Patti Smith:
I am one of the Best dressers in rock and roll

[from Hit Parader, 1978]
by Lisa Robinson

Lisa: Since your accident and subsequent recovery, can you move much on stage?
PS: Not everything, but the boys watch me so much, if I start doing a backbend and I lose my nerve, Ivan puts a guitar between my legs and Lenny comes right up and I just use Lenny's head. I backbend right down Lenny's body. And it's actually a cool move. It's just like Kiss.
Lisa: How's your guitar playing developing? Do you think your audience -or even the band-is surprised by your commitment to it?
PS: Well, everybody says the guitar was a boys' instrument, especially in the '60s. You know, girls weren't allowed to play electric guitar yet, and remember that day in the heat of passion when you and I were doing an intervlew I revealed my desire to play guitar to you and you said I should do it. You were like my first conspirator, remember that? It was in your house a couple of years ago. And I did it, much to the regret of my band.
Lisa: No ... they don't regret it.
PS: No, they like it now. The kids really like it. They are really into "Radio Ethiopia" now.
Lisa: How has it changed?
PS: It's real strong. It's shorter and faster. It's still improvisational, but it's shorter, stronger and it's like not so much groping around. Like I, for one, know what I'm doing. And now it goes from "Radio Ethiopia" into-it's sort of like a little suite. It goes from "Radio Ethiopia" to "Rock and Roll Nigger" to "Gloria." You know, so we know where we're going. We know what we're looking for. How we get there is another story.
Lisa: How much time have you had to practice considering that you've had to finish "Babel" and recover and get ready to record "Easter"?
PS: The whole time I was in bed, Andi (Ostrowe) came over and she played piano and I played guitar. I mean I practiced. I worked real hard during that - I got a lot accomplished. I wrote a book, I started playing piano.
Lisa:How long was the recovery period?
PS:6 months.
Lisa: Had you done anything on the book before? I mean that's a very short time to do a book, Patti...
PS:Some. Well, there's a few pieces in it that are from other books. But it's almost all new. Inspired by, let's say, it's sort of the biblical history of Motor City, you know?
Lisa: All the different levels of art that you are doing now have forms. The book has a form, the drawings have a form. How do you feel about the music? Did the experience of the last album make you feel that you have to be musical or more disciplined? Or do you want to be more experimental?
PS: The boys want me to extend. Now I do have a really good ear, you know, and they want me to extend that. Allen (Lanier) always wants me to become a really good singer, you know, or producer. I mean everybody wants me to exploit what they believe in, that I have a really good voice. I mean I'm really lucky that people like care about me that much and really want to extend me.
Lisa: Do you feel that it's gotten too big? I mean, has it gotten away from you too much?
PS: Well, in one aspect-but like I don't care. I don't really mind because I love the band and I love being part of a collective and I think that like the stuff that I'd like to do is very minimal, you know. And you don't really need the kind of rock and roll band we have for the stuff I like to do privately. Me and the band talked it over and we decided it's time soon to start doing solo records.
Lisa: Really? Who?
PS:Me. I only compromise for the band. They are the only people I want to compromise for because in the context of the band is where I got the guts to start playing guitar, or start leaping or start doing backbends or start doing anything in public. The band helped me get over my shyness and release the most animal part of me which I really love. So like I think the band is becoming more of a group. I don't want to be a dictator for a bunch of guys. It's just that I think we'll do two things. Musically we're getting more sophisticated. I'm even getting more sophisticated even though I don't want to. It just happens, it's like you played long enough you learn stuff. I can sing better, you know. it's like it happened in spite of myself. So with the guys you know, we'll grow and get stronger, be more sophisticated by eventually I guess I'll start doing solo records. You know, people really loved "Horses," but I'm just the kind of person obstinate enough if too many people love it, it's time to like move on to something else.
Lisa: Do you feel that's what you did with the second album? Did you feel it was moving on to something else?
PS: Yeah. I wanted airplay, I wanted us to be a great rock and roll band. I felt that when we did "Horses" we weren't a rock and roll band yet. We were still converging and exploring. I didn't think that we were going to be a rock and roll band. I just never thought that I'd ever get that shot. I mean, it's like, all right, I got a gallery, I always thought I would get a gallery someday. I always thought I'd have a book someday, but I never thought I'd be in a rock and roll band someday.
Lisa: Well, you know that's interesting cause the last, I was talking to Jagger about that and the Sex Pistols and whether or not they're going to get more slick or sophisticated and he said it's just what you were saying, it's inevitable. It just happens.
PS:It's not even slick or sophisticated, it's just like communicating with more people, you know. At first with "Radio Ethiopia," people resisted it cause they thought for some reason we were selling out. They wouldn't press it in England cause it had "piss" in it, it had "fuck" in it. It didn't get any airplay, it was like twice as controversial as our first record. But artistic people sometimes think that if you don't do something obviously obscure, it ain't art, you know. I mean if you don't do something unlistenable or avant garde, that means it isn't art.

To me, all the great Beatles' songs are right up there with art, so are the great Stones' songs. I don't think the Beatles are jive. I still listen to that music. The thing that I like is when something attacks you. The great thing about the Beatles is when a great Beatles' song came on you didn't have to hear it ten times to get into it. It was just like BANG. It was great, right away great. Just like James Brown, why did James Brown have a string of hits, why does anybody have a string of hits?

Cause Bang!, they're great the first time you hear em. And I was trying to make that kind of record. I was trying to make the record that (snap) hit ya right like that. Even tried to put like what I considered the hit first, like Motown. But on the same end, I was also trying to explore intuition further than ever, which is what we did with Radio Ethiopia. People call me a poet, so because I didn't try to explore language in the second record to their liking, they thought that I threw it all away. To me, what's higher than language is sound. For myself, the goal that I'm looking for is communication.

When I first saw television and we were first involved in all this stuff and I had all this like energy I started writing all these pieces about the new boys. There's a piece in my book called 'Neo-Boy' - the new boys. New boys that would take over, myself being one of them, you know? And it's all like you know, on these electric battlefields. Jelly, animation, jello battlefields with electric guitars as your machine gun and all this kind of stuff. And then it's like watching all these like, all these new wave kids, you know, all these new bands. I did all these drawings and did all these poems, and they look like what I dreamed the next rock and roll kids would look like.

But like I think what's real is real, you know? I mean Bob Dylan came out and then all of a sudden all these sensitive creepy poets came out and it became a big movement. Then it got to be a drag, but Bob Dylan was still Bob Dylan.

I think the Sex Pistols look great, you know. I like God Save the Queen, but musically their music isn't so new. Reminds me of the Dolls or something.

Lisa: Don't you find it slightly jarring that you don't get the proper credit for "spearheading" the punk rock stuff?
PS:Well, they don't believe in idols, and I understand what these punk kids are into, and maintaining the image. Even if they put me down...They have to keep that image going. But I know what I did and no matter what they say there is not one punk rock kid, or whatever they call themselves or don't call themselves, no matter who they are out there-or any of these new girls coming up with guitars- not one of these people can play as good as me. I'm still the best guitar player in all this new wave stuff. Of course I've had two years on them.

I love all these groups because they are really animal, but you know I'll tell ya something about being American-we are the original animals. I mean really, it's like Americans give other people the courage to do stuff. And usually what happens is-Americans do it and have the initial originality, heart and energy and then all the other countries go and do it, but better. You know what I mean. It's like they have a better look, aesthetically they're better ... cooler dressers, you know the English are the best dressers except for me ... I am one of the best dressers in rock and roll, and I realize that.

Copyright © Hit Parader 1978

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