Patti Smith, an admirer of Amy Winehouse’s sultry voice, was so affected by the troubled singer’s death last year that the godmother of punk said she wrote a poem about her, which became a song on Smith’s new album.
“I was actually amazed when I first heard [Winehouse] sing because she sings the songs of my generation with such authenticity,” Smith, 65, said in a recent interview with “Nightline.” “For me, [Winehouse's death] was a real loss of a human being.”
Smith’s new album, “Banga,” which was released on June 5, was meant to be about “exploration,” she said. The album includes “several portraits,” almost like lyrical eulogies, of people who have been lost or harmed in the past, and many of them dead. Smith’s muses come from a wide spectrum, from New World explorer Amerigo Vespucci, to some of the singer’s old friends — the late actress Maria Schneider, Smith’s former lover and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, also deceased, actor Johnny Depp and the late Amy Winehouse.
Smith, who won the National Book Award in 2010 for her memoir, “Just Kids,” said she didn’t set out to write a song about Winehouse, it “came by accident.” She was working on “Banga” with her band in Madrid when the news broke that Winehouse had been found dead in her London home. A coroner later determined that the 27-year-old singer had died from alcohol poisoning. Winehouse had long battled with drug and alcohol addiction.
“I felt very sad, very badly about it,” Smith said. “I’m certainly old enough to be her mother, and she’s the same age really as my kids, so the thought of my own son or daughter being so troubled with a life… it’s painful to think about.”
The album was finished, Smith thought, but Winehouse’s death moved her to write a poem about the troubled singer. At the same time, one of Smith’s band-mates, Tony Shanahan, was working on a new piece of music.
“I was half-listening to his music and working on my poem, and they were the same,” Smith said. “They had the same cadence, and so I said to him, “Tony, the music and poem are perfect each other.’”
And so the song, “This Is The Girl,” with lyrics like, “This is the girl/ For whom all tears fall” and “This the blind that turned in wine/This is the wine of the house it is said,” was born.
“I have to say I think it’s such a nice song but… I would’ve preferred it did not have to be written because we would all rather have her amongst us,” Smith said.