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Watch Patti Smith read Virginia Woolf's 1931 novel 'The Waves'


There aren’t many names as laced with literary grandeur as the punk poet Patti Smith. The singer-songwriter was also a talented poet and a searing novelist and writer. Through her memoirs and poetry, she has painted a visceral picture of her life throughout the years. It means when Smith directs you to an author or a book which you may not have you should listen up.

We are digging into the Far Out vault to look back at one of those moments as Smith does her best to introduce us to Virginia Woolf and her blistering experimental novel The Waves with this reading fro 2008. With it, Smith brings the early 20th-century novel into the new millennium as she imbues it with a power and intensity that Smith brought to the stage with her no matter if she was holding a book or a microphone.

The reading was given as part of the opening for Patti Smith’s 2008 Paris exhibition where she showcased her art and photography as a way of chronicling her life between 1965-2007. It was a remarkable show and the reading Smith gave set the tone perfectly for the show and captivated the audience form the very beginning.

Smith chose to pick up the book and read a little passage from it as a nod of the head to the 67th anniversary of Woolf’s suicide. Smith gives a punk rock rendition of the novel and turns the words into something one could easily imagine her singing and screaming down the mic at one of her shows.

The singer reads with a searing intensity that is backed up by a cinematic score from her daughter Jesse on the piano and her son, Jackson on guitar. It turns the novel into something far more dramatic—but Smith begins the reading by saying, “I believe that she made this decision consciously, it is what she needed to do as a human being, and so I do not think of this as sad.”

It’s an interesting reading as it sees Smith and Virginia Woolf’s voices mixed together, their words emboldening one another as two true feminists icons speak as one. While they have certainly experienced different lives and found different paths, there’s a unity to this reading which you won’t find in many other Woolf renditions. It smacks of authenticity that Smith brings to everything she does and the appreciation one imagines Woolf would have had for it.