Radio Ethiopia (The Album)

“There’s three parts of ‘Radio Ethiopia’, One to the people saying their country is beautiful, their heritage is beautiful, you know, from, like, the Queen of Sheba to Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud lived the last ten years of his life in Abyssinia, which is now Ethiopia. The eucalyptus bushes that surround the country are beautiful. Why are they dying of famine, why are they diseased, elephantiasis, because they’re sick in their spirit, you know? To me, they should be proud. Ethiopians are very prideful, they have the lion as their mascot, and they have the Queen of Sheba. She was like, one of the heaviest women in rock’n’roll. The second part is like, sort of a requiem, of an opus or something. You know what I love, the French called it ‘an opus of electronic debris’. I thought that would be a good advertisement. The second part is like Brancusi, the sculptor who did ‘Bird In Space’. Brancusi was a very committed artist, he fought against censorship. When he tried to get ‘Bird In Space’ into America they said it was scrap metal. He fought the courts to be recognized as art and he won. He gave sculptors that wanted to be freed from the classic Greek form a lot of space. So the second part’s about Brancusi. The third part is the last words of Arthur Rimbaud before he died. He was back in France, and they were trying to make him repent and take Jesus in his heart. He was so fucked up, he was dying of syphilis, they took off his leg, and he was just finished, you know. And his last words were to this nun, she wrote them down. His last words were, ‘I am in no condition to do what I must do. The first dog on the street will tell you that. As for you, do as you must, but as for me, I trust that you will take me out of here and put me on the first freighter, so that I can go back to Abyssinia…’ Everybody said that he didn’t write poetry any more. That to me is a perfect poem. And then, the last words of the record are ‘I would appreciate it if you would appreciate Brancusi’s ‘Bird In Space’, but the sculptor’s mallet has been taken place by the neck of a guitar’…the very last words on the record are: ‘Every time I see your face, god, god is in me…’ I eventually wake up, the last line on the record is Wake Up.”Patti Smith (1111)


“‘Poppies’, it’s really totally feminine. I don’t just mean woman, I mean feminine, creative – ‘Hey Sheba, Hey Salome, Hey Venus, Connecting my way – Oh god, you’re a vessel, every woman is a vessel’ – meaning that every woman – or the woman in man – like a bottomless pit, can take infinite amounts of creative fluid, have it injected in their system, then spit it out again. You know how girls are, like when you’re jerking off, I come, like 20,000 times. I don’t do it so much as I used to, but I discovered, I felt like I could come infinitely, whereas a man can just spurt once or twice, and that’s how I feel about ‘Poppies’. Charles Murray in the New Musical Express took it as a drug song. Well, superficially. Ethiopium is the drug in ‘Poppies’, and what it really is is just submission into the great rhythm.”Patti Smith (1111)

Citizen Ship

“‘Citizen Ship’ is just a song talking about what it was like in 1968, when Ivan Kral escaped from Czechoslovakia to America and Patti Smith escaped from New Jersey to New York City. It’s when I met Robert Mapplethorpe I mean, it doesn’t matter what it’s about. We all have personal things from 1968, certain impressions at least some of us do… It’s just a reflection.”Patti Smith (1113)

Seven Ways Of Going

“‘Seven Ways’ was originally about the Ninja of Japan, who were these 16th-century assassins, like a martial arts offshoot in Japanese medieval times. They wore black, and they developed these techniques where, for instance, they could walk in the snow without showing which direction they were walking in, or they could go against that wall and become that wall.”Lenny Kaye (1113)

People Have The Power

“I’m well aware of the overly positive aspects of ‘People Have the Power’. Call it naive. I don’t think being filled with hope and still having the desire and care and vision to dream is naive. The song is trying to give a little inspiration and hope in very troubled times. I don’t see the point of just spewing negativity. If I wanted to put covers over my head, I would have never wed and had two children. If I’d wanted to put the covers over my head, I would have found some opium den and gone out in Cocteau-style.”Patti Smith (1114)

Dead To The World

“It’s about how when you’re in deep sleep, you’re dead to everything around you.”Patti Smith (1115)

Because The Night

“Well, I had written the lyrics to ‘Because The Night’ for my husband and we were quite in love then, so I’m sure there was some in it then! It’s a love song. The lyrics I wrote for Fred. We had fallen in love and it was intentionally like that. I was away from him and I was longing for him. It was written as a song for him and letting him know how much I wanted to be with him.”Patti Smith (1115)

Summer Cannibals

“[The genesis of the playful, spirited ‘Summer Cannibals’ dates to Fred Smith’s days as leader of Sonic’s Rendezvous Band in the ’70s – Ed]. He’d written part of it but never recorded it. Like ‘Gone Again’, he had the title and the music and told me about the concept. When I sing it, it’s as if I’m him — it’s his attitude toward the music business, although I’ve tasted the same kind of lifestyle. For him, the whole business was people shoveling drugs, champagne, promises of fame, money, just to keep them working so people could make money off of them. He really perceived the whole journey into fame, which he had tasted when he was younger, as very destructive. It’s dangerous to work for those kinds of ends — fame and fortune will turn on you. If there’s anything negative on the album, it’s that song. But it’s got a sense of humor, in the way I sing it, because I survived it all. It didn’t have an unhappy ending for me. It’s a survival song.”Patti Smith (1116)

About A Boy

“When Kurt Cobain took his life, Fred and I were extremely disturbed about that. Both of us liked his work. We thought it was good for young people. I was happy that there was a new band I could relate to, and looked forward to watching them grow. He had a future. As parents, we were deeply disturbed to see this young boy take his own life. The waste, and the emotional debris he left for others to clean up. I was also concerned how it would affect young people who looked up to him, or looked to him for answers. I guess that’s the danger of looking to anyone else for answers, but I perceived that he had a responsibility. To himself, to the origin of his gifts, to his family, to the younger generation. So I wrote the song for two reasons. One was as a well wish, even after what he did, that his continuing journey be beautiful. But it was also written with a certain amount of bitterness. The chorus says “About a boy/beyond it all.” One way of looking at it is that he’s beyond this particular plane of existence. But it’s also a wry statement, a frustrated refrain. It relates to my sorrow for the various boys we’ve lost. Whether it be Jim Morrison or Brian Jones; any of these young, gifted, driven people who do feel they’re beyond it all, that they can completely ravage and ruin their bodies or have no sense of responsibility to their position and their gifts. We all were pioneering some kind of freedom, but I don’t think what’s been done with it is all that constructive.”Patti Smith (1117)

Waiting Underground

“Simply put, it’s a song of hope, it’s about being alive, being on earth, being connected.”Patti Smith (1118)