By Scot Feinberg
The Hollywood Reporter
On Tuesday, I met up in New York with Patti Smith, the iconic singer-songwriter-activist, for a long conversation about her life, career and latest work. Smith, who is 67 and a year away from the 40th anniversary of her debut album Horses, is still going strong — writing, performing and speaking out about social issues that are important to her. She is also, for the first time in her career, in contention for a best original song Oscar nomination.
Many of the songs for which Smith has been known and loved for generations — including “Because the Night,” “The People Have the Power” and “Gloria” — have been sampled in movies over the years. But those songs were already in circulation when they showed up on film soundtracks. This year, for the first time, Smith wrote a song specifically for a movie: “Mercy Is,” a haunting lullaby that pops up throughout and at the end of her friend Darren Aronofsky‘s biblical epic Noah. And people are loving it.
Don’t read the word “lullaby” and assume that Smith, “the Godmother of Punk Rock,” has gone soft. As she told me, “I still have the impetus on certain nights to kick over my amplifier, you know, and to play louder than everybody else. I still know what that tastes like. I haven’t lost that. But that’s only a fraction of who I am.”
Instead, what “Mercy Is” represents to her is something of a return to her roots. She had a strong bible education as a child and then, for a time, rebelled against religion (she famously begins “Gloria” with the line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”), but today says she loves the story of Noah and bible-themed films, in general, and couldn’t resist being a part of one made by Aronofsky, “an artist,” as opposed to “an epic-style filmmaker.”
Smith — who’s still very much still in touch with the people, explaining that she relates toThe Hunger Games‘ protagonist Katniss Everdeen and loves Rihanna — describes her voice today as “a strong voice, not a perfect voice,” but one which “reflects, at this point, years of experience” and her “tool for public service.” My hunch is that Academy members, whose median age is nearly the same as Smith’s, and who came of age with her music, will be happy to hear it again.
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