Patti Smith on Bob Marley, marijuana and comic books in an unearthed interview from 1976
If there was one magazine to set itself as the channel de jour of the punk movement in the seventies then it had to be the innovatively named Punk Magazine. The ‘zine moved some of punks best-known faces into the media so ungraciously that it instantaneously endeared itself to the youth of America. One stalwart of the scene and undisputed Queen of Greenwich, New York—the Priestess of Punk—was Patti Smith. We take a look back at her 1976 interview in Punk.
Punk was a vehicle for examining the underground music scene in New York, and primarily for punk rock as found in clubs like CBGB, Zeppz, and Max’s Kansas City. It mixed Mad Magazine-style cartooning by Holmstrom, Bobby London and a young Peter Bagge with the more straightforward pop journalism of the kind found in contemporary Creem. It also provided an outlet for female writers, artists and photographers who had been shut out of a male-dominated underground publishing scene.
Smith featured on the front cover of Punk, Volume One, Number Two from March of 1976 and in it she is her sparkling, engaging and empowering self. Talking about a range of subjects Smith covers Bob Marley, comic books and her dream of owning her own pot cafe “when she grows up”. It’s a beautiful interview for a few reasons, but the one that sticks out so clearly for us is Smith’s unstoppable artistic energy. She is, at this point, not only well-versed in performance and songwriting but at 30 years old is becoming her own persona: an impassable wave of artistic merit.
The interview takes place at the now legendary Long Island club, My Father’s Place, sat upon a grimy floor with the evening’s gig awaiting its completion. She discusses not only Marley, pot and comic books (comix) but also her plans to take over The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and turn it into a “totally stoned TV every night” and her dreams about Jimi Hendrix.
On the two greatest art forms, Smith has a very particular view: “I was a painter. All I cared about was art school and painting. I used to be an artist before I became an artist. You know the French love comic strips. Comix are considered art. Comix are art. I mean the only two arts—comix and rock n’ roll are the highest art forms.”
It’s a very particular view, although possibly shared by most teenagers in the modern day, a comparison only accentuated by Smith’s hatred for the “grass shortage” in New York at the time. She daydreams further about owning her own pot cafe.
“I’m gonna have a cafe when I grow up where it’s just gonna feature coffee and dope and mint tea and great music. What I’m gonna do is work to legalize marijuana and hashish. We’re gonna start a string of cafes where you smoke, drink coffee and listen to great music—like McDonald’s.”
It sounds pretty dreamy to us. Dreams were a theme running throughout the interview too. From her vivid dreams about Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, whom Smith once dreamt were her twin sons, to her dreams about sleeping with French poet Arthur Rimbaud—Smith’s imagination knows no bounds.
The interview also sheds some light on Smith’s unique position in the music industry. We can’t think of anyone who has been affiliated with more incredible bands than Patti Smith. In the interview, she talks about her favourite band of the time, Blue Oyster Cult and how lucky she felt to have seen bands like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix in her teens before they became the mammoth stars they were.
It’s these moments that reveal Smith’s unstoppable connection to music and her genuine love of the art form. She speaks like a fan, not a star and that’s largely because she is, in fact, a fan. Anyone who has read her memoirs will know that Smith has never been anything less than an artist, but that she always, always appreciates the work of others above all else.