The Sound Of The Sacred

Andrew Brown asked the rockstar and writer Patti Smith what makes music sacred:

[S]he replied that it was an entirely subjective process, and for her encompassed everything from a song her mother had sung to Jimi Hendrix singing “Are you experienced” and the noise of the swifts wheeling above the courtyard of her hotel. Her signature tune, Van Morrison’s Gloria, is a song about a girl that she sings as if it were about the glory of God, and incorporates the wonderful chilling howl: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”…

She talks a great deal about prayer, and about spirituality. But although I am sure I have read an interview in which she described herself as Christian once, what really sets her against conventional Christianity is not just her trampling blasphemy, but the optimism and democracy of her views and her cheerful pantheism. … When she’s playing it is only the power of her feelings that comes across. The context is so determinedly one of passionate transcendence that nothing else matters.

Recently, Maria Popova highlighted “Remembering Robert,” a spiritually-inflected poem from Smith’s collection, The Coral Sea, written in the aftermath of photographer Robert Maplethorpe’s death. It begins this way:

Blessedness is within us all
It lies upon the long scaffold
Patrols the vaporous hall
In our pursuits, though still, we venture forth
Hoping to grasp a handful of cloud and return
Unscathed, cloud in hand. We encounter
Space, fist, violin, or this — an immaculate face
Of a boy, somewhat wild, smiling in the sun.
He raises his hand, as if in carefree salute
Shading eyes that contain the thread of God…

Read the rest, and listen to a recording of Smith reciting the poem, here.