able to perform there, ever-and I felt that I had a chance to do something good."

Leaning back against her bed, which was covered with copies of "Easter", fan mail, and photos of the tour, Patti brushed her hair (which she says she's growing real long for a film role) back from her face.

"I don't know what possessed me, but it was like all the American in me came out. I felt I had come out of the phone booth after making my costume change. I felt very strong. They were playing all my records, and all these people were just standing there looking at me ... and I realized that this party could be fantastic, or a real drag, it was all up to me."

"So I grabbed the prettiest girl there and started to dance. Then everybody started dancing, and it was no longer the record company's party. It was like a ritual, it was like 'West Side Story'. Me and these kids became one."

"It was like a concert. They put all our songs on, I acted them all out, I just did them. This was like our show in Italy. And that's how I started my tour."

Patti admitted that the band is treated with special respect in Europe: "They give us the same kind of treatment that therd give Bob Dylan, I think. There's something over there in regards to us that I don't totally understand yet and I don't think they understand it either."

"But I think when people become committed to our band, it's a big responsibility. With a lot of groups, all kids have to do is buy the records hang up a picture, go to a few concerts and forget about it."

"But the demand attached to our band ... well, there's a responsibility there. A responsibility to grow. All the growth that we share as a band, or that I go through in my shell, we try to share, and we also try to keep growing ourselves."

"We want something to happen. We want some kind of mutual brainstorm. When I do a show, if I don't get off on it, I don't get off the stage."

"One night we were in Dortmund, Germany and I couldn't connect with my guitar. I couldn't say anything, I was stuck, frozen. Now Lenny could have just done one of those rock and roll endings to get me out of it, but I refused to give. I kept on, and what happens now is that the band steps back and lets me have the whole stage."

"This is what happened to me on tour this time. I stopped retreating in terms of my guitar playing, I try to communicate. I have started to enter a whole new level of confidence in my playing."

"It began when we played in Ann Arbor. Because when I was snowed in in Ann Arbor and the boys were stuck in New York and I had to play with the Sonic Rendezvous Band, I thought I would just do a poetry reading, or play a guitar, or whatever I could do - like I used to do at the Bottom Line ... So I went up there and talked, and there were all these maniac kids, and I read some poems and stuff. I wanted to go for my guitar, I played some, I delivered a short Radio Ethiopia telegram and told them the boys wouldn't be coming, and then I went back into poetry. But I really wanted to communicate through that guitar."

"There was so much anarchy in the air, such a happy spirit, such a high spirit, it was hard for me to concentrate on language. Not that I couldn't do it,, and I did do it, but in myself, I felt that I was in this space ... it seemed like an hour but it was only a minute, when I was in this dilemma, I felt like I couldn't move."

"Then Fred Sonic Smith just came on the stage, and he went to the organ like the Phantom of the Opera, and he's always encouraged me - in a way that no one else has encouraged me to play guitar, he really believes in my playing - and I just picked up my guitar and I couldn't let anyone down. Couldn't let myself down, and I did it."

"I committed myself to the moment and I relaxed, and I just played how I was feeling. And I got the greatest sounds from my amp, my amp was so wonderful to me, and it was like a fantastic mutual connection. I was alone, I wasn't with my band, and then the Sonic Rendezvous Band asked me to play guitar with them and I said you'll have to play something in E, that's all I can do. They said all right, something in E. And they gave me so much space and so much respect that I just went out ... and I never forgot that."

"I had that new level of confidence and I took it to Europe, and I really feel it's going to be different now. It's how I feel when I play guitar ... it's like the poem in my book (High on Rebellion) ... and beyond."

  -- Lisa Robinson

Copyright © Hit Parader 1978

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