In conversation: Patti Smith

On her new album, Jean Luc Goddard, and an unrecorded song about Jackie Kennedy


Courtesy Sony Music

Read our print story on the ‘godmother of punk’ and her new album Banga here.

Q: Banga includes a track called Amerigo, which speaks to your incredible voyage while filming a part of Jean Luc Godard’s new film with him.  Which film first got you interested in Jean Luc Goddard’s work and why?

A: I’ve loved Goddard for as long as I can remember. I really loved the films he made with [model/actor] Anna Karina. And I love Pierrot le Fou. They had an aspect of poetry that could not be copied. The structure of the films were revolutionary but they had a sense of romance to them. Visually, they were beautiful, they were intelligent.

Q: What lessons, if any, did you learn about art from being around him?

A: What I learned is he is his own man. He has his own vision and doesn’t entirely include you in it. The little part that I worked on in the film—called Socialism—was merely a performance piece but I was honored to be in his presence. He knows what he’s doing and he knows what he wants.

Q: Tell me about the moments on Banga when you felt your son and daughter brought something to the table that you were surprised with.

A:I wasn’t surprised by anything in those songs. Our performance together in those tracks is very much what we do; read each others minds when it comes to music. I was floored by the work on Tarkovsky because the level of sophistication that both of them conveyed in the song was really inspiring and I was really proud of that.

Q: How do you feel they are both developing as artists?

A: They are very hard workers, they are diverse and intelligent and capable. But most importantly, they are curious. Their vocabulary is rich but as a parent I don’t sit and judge and gage my son and daughter. I think my job is to be supportive, so I don’t like speaking for them.

Q: You once were quoted as saying you felt like “equal parts Balenciaga and Brando”. What is it about those two extremes that you feel connected to?

A:I said that when I was quite young—40 years ago. It was really the masculine-feminine mix that always intrigued me. The blend of the sexes. Early Balenciaga work, to me, was the epitome of couture, the art of a woman. It was a style I was so taken with when I was young. Brando is a man’s man so I was naturally drawn to him. He seemed to connect with my flippant nature.

Q: You and Robert Mapplethorpe have created some of the most recognizable androgynous images ever made. Is there power in employing androgyny?

A: As an artist you have to have a foot in both genders or none. To be preoccupied with gender in your work is probably going to limit you.

Q: You once said you don’t see yourself as a female artist.

A: I don’t. I try not to think about male or female tastes at all. If gender does come in to play when I do my work, it does so organically. I’m obviously a woman but I do not feel wed to my female gender.

Q: You once wrote a song called She Walked Home about the loss of Jackie Kennedy that fans were hoping you would include on Banga.  Will you ever record it?

A: I think eventually I will, but it is such a personal song. It came about from reading a few lines in a newspaper where it mentioned that Jackie was seen walking alone—without bodyguards—through Central Park. She had been to the doctor and he gave her bad news and she just wanted to be by herself. I imagine walking through the park—which she loved—thinking about life and the fact that hers was ending. I’d rather do it on a record that isn’t a rock and roll project like Banga—one that doesn’t include a band.

Q: You’ve written songs and poems about John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and George Bush. Have you ever written anything about President Obama?

A: No. I don’t have a grasp on Obama well enough to write a song about him. I voted for him and I’m certain that I’ll vote for him again but I’m still learning about him as a human being. For now, Obama is the better man so I’ll vote for him for that reason.

Q: Has the President’s recent support for same-sex marriage helped you see him in a different light?

A: Same-sex marriage is not really a big enough issue for me to vote for someone. I think it’s important—and I’m glad that he is supporting it as this shouldn’t even be an issue. Nobody can govern who people are allowed to love.


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