Patti Smith talks better about her thoughts than anybody

[from Hit Parader, June 1976]
by Lisa Robinson

Note from Anthony Rzepela:
I'd like to thank TG ( for providing me with not only the correct publication date on this article, but also a paragraph missing from my original posting of it.
These remarks were told to Lisa Robinson in two separate conversations during the latter part of 1975
"When I was a kid I was real religious and I would love the idea of communicating with God," said Patti Smith, recalling how she wrote the song "Kimberly" - a song about her sister - on her debut album, "Horses". "I just thought it was so great, because God was such an all encompassing thing. I thought if you could talk to God you could talk to people from other planets. I figured it was like - you know that saying, the key to the treasure is the treasure, I figured if you got to God you'd have everything. Space angels doing what they wanted. I spent all my time praying and I was really trying to get to God through a religion and every single religion I ever got into had so many dogmas and rules that always shut people out.

"My father was an atheist and I was really nuts about my father. Every time I'd get into a religion they'd say-'well, if your father doesn't do this and this and this then he can't really be a part of this with you', or 'if your mother doesn't do bingo' ... and I couldn't handle it, I was a kid, and couldn't handle that they would exclude ... So by the time I was about twelve or thirteen I just figured well, if that was the trip, and the only way you could get to God was through a religion, then I didn't want him anymore. That's really what this little rock and roll song is about, you know, but it doesn't come on }ike sickening cosmic stuff."

'It's about when I was thirteen and my little sister Kimberly was born. I was outside and there was this huge storm brewing and across the street there was a big black barn, it was filled with bats and there was this huge tree, a giant bush. The bush looked as big as the barn and I always looked at them because they were real sinister looking at night, because they were both black and etched against the sky. It was in the country and I have a real horror of the country, it scares me. In South Jersey we lived near a swamp and a pig farm and you could hear crickets and the noises of the wild hogs, like real weird noises. They snon and make real weird screaming noises. And if you're a nervous kid, Iying in bed, listening to that stuff ... and my mother and father were away because they were working all the time.."

"I tried to get into that in the song but I got so off the track because I got so involved in the fact that I was holding my baby sister and I was standing outside and I was sick . . . sick of being a Jehovah's Wilness, because another thing they said was that there was no place for art in Jesus' world. I had really gotten into art and I said well, what's going to happen with the museums, the Modligianis, the Blue Period, and they said it would fall into the molten sea of hell and all this stuff because it had no place in Jesus' world, and I went berserk."

"I certainly didn't want to go to heaven if lhere was no art in heaven and no palents in heaven, and they said 'well - you won't remember anything'. So I said well big deal about going to heaven when you have no memory, no art, no resources for creative spiraling..."

"So I had just quit being a Jehovah's witness and I knew that my mother was going to go crazy when she came home aml found out ... I just didn't care anymore and I was looking at this barn wilh such hatred and I thought, well fuck it, I'm not gonna try and communicate with outside sources, I'm just going to commune with myself. Instead of spending my time praying to outside stuff and to barns and churches and to other people, I'm just gonna make up fantasies and stuff and just ar that moment a big bolt of lightning struck the barn and it completely went up in flames. And the cool thing about it was that it was filled with rats and bats and flames went rushing up and rats - hundreds of rats, cause it was about four in the afternoon but the sky was gettin' like ... hundreds of rats ran hrough the field, everything was in flames."

"But anyway, this has been my problem my whole life. I tried to get into Islam and I love the Koran and I love the Morrocans. I love their aesthetics, I love their mosques, but every time I get into the beauty of a religion, well, their dogmas, they pull the shade down, you know. Religion is always to the exclusion of other people and that's why on my record, or in everything I do, I try not to exclude anybody...I don't think of stuff like that. When I do my songs I don't think of whether I'm a boy or a girl...I mean unless you're trying to do something definite, you know,if I'm looking to try and do a certain thing like give people a hardon or something like that. But when I'm doing poems like "Birdland" I don't think of any of that. If I want to talk about Arabs having assassinating rhythm in one breath and talk about Zion in the next breath and that, it's all great to me. The imagery of religion is fantastic, but I can't get into the dogma..."

"The one cool thing about music, or the one cool thing about art is that it's not to the exclusion of anybody. That's why I think art and music and all those things are the new answers for religion. People desperately want to believe in something, but because every time they try to believe in something they're given a bunch of rules, it doesn't happen."

"And I don't want to take the joy out of music for me now; one of the cool things about getting successful in rock and roll is keeping the traditional joys about it. I ain't gonna act cool and pretend that I don't get a kick, I mean it's so exciting, it's 90 exciting that people are excited about something in rock and roll again, I don't even care if it's me."

"All of us, every guy in the group is so honored to be doing something in rock and roll, we're all fans of rock and roll, and the idea that we're doing this thing .... I think rock and roll at its best is inspiring, I'd like to inspire people to see us, or hear us, and go away and just do their own ... I get just as excited as anybody in the audience does when it's a good show. A good show is when we're hated or loved .... if you don't flower or self-destruct onstage there's no point. A good show would be a polite show, a middle class show, like a ranch house. I'm as much a fan of this whole experience ... everyone of us is."

"There is a certain kind of humility in the group that I never want to go."

"To me, art is always translated and transcended. I remember when I used to draw and stuff, I used to do a drawing everyday. I would get up, I couldn't sleep, my hands would ache if I didn't do a drawing. Then one day it suddenly went cold, it wasn't a struggle anymore, I was just a good artist. And almost the next day I started doing poetry, and I've been struggling with poetry - struggling with language now for almost four years. I have things in my notebooks, unpublished .. great stuff, but I'm not struggling anymore. The struggle now is when I'm performing. On the stage, the way I used to when I was in the middle of trying to get some special tension m a drawing or trying to get the exact graphite word. To exactly translate your dream of expression ... into realization. And I see a way of performing, you know, or I have a vision of what a performance can be. And struggling toward that is just as exciting, and just as heavy, as struggling to write the perfect poem. I'd rather the Stones put out another great album, or Dylan put out another great album than put out a book of poetry."

"Records are so great, and you can only be a rock and roll performer at a certain stage of your life. Right now - if there's anything I'd rather be remembered for, it's being a great rock and roll star rather than a great poet."

"And people are really old-fashioned about art, even now. They still have a real academy approach to art. They constantly want me to separate the art from the rock and roll, and I think they're selling me - and rock and roll - short. I would rather hit the highest point of a form that we, our generation, created ... I mean the rules of poetry were created and broken by other generations ... this is what I want to be remembered for doing. For the first time in my life, the really neat thing about performing, is that it gives me a chance to live for the moment."

Copyright © Hit Parader 1976

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