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Interview with Patti Smith

Aired February 16, 2010 - 16:49:00   ET




BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Often referred to as the godmother of punk, Patti Smith is one of rock's most influential women.


ANDERSON: She grabbed the spotlight in 1975 with the album, "Horses"...


ANDERSON: -- and quickly became an urban hero, epitomizing the bohemian creativity of the decade. Regarded as a loyal supporter of the Green Party, Smith is also a well known political activist and has written a series of protest songs with anti-war themes.


ANDERSON: Photographer Steven Sebring spent more than a decade shooting the new documentary entitled, "Patti Smith: Dream of Life"...


ANDERSON: -- uncovering the relationships and experiences that made the singer a true rock legend.


ANDERSON: She was embraced by many, but in a league of her own. Patti Smith is Connector of the Day.



ANDERSON: Performer Patti Smith is currently in New York. And that's where I caught up with her a little earlier.

And I started by asking her why she has chosen to write her new book, which is called "Just Kids."

And this is what she said.


PATTI SMITH, SINGER: I wrote it because I had promised Robert Mapplethorpe before his death in 1989 that I would write our story. And -- and I -- I -- I wanted to keep the book that I would write our story. And -- and I -- I -- I wanted to keep the book very specific to our youth, our youthful struggles, art, our -- our relationship. And so I kept my promise to Robert.

ANDERSON: Yes. And for viewers who don't know who Robert Mapplethorpe was, he was a great mate of Patti Smith's, of course, and a fabulous photographer. I'm sure he'd have -- he'd have loved to have seen the book, Patti.

The PBS show, "Point of View" recently aired the documentary that Steven made about your life.

Is it a -- is it a true reflection of Patti Smith?

SMITH: I think that it's very accurate. It shows the things that I do, our -- my travels, my children, my pursuit in art, rock and roll.


SMITH: It's a -- it's -- it's more of a humanistic documentary than a rock and roll documentary...


SMITH: But I -- I'm very happy with it.

ANDERSON: Listen, let's get to some viewer questions.

Haruhiko says: "Who is the godfather of punk?"

Of course, people call you the godmother of punk.

So who is the godfather of punk?

SMITH: You know, for me, punk rock is a real state of mind. It could -- it's a word. It could have evolved. You know, you could say that Elvis Presley, you could say that -- you know, there's many people, Little Richard. You could say, you know, Iggy. But it doesn't matter. The -- punk rock is -- it's -- it's -- it's a state of mind and -- and it was evolved for the future. And the most important punk rocker is the future punk rocker.


Sholden141 says: "In the early days of the CBGB scene, did you and your friends have any idea just how influential you were going to be?"

SMITH: No. I think in the early days, which started in 1974, we were still finding out who we were. We were still trying to carve a place for ourselves. Just finding a place to play in New York in 1974 was -- was a big thing -- a place to play our own music. So we were very involved in the present and hoping that we could create space for the future. But it's a beautiful thing to still be remembered.

ANDERSON: CBGB, of course, a great New York rock venue.

And just -- just remind us of those days. Reflect on those days, if you will.

SMITH: When I first played CBGB's, The Ramones had not yet come. The first band to play there was Television. And, you know, back in those days, it was just a -- an empty bar on the Bowery. There was -- it was sort of on Skid Row. We just -- you know, it cost a dollar or two dollars to get in. We were inventing it. So -- and then it evolved. And -- and it involved bringing in groups like The Dead Boys and, of course, The Ramones and -- and Blondie.

But the very first band was Television.

ANDERSON: Television. Good stuff.

Sean asks: "Patti, who did you listen to when you were growing up? Who were your influences and who do you rate now?"

SMITH: Well, I listened to a lot of R&B records when I was young; the Rolling Stones, opera. I really love Puccini. My influences are wide -- a lot of John Coltrane. And they all influenced me in a different way. And today, I -- I still like opera. I listen to everyone from My Bloody Valentine to Sinead O'Connor. I listen to what I like.

ANDERSON: Good. And so you should.

Thomas asks: "Do you ever wish you'd spent more time on your art and poetry, rather than on your music. And if so, which direction would your art have gone, do you think?"

SMITH: Well, I spent, actually, through my life, the most time on my writing. And even if I haven't published, I've written a lot -- a lot of books that are yet unpublished. It's my longest running discipline.

I don't have any regrets about what I've done in my life. I -- I like to perform and -- and interact with the people. I -- I'm -- I'm still curious about everything and -- and learning about everything. So I just - - I just keep working. It's silly to try to rearrange your past.

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. I agree.

Luciana asks: "As we are living in troubled times, do you still believe that, to quote your line, "people have the power to wrestle the world from fools?"

SMITH: I'll always believe that. I know it's very difficult and sometimes it's hard to believe. And we often fail in our attempts. But we can't forget it and we can't keep fighting whatever factors, whether it's corporations or our own governments, we have to -- we have to be vigilant.


ANDERSON: Patti Smith joining us tonight.

What an absolute pleasure.