Tuesday, April 21, 2009

patti smith interview

One afternoon, my phone rang and a voice on the other side announced: "Hello, this is Patti Smith." She was calling me for a brief interview for Nylon's 10th Anniversary, to discuss her favorite concert moment from the past ten years. Coincidentally, her's hewed very close to my own, witnessing My Bloody Valentine live.

I'm not going to get all Michael Stipe here and gush about how Patti Smith influenced me or what have you, but five years ago, when I first started writing about music, I received a fan letter from Patti Smith for this review. Radio Ethiopia aside, her own work as a rock writer and poet resonates with my own, and I can't quite put into words the encouragement I felt from her. Needless to say, it was an honor to interact with her again:

Patti Smith: I had never seen My Bloody Valentine in their own time when they first entered the scene. I was living in seclusion in Michigan so I missed that phase of MBV. When I heard their records sometime later, I loved them right away, from the very first second. And then I was lucky enough to meet, work and perform with Kevin, but I still hadn’t seen MBV.

Before they went on tour, they did a series of performances at the Roundhouse in London. I thought that these performances were the greatest things I had ever seen. The reason was because...MBV is such a beautiful projection of Kevin, who is both aware of his worth yet completely humble. And MBV, of course I listened to it with earplugs, but with earplugs it was beautifully assaultive that MBV demands sonically for you to surrender, but the universe in which you are surrendering to is benevolent, because it is not egotistical. There is no egotistical 'artist' in terms of frontal attack. It’s a sonic scape that if you find a way to surrender to it, you enter into a universe which is pure and intelligent. Of course, I would not recommend it without earplugs. Mother. Also because it’s so spiritually loud. I didn’t feel like I was compromising or losing anything because of the intensity of the experience was quite engulfing.

It was interesting for me. As a performer I find it difficult to sit still through other peoples' performances. I'm restless and agitated. It makes me want to work. It's not an egotistical thing, it just fills me with adrenaline and energy that makes me want to work. That’s what I loved about seeing them. I had no desires, to perform, work, anything, but be part of this organism.

It was a total surrender?

Yes. And surrender with return. By the end, I found that a beautiful thing happens when there is a direct communication between one and the experience, at the end, just as any kid or anyone there, you almost involuntarily lift both your hands above your head with your hands out and just receiving. Like a child, lifting up their hands to the sun. It's not a military thing, saluting Hitler, it's just pure. You're just open. You just raise your arms and raise your hands to both in affirmation: "Yes I am here!" and to receive. And it's all abstract, but I found the whole experience very beautiful. I didn't drink, I wasn't stoned, it was it's own drug. That is the ultimate experience to me, to feel as if you’ve had a blessed drug experience without ingesting anything.

I was lucky enough to see them upstate. I stood with my hands up the last twenty minutes or so.

Yeah! You do. It's not a thing where you feel dopey afterwords or feel self-conscious. It's a release. You don't feel any ego. The world of MBV is completely abstract, it's an organism. It's not some club with rules, it's just all feeling. I was right there with you and I was there, too. Especially for me as a performer, I have control over my own situation, I have a lot of control as a human being, I'm fairly in control and disciplined. To be able to submit to something so completely is rare for me. A very beautiful experience. It made me really happy, like a child.

I was very ecstatic.

It's really…I love this. It's not like a thing… it has nothing to do with peer pressure. The only question is whether one should wear earplugs. Kevin is well-aware that this is an assault, a sonic assault. It is not with malice, it just is any more than if you stand in the sun and get burnt. The sun isn't out to burn you, but it is strong.

To not be like Icarus.

Exactly. We all want to survive this experience.

To have rapture and come back from it.

Like John Coltrane. He would do a saxophone solo for 14 minutes, go out and talk to God, go through the stratosphere, but he always came home to us, to the people, to his responsibility. That's part of an artist's responsibility and a part of a human being’s responsibility unless you don't want to live anymore. If you want to be an earthling, you have to come back. Like Ismael in Moby Dick, you have to come back to tell the story.

It's really great to talk to you and have you put in words how I felt about the show.

I know Kevin quite well. And I think Kevin is just one of the most beautiful people I ever met. He's just on a…he is as his music. He is uncompromising yet benevolent. He's a beautiful person and experiencing his vision and his band's execution of that vision was one of them...you asked for my experience. The only thing that could compare to it was Tristan und Isolde at La Scala.

I total appreciate it. (tell her about writing me a fan letter)

Thanks for writing about Patty Waters. I don’t write that many messages, but just to show you…in 1970, I read a beautiful piece on a capella music in an anthology about rock'n'roll and I thought this piece was so beautiful that I found the number for the writer of that piece and called him up to thank him. And that writer was Lenny Kaye. You know, he became one of my best friends and we composed most of the songs on Horses. When I'm moved to thank somebody, it's because it really touches me. I was quite touched by your piece.

Thanks. It means the world to me. I knew you were a critic and poet as well, and it was really profound to get a response like that from you.

It was profound for me to see someone acknowledge Patty Waters. It wasn’t just for Patty Waters, I have some kin somewhere. You’re the only other person I’ve seen write about her. There we are, two MBV nerds, raising our hands to Kevin and Patty Waters.

To Kevin and Patty Waters then.