The legendary Patti Smith is doing interviews about “Mercy,” a lullaby she composed and performed for Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah, with the idea of snagging a little award-season allure. I’ve been a Smith devotee since ’75 or thereabouts, and you will find no greater fan of Patti Smith: Dream of Life, which I caught at the ’08 Sundance Film Festival, than myself. But as I was reviewing my notes before Smith called this morning, I was telling myself that she’s Patti the Fearless and not a singer of songs that a child would take comfort in. Certainly not in any proverbial sense. In my head she’s one of the boldest and fiercest poet-troubadours to take a stage and burn it down. Which is why I blinked last spring when I first heard of her Noah song.
That’s because I haven’t been listening closely enough, or so Smith implied during our 20-minute chat. She reminded me that while on one hand she’s written and performed songs like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger” or poems like “Piss Factory“, she’s always had it in her to downshift and settle into forms of prayer, both musical and meditative. Yes, prayer. Not the kind taught in Sunday school but her own form of it, her own method…which is not something she cares to define all that precisely. And I didn’t persist. Cool.
Aronfosky: “I’ve been friends with Patti for a long time, and I needed a lullaby for the movie because it’s a big part of the story. I was telling Patti about my struggles, and it turns out she’s studied lullabies and writes a lot of them. She was like, ‘Can I please write it for you?’ And I said ‘You’re asking me that question?’ I said ‘absolutely’ with as much of a poker face as possible. She wrote this incredible lullaby that Russell Crowe sings to Emma Watson in the movie. It’s really touching and beautiful.”
Smith reminded me that Noah is about not just about the rising of the seas then but the rising to come…”the corruption on our planet right now…a Biblical story applicable to our present time…a very intense message, a message of urgency that people [should] take a look at themselves and what they’re doing,” she said. She’s long admired the Bible, she said, for the richness of the narrative and in so doing has ignored how religion (particularly the right) has taken the Bible hostage for its own purposes. In Noah she and Aronofsky have re-told an ancient Biblical tale in a manner similar to the tellings of Martin Scorsese‘s The Last Temptation of Christ and Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (“a portrayal of Christ as a revolutionary, [told] in such a strong, inspiring way that it just shifted my whole perspective of the New Testament”).
The early Noah pushback (i.e., conservative religious purists complaining about Aronofsky’s not-devout-enough take) reminded her that “the right will get all up in arms because someone has taken liberty but Jesus said many false prophets will come in my name.”
Our phoner turned out pretty nicely, if I do say so myself — one of the more spiritually-directed discussions I’ve ever sunk into with a name-brand artist. It’s only early October and the flame needs a little tending so I guess I’ll re-post this in November or early December.
“The grit and textures of Smith’s prose, and the fierce spiritual tension that her music has always injected in one form or another…there is no boredom or lethargy in this woman…she has written that ‘life is an adventure of our own design…a series of lucky and unlucky accidents’…yes, but having a locomotive inside you helps.” — written on 1.21.08.