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(Credit: Stephen L Harlow)

Music

Patti Smith’s favourite lyric in music

@TomTaylorFO

Anyone who opens their musical account to the world with the line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,” is worth listening to when it comes to lyrics. The Albert Camus inspired line – “Maybe Christ died for somebody but not for me” – announced Patti Smith to the world as a fierce new force coupling the vitality of punk with the timelessness of literature, and the societal sagacity of her hero Bob Dylan. 

Punk may well have been about shaking the music world up from a state of stilted apathy, but Smith ensured it was a hopeful rally cry father than a mere skylark. The opening passage of her memoir concludes, “men cannot judge it, for art sings of God and ultimately belongs to him.” This lofty approach to creativity and the boon that it can offer has always abided throughout her work and seemingly her lyrical tastes too. 

When answering fan questions in a Guardian interview, Smith was asked what brought her joy and there is no surprise that art had something to do with her answer. “One of my favourite lines in music,” she said, “is from Jimi Hendrix’s ‘1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)’. ‘Hurrah, I awake from yesterday’. I live by that. Another day, I’m still here.” The beauteous line that fittingly opens the track as though Hendrix has simply burst into song as his eyes drink in the first-morning glare is the sort that could easily fit in Smith’s own rosy back catalogue. 

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Naturally, when it comes to Smith, she isn’t simply celebrating awaking so that she can go back to sleep like many of us might, she’s cheering the “chance to do something useful, read a book, see a film, see my kids. I just saw The Power of the Dog – such a great movie – and The Batman. I just made myself peanut butter toast and black coffee, one of my father’s favourite things, and I suddenly had such a sense of him. I experience joy very easily.”

The fact that all these things are corroborated from one single line is testimony to the reverberating impact of music and poetry that hits the spot. If five simple words can make you think of great art, peanut butter, your father and Batman then it is doing something right. And while Hendrix might not be renowned for his lyrical work (understandably overshadowed by his guitar playing, whose wouldn’t be?) it seems fitting that both Hendrix and Smith share the same hero. 

As Hendrix once proclaimed: “All those people who don’t like Bob Dylan’s songs should read his lyrics. They are filled with the joys and sadness of life. I am as Dylan, none of us can sing normally. Sometimes, I play Dylan’s songs and they are so much like me that it seems to me that I wrote them. I have the feeling that ‘Watchtower’ is a song I could have come up with, but I’m sure I would never have finished it,” the guitarist eulogised of the hero who turned our ear towards the poetic potential of pop culture that Patti Smith has joyously propagated ever since.