…but more her sense of wonder, her openness to the possibility of wonder in herself and others. It underlines in her an unexpected warmth and delicacy. The openness has always been a kind of survival strategy too: for all its fierceness – and after she recorded her debut album, Horses, in 1975 and found herself on the path to being a rock star, defiance – her career has been one of reverences, of chasing and collecting icons and relics and friends from whom she could learn the things she needed to proceed. It’s a pleasingly unironic predeliction: “I’m not an ironic person,” she once said. “I’m not always articulate, and sometimes I’m just crap, but I’m never ironic.”
The trouble was, Smith’s motivations were never to stand for anything but herself, particularly not any political movement, however worthy. She continued to explore wordscapes and the soundscapes that might make them live; her accidental career gave her choices, and the freedom to travel. But it didn’t give her, eventually, the satisfaction or integrity she craved. So she left – she met Fred Smith, married him, and moved to suburban Detroit, becoming a non-driver (she is too dyslexic) stranded in a land of cars. “That’s where he wanted to live,” she told an interviewer some years ago. “He was the man.”
Those who looked to her as a feminist pathfinder felt betrayed. They accused her of selling out, called her a “domestic cow”, a phrase that clearly still stings. “I was still a worker. Some people said, ‘Oh, well, you didn’t do anything in the 80s – first of all, to be a mother and a wife is probably the hardest job one can have. But I always wrote. I wrote every day. I don’t think I could have written Just Kids had I not spent all of the 80s developing my craft as a writer.”
Whenever anyone does something of worth, including myself, it just makes me happy to be alive. So I listened to that song all morning, totally happy.” Her face lights up, her eyes shine. And I think that the joy she finds in these things, the searching for them, the openness to them, the wanting to do them herself, are, finally, so much more interesting than being held to any creed; more interesting, more inspiring, and far more profound.
— Aida Edemariam interviews Patti Smith for The Guardian