Growing up in South Jersey, 14-year-old Patti Smith was "a skinny loser, the subject of much ridicule as I perched on the lowest rung of high school's social ladder," as she writes in her award-winning 2010 memoir, "Just Kids." Smith is now 66, and has had just one hit single, 1978's "Because the Night," but her poetic approach to rock and roll and relentless spirit have been crucial influences on bands from R.E.M. to Pussy Riot. Smith's show tomorrow night at The Space at Westbury will be a birthday party for her longtime guitarist, Lenny Kaye. She spoke by phone from her Manhattan home.
It looks like Pussy Riot may be freed from a Russian prison. How important will this be?
Their people contact me and I hear how they're faring, but one can't ever be sure about these things till they happen. I'll be overjoyed to see them out. They have suffered long enough and I get concerned about their physical health. [Two members of the group were released Monday.]
Have you ever faced recriminations about anything you've said, in music or otherwise?
I'm not concerned with people taping or following me. I have nothing to hide. The more painful thing is to be strong-armed by a pretty corrupt and solid structure. It could be about anything -- it could be about [the opening line on Smith's 1975 debut, "Horses"] "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" or doing a song opposed to the government going into Iraq.
It took you 20 years to write "Just Kids." How much of a relief has it been without a book hanging over your head?
A big one. I had to write it, because I literally promised Robert [Mapplethorpe, the late provocative photographer and Smith's friend] on his deathbed. I'd never written a prolonged piece of nonfiction. It was a learning experience, but I feel like I certainly know how to write a book now. So the next one won't take so long.
What will the next book be about?
Exclusive subscription offer
Newsday covers the stories that matter most to Long Islanders. We dig deep to uncover the facts, hold the powerful in check and keep a watchful eye on Long Island.
Your digital subscription, starting at $1, supports local journalism vital to the community.SUBSCRIBE NOW
I can't really explain it. I'm trying to finish it. It's best for me not to speak of it. I'm always writing, though. I have four or five projects -- I have a detective story, I have childhood stories, I have just tales, all kinds of things, poems. I have so much unpublished material, because I write every day. This morning I was up at a quarter of 8 and I fed my cat and went to a local cafe and wrote for a few hours.