about radio ethiopia, part 2

[from "Patti Smith Talks about Radio Ethiopia," by Lisa Robinson, Hit Parader, Summer-Fall 1977]

Lisa: You said you wanted this, your second album, to be "better" ...

Patti: Well, I wanted this record to sound reasonably good over the radio, because as much as I loved the other record, I was in a car and "Free Money" came over the car radio and it sounded terrible. Not us, just the fidelity of the record, because it was so badly recorded. Part of rock and roll is like being in a car...

Lisa: Did you think it was badly recorded while you were doing it?

Patti: Yeah, I mean it was so fucked up ... I cared, I just didn't know any better. Rock and roll today has so much technology involved, with 16 tracks and all, there's so much going on that you really have to have expert engineers. It's like Lenny was sayin', you can't just go in with a group today and come out with "Sea of Love." There's so many elements you have to work with, and you need someone with a diverse mind, and our engineer just wasn't on top of it ... I mean I'm not bad-mouthin', he was a nice guy, but Electric Ladyland is more cosmic, than a technically oriented studio.

I don't know ... I think after Hendrix died, his ideals are still inherent in the studio, it's like they still cater to the artist. It has a nice environment, and such a good feel ... I felt like I was down in a pit when we were doin' the record. And when I look back to that first record and think of workin' with John [Cale] ... I missed John during this second record, isn't that weird?

'Cause this time I started doin' things I realized I had learned from John. He made me real aware that I had a lot of personas inherent in my vocal chords. I just thought it was an artistic thing, but John convinced me, or tried to convince me that I had like a lot of masculine, feminine or animal rhythms in my vocal chords and on this record I stared bein' able to utilize it. And I started to remember that John really made me aware of it.

So I realized that the struggle and the battles that I went through with John on "Horses" were ultimately much more inspiring ... but the record, well, John's an artist, he's not a technician. The record reflected that. Now Jack [Douglas] is really more of a technician, and there wasn't the same battleground. Also, the Record Plant was totally on top of it. It's not geared for the passions or the mania of an artist, but it's totally geared for the technology of rock and roll. It never breaks down.

Lisa: Did it inhibit you?

Patti: No, it didn't inhibit me, it's just not a great place to hang out. I mean Electric Ladyland has all these pinball machines and you can get really stoned in Electric Lady, but you can't get that stoned in the Record Plant. Not that they don't let you ... it's just that I couldn't get stoned there, you know? But what Jack did bring out in this record I think is that it's a sexier record. One, because I'm older and more aware of myself and my female qualities, and also ... because he's so ... macho, you know what I mean?

Jack's like a muscle guy with the Kirk Douglas cleft in his chin. And there was this male- female competition going on between us ... not like anything was going down, it was just a real thing. I mean he's a guy and I'm a girl. With John I never thought about that kind of stuff. It was just two artists and there wasn't that kind of male-female tension. With John it was like two artists colliding, artistic mania attention.

With Jack it was more a female/male thing and it was rough because it brought out my more vulnerable qualities. I didn't fight with him as well as I did with John. I mean with John I actually slugged him once, you know? But with Jack I couldn't do it. But because of all that he brought out something else, and I think it's a sexy record. I think this record is for the girls. I mean it's for everybody, but I think that girls will really ... there's a lot of feminine elements. My other record seems like I felt I was a boy, a young boy ... I don't mean like a guy, I just mean boyish. Well, Johnny was the hero, anyway. On this record, the hero is me.

Lisa: How do you think Jack reacted to this, was he aware of this?

Patti: Ah ... I went through a whole different torment with Jack. Jack's a very subtle person and you can't tell ... he's dealing with, and coming from, technology as much as John was coming from art, and it's just like another shield ... another battleground. It was hard for me to fight with John sometimes because he believes one hundred percent in his art. Jack believes one hundred percent in his technology, which is his art. It was just more confusing. It was like a very interesting chess game, but he did confuse me. There's always going to be a battle, because a producer has his own ego, his own vision, his own way of hearing -- especially Jack, who has a sound.

Lisa: Generally, though, are you pleased with the album?

Patti: Yes. I went through real hell, I went through my season in hell over the record already. It took me a year to get over the first record.

Lisa: What do you mean?

