Johnny Depp is an actor well and truly entwined with the rock ‘n’ roll spiel, and that goes way beyond merely robbing Keith Richards’ spiel for a certain pirate who was almost caught on many occasions. When he’s not on screen, in court, or smuggling his pets around the globe, he is often on stage. The Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas star has played guitar with the likes of Harry Dean Stanton, featured on a Bob Dylan bootlegs album and rocked out with his band the Hollywood Vampires.
With such a keen involvement with all things where art and rock ‘n’ roll, it is no surprise that he is pals with the legendary Godmother of Punk: Patti Smith. As Smith told The Sun in 2012: “I met Johnny [Depp] about five years ago. He and Vanessa (Paradis, his wife) and their daughter came to my concert in Los Angeles and said hello backstage. We just really hit it off. I lost my brother and really mourned him and it felt like he sent Johnny Depp to be my new brother.”
As it happens, with Depp being Depp and Patti being Patti, literature was at the forefront of their conversation. As Smith added: “We love the same books. We talk endlessly about French literature and Jack Kerouac and Dylan Thomas.” And no doubt most pleasingly for Depp, Smith went on to celebrate his skills as a songsmith, adding: “We just have fun and a laugh and he’s such a great musician.”
Having become friends, Smith saw it fit to pen a song as a gift for Depp that reflected the hole that he had fatefully and benevolently filled following the sad death of her brother. The song, ‘Nine’ features on her 2012 album Banga. Recorded at New York’s iconic Electric Lady Studios, the album focuses on “unique dreams and observations” and a “wide range of human experience.” The album was lauded upon release for its experimental style and the free-form chaos that it exhibited with a sort of humouring exuberance.
Perched unsurprisingly at number nine in the tracklisting, the song ‘Nine’ was gifted to Johnny Depp as a present. As Patti Smith explains on the playback of the album: “I went to visit him in Puerto Rico when he was filming Run Diary. It was his birthday and I didn’t have a present, so I wrote him a song.” Not a bad gift at all! And Johnny Depp even got the chance to contribute some guitar parts to Banga to boot.
Along with Depp’s work, Tom Verlaine, of fellow iconic CBGB band Television behind the masterful album Marquee Moon, also features on the track. As Smith would later eulogise: “What Tom does in that guitar break on ‘Nine’ is unbelievable. It’s just like all the great records of the Sixties in just one run.”
The song itself is an ode to Depp and the fate that brought him into Smith’s life. She croons out befitting lines throughout the song like, “mischief as his muse,” and, “with his gipsy moves, yearning as the foal, so shy and beautiful,” in what is surely one of the most touching Birthday gifts ever. Perhaps, for Depp, it was even better than when she remarked: “I think, at heart, he is a musician. I’ve never really seen him without a guitar. He keeps two or three guitars with him most of the time. Sometimes, on a long drive, he’ll have one in the car. That is how devoted to music he is.”