Testa Rosa’s Betty Blexrud-Strigens curates Alverno Presents’ latest artist reimagining, “Smith Uncovered: A Reinterpretation of the Songs of Patti Smith,” at the Pitman Theatre Oct. 18.
At what age did you discover Patti Smith?
I was aware of her as a kid. She would be on TV occasionally, but I actually sought out her music as a teenager when bands like R.E.M and Violent Femmes cited her as an influence. I remember checking out Wave and Easter from the public library before I bought them.
What influence did she have on you as a musician?
She taught me how hard it is to write a lyric that feels both immediate and thoughtful. She would write about how simply powerful an E chord or an A chord can be. I remember thinking that I really only needed to learn just a few of those chords to be able to play along.
Did Alverno reach out with the idea to feature her?
The only criteria was that it would be an American songwriter.
We talked about several different songwriters, male and female. I don’t care much about gender, but really felt like it should be a woman this time, and Patti Smith kept coming to mind. She’s truly a voice of a generation – several generations – and as influential as she is prolific.
Unlike Alverno Presents’ past reinterpretations, Smith is still an active musician. Will we hear newer material?
Her early career is definitely well represented, but some of her more recent work will be in the show, too. Some are creating original pieces inspired by Smith, as well.
Did the diversity of Patti Smith’s catalog help make finding other musicians/artists easier?
If there is a theme, it would be contrasts; that the true picture relies on the dark and light – visually, sonically. I reached out to artists who I felt work in that palette and who also represent a sort of thread to her work: painters, poets, messengers.