Patti: It just .. it was so painful. I couldn't listen to it. Now I listen to it. I listen to the first record now, in fact I put it on because it seems so fragile and naive. I don't even feel that it's me. I can look at it -- look at her -- now, and feel that I've come so far. Just in performing. My voice is much stronger, and I'm stronger in every aspect. Also, I get very sentimental about that first record because I think of John, and John was so crazy. He used to crawl along the floor and knock his head against the wall. He'd go nuts when I'd do something, like in "Birdland" or "Land" -- really, I saw him once bang his head against the wall.

He was like -- getting into my body ... he has all this warmth in him and he gets inside you and he goes through all the pain you go through. I get very sentimental about that. The fact that John couldn't handle the technology of the record wasn't so much John's fault as the fact that I didn't have a heavy engineer. Anyway, I was real aware of the sexuality in this ... like in "Poppies" -- "Poppies" is the predecessor of "Land." "Land" had three vocals, this has five and it's very, very feminine. And the heroine is heroin as well as being about Edie Sedgwick. People won't get that, but it is. You know that Andy Warhol book? There's a part in there about a girl named Taxi and how she hoarded her drugs in the closet and everything. Well, it's about Edie Sedgwick and it really affected me.

And there's a whole section in "Poppies": "Baby get it / baby tag it /baby horde it in the closet / baby beg for it / baby spread for it," and that's about Edie Sedgwick. But there are five different things goin' on in the song. When it starts out, "heard it on the radio, it's no good / heard it on the radio, it's news to me," it never tells what I heard on the radio, but it was because I was listening to the radio and DNV was foolin' around on the piano and it said they had burnt down all the opium fields in Guam. Or I don't know, I can't remember, but these Asiatic countries where they grow opium and they burned down the marijuana fields in Mexico and they just kept going on about all the drugs they burned this year and it just horrified me.

So I thought about Edie Sedgwick, and how she hoarded ... it was like Erik Satie used to be afraid there would be no more white handkerchiefs so he hoarded white handkerchiefs ... and when he died they found 3,000 white handkerchiefs...

Lisa: Cotton?

Patti: Cotton handkerchiefs...

Lisa: He was right, probably...

Patti: Yeah, now they're all polyester. They were all meticulously folded up ... Well, Edie Sedgwick, when she died they found tons of amphetamines, in plastic bags, all tagged. I mean tons of pills and things because she had this obsession that all of a sudden there would be no drugs. And remember this summer when you couldn't buy grass, there was this big grass shortage ... it was a big panic and I thought you couldn't get any pot, we're all going to have to go back to Ripple. You know, it'll be a nation of alcoholics again. Oh, I gotta tell you this ... I took my brother to One Fifth Avenue. He's gonna be our road manager and he had never seen a wine list before and he said, "They don't have any Mogen- David on this wine list." He wanted to know if they had Mogen David on the wine list. I thought that was cool. I just wanted to tell you that.

Anyway, that song -- "Poppies" -- is like parallel visuals. That's one thing goin' on, and then there's background singing and the other thing that's going on is the awakening of a woman, not as victim, but just awakening ... trying to find out who she is. Like I've swum through the centuries and so many centuries are calling to me ... Hey Sheba, Hey Salome, Hey Venus, connect .. eclipse in my way ... Then there's another one that is this weird vocal that I don't believe I did, it sounds really like Jim Morrison to me, and that's like me, myself. It's like three parts of me, one is a victim, one is like all the aspects of being female, and then one is totally strong. Like if you want to go as far as me you have to look God in the Face ... It has this cool thing, Jah, he just another spaceman ... he's just another movie star. I mean if I don't get struck down for that...

There's a lot of messages to God. When I used to write rock and roll articles, I was always sending out secret little cryptic messages to Mick, messages to Dylan, I thought fuck it, I'm gonna go to the top. There's so many messages to God on this record. One says "turn around God," and then one says, "C'mon God, make a move." It's like challenging him sexually. You know, challenging him in the flesh ... Because I think if Jesus was around, if I was a groupie, I'd really like to get behind that guy, you know what I mean?

That's why I think Mary Magdalene was so cool, she was like the first groupie. I mean she was really into Jesus and following him around and I wish she would've left a diary. It's too bad she repented because she could have left a really great diary. I mean all this stuff about Jesus, how wonderful he was, and how he's gonna save us. All I'd like to know is if he was a good lay. That interests me.

Copyright © Lisa Robinson 1977

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