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PATTI SMITH talks about growing up as a Jehovah's Witness... and how she still has Bible studies with her still-in JW sister...

Jack Ryan

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An interview with Patti Smith in the British newspaper The Sunday Times - printed in the 'glossy' insert, The Sunday Times Magazine, featured on the front cover and six pages inside.

Patti Smith has two adult children - a daughter, Jesse, and a son, Jackson. Smith's first child, a daughter, was given up for adoption when born in 1967.

Return of the Punk Princess

The Sunday Times (UK) / The Sunday Times Magazine, Sunday May 27, 2018 - front cover plus pages 28, 29, 31, 33, 34 & 35

In the 1970s, she ripped up the rules of rock’n’roll — then gave up life on the road for motherhood. On the eve of her comeback UK tour, Patti Smith tells Chrissy Iley how she did her best work away from the limelight


Smith grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. Her mother encouraged her to read the Bible every day. She found it a creative tool, and religion pops up throughout her work. The seminal Gloria starts: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.”

“I felt a kinship with Catholicism as a young girl,” she tells me. “It was almost completely aesthetic. We were a poor family and I found objects of Catholicism that my friends had — like rosaries, holy pictures — were a fascination. But I wasn’t drawn to the dogma of the church. My mother taught me about God when I was three years old. I was a precocious reader by the time I was three. Not a child genius or anything, but I went to Bible school early in life. It was very spartan. I was fascinated with the difference between our Jehovah’s Witness meeting hall, which was unadorned, and then going with a friend to mass, which was like being inside of a jewel box. And it seemed magical until I got whacked on the butt by a nun for not sitting down at the right times. Can you imagine Jesus doing that? Jesus was a remarkable teacher. I’ve read the Bible all my life and I still read it quite a bit because my sister [Linda] is a Jehovah’s Witness. She reads the scriptures every day, and we have a nice rhythm of having Bible studies together. It’s a beautiful way for us to connect.”

Smith grew up mostly in Pitman, New Jersey, the eldest of four children. Her mother was a jazz singer who gave up singing to raise the family and work as a waitress. Her father, a former tap dancer, worked in a factory. She is close to Linda, but less close to her other sister, Kimberly, 12 years her junior. The song Kimberly, on Horses, was written for her. “She’s had a lot of difficulties in her life. I do the best I can by her,” Smith says. “People evolve in different ways.”

She was super-close to her brother, Todd, who died suddenly one month after her husband did.


As an artist living in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she had lived with only her art materials; no phone, no television. “I never had a TV in the Seventies, but Fred, a Michigan man, had to have his TV. We weren’t deprived. We lived simply.”

Did growing up a Jehovah’s Witness and being used to a spartan life make her more accommodating of this? “No, I don’t think it had anything to do with it. Aesthetically, I always liked the things that I liked, whether I could have them or not. We had a lot of rough times when there wasn’t enough to eat and I was sick a lot. I had bronchiolar problems.”


In the book she also reveals that when she was 19 and living in the laundry room of her parentsÂ’ house in Jersey because there were not enough bedrooms, she got pregnant and decided to have the baby and give her child up for adoption.

“Yes, it was very difficult. But I had my goal and I was determined. I was still living in a very poor situation. The father was younger and poorer than me and I wanted the child to be brought up in an atmosphere where they could get a good education.”

She would have to give up art college and a part-time factory job that she took to support herself through college. “At 19 it was the best decision I knew how to make. I was on my path to be an artist. I couldn’t even find a job in this area. The child was always in my thoughts and I said a prayer for the child every day and continue to do so.”

ItÂ’s as if she had to make the suffering worth it. After sheÂ’d given up her child, she had to be a great artist, and when it comes to prayer, it is still a big part of her life.

“The way we pray is almost like saying grace. If we’re having a little dinner with people, Jesse [her daughter] might say, ‘Will you say a prayer?’ and I’ll say, ‘Of course.’ As a Jehovah’s Witness, we don’t go to church [services], but Jesse and I often go to churches to light candles for our loved ones. We sit and contemplate. The beautiful thing about churches is these are things where people bare themselves. There might be prayers of gratitude or sorrow, for forgiveness or for the sick, but they vibrate with the energy of people in prayer. Often I just sit there and think.”


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