Unless You’re Saving an Ill Relative, Patti Smith Judges You Hard for Selling Out

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Photo: Mick Gold

Patti Smith, woman of artistic vision, will only accept one excuse for selling out: 

When I was young, I was offered my first recording contract in 1971 and was offered quite a bit of money if I would change my character and be a '70s version of Cher. Someone had a vision of how I could be molded, and of course I couldn't do it. I [took a] quarter of the money in 1975 to do Horses because I had complete artistic freedom. So when people say, "I had no choice, I had to do it," well I'm sorry but unless you’re raising the money to look after your sick mother or something, you can say no.

Unless you have a story that will make Patti Smith produce big, rolling tears, your choice to abandon artistic freedom is unacceptable. And specifically, unless this story concerns an ill relative — like Beth-from-Little Women sick, not like sprained-ankle sick — you are completely responsible for sacrificing your vision to entertainment capitalism. She will repeat: 

If you don't need the money to help a loved one in trouble or to survive, then you have a choice. I've been offered many many things in my life that were much more glamorous than the decisions I made, but those things weren't right for me. As long as it's right for you, then that's fine. But people who say that had to do it, they had to take off their clothes, they had to sing songs they didn't like ... You didn't have to do anything. We are masters of our own fate and we make our own decisions. 

Patti Smith says that now the only person who can boss her about is her daughter, who is likely encouraging her to just try out the '70s version of Cher, just for fun. Just once. Just a few feathers, just a little bit of faith in life after love.