Last night, as the legendary musician was awarded Sweden's top music prize, we sat Smith down for a quick chat about her rich artistic output
You could say the Polar Music Prize is like the Nobel Prize, but for music. It's Swedish, awarded once a year and goes to dignitaries who's worked long and hard to improve our lives, be it through chemistry, literature or music. After its 1992 incarnation, the Polar prize has been awarded to everyone from Peter Gabriel to Björk, Led Zeppelin to Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan to Ray Charles. This year's winner was punk godmother Patti Smith who, at 65, received the honour “for devoting her life to art in all its forms”.
Smith, who shared the prize with the Kronos Quartet, just finished recording her new album, which is due next year. In fact, she just left the recording studio, finishing off a song, right before boarding her flight to Stockholm. Smith also is also working in two books; a companion to 'Just Kids' (2010) – more focused on music – and a fictional detective story... We sat her down after the press conference and asked her to describe her...
I was sort of political, in a way, because my first temptation was to infuse blood and new life in poetry. I went to many poetry readings and they seemed extremely boring and I wanted poetry to be more alive. To make poetry more exciting. Then I felt that rock'n'roll was getting over-glamorous, over-corporate, so then my ambition was to bring rock'n'roll back to its roots, to the people.
When I take photographs, I photograph things that I can share with others, perhaps places that I go to receive the things that I've seen. But I think one of the most beautiful things in life is when man gifts to each other, you know: painting, songs…it's like nature. We go out and nature give us clouds, and mountains and rivers and wild flowers and man, we give our ideas, drawings, and paintings and music or a pop song that makes everybody happy.
In 1970, I was working in a bookstore, I was supporting Robert [Mapplethorpe] and I really didn't think of performing at all… I was focused on writing poetry. I was writing and reading, sometimes I was playing in the underground, or something, but my focus was really to draw and paint and to write poetry. I didn't have technical abilities but I had a vision. I think I'm a natural performer, a communicator, so I'm still here.
… Creative versatility
My whole life, I've done everything in the same space; When I sleep and I work and draw and take photographs... everything is in one space. Everything reflect my inner world as well as my outer world: my aesthetics, the things that I like and also my very chaotic mind. I do so many things that there are so many rooms [in my mind], there are little compartments in my rooms, I have the photography room, and the painting room, and the room dedicated to my children...
... rock journalism in magazines such as Creem
Well, I wasn't really a rock journalist. I did write a few pieces, I was not a sort of maverick journalist. I wrote pieces occasionally. But I always tried to write to open people's eyes, to find things wonderful. But it was something that I did sometimes simply to make a living. It was a very exciting time in rock journalism, when I was young people took it very seriously, and wrote beautiful philosophic pieces on rock'n'roll and I think that journalism should re-embrace its possibilities and not be too much about gossip.
... The scene in London during the 70s
When my first time I came there, The Clash and Sex Pistols hadn't performed yet but everyone was hanging out in the same area of London, listening to reggae and rastafari, and this kind of music was very important for me. I had a very strong connections with it for different reasons. I studied the history of “The Queen Of Shiva”, King David, which I like very much and with Lenny [Kaye]. Our record was dedicated to the Ethiopian people in 1976. It was such a wonderful scene in London at that time, with the very young pre-punk rockers and the rastafari community, and some American invaders like me and Lenny Kaye...