Patti Smith’s latest album, Banga, is her first since winning the 2010 National Book Award for her acclaimed memoir, Just Kids. Now, reaching out to a far larger potential audience than any she’s had before, the original High Priestess of Punk returns with an album that’s full of poetic invention, allusions to explorers and journeys both literal and metaphysical, and a surprising amount of pop culture references.
One song mixes The Hunger Games with the 12th-century poetry of Rumi. Another was written as a birthday present for Johnny Depp. Two beautiful and heartfelt elegies mourn the passing of singer Amy Winehouse and actress Maria Schneider (Last Tango in Paris).
The album's title, Banga, comes from Pontius Pilate’s faithful dog in Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic satirical novel The Master and Margarita. The song “Banga” is an affectionate tribute to Patti Smith’s faithful band: guitarist Lenny Kaye, who’s been playing with her for 40 years; drummer Jay Dee Daugherty – the only drummer she’s ever had; and bassist Tony Shanahan, who’s been with her since the mid-'90s. It’s tempting to say they’re like family – except that her actual family is here too: Smith’s son, Jackson, and daughter, Jesse, also contribute to the songs.
The album picks up steam as it moves along, culminating in an epic improvisation called “Constantine’s Dream” -- which would leave us in a pretty dark place. So Patti Smith decided to end the album with a version of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” sung with a motley assortment of friends’ kids. It’s a gentle coda; a moment of innocence and hope.
To hear John Schaefer's full interview with Patti Smith, head to SoundcheckWorkshop.