Q&A: Jesse Paris Smith talks music, activism

Jesse Paris Smith is the daughter of award-winning musician and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Patti Smith. In this exclusive interview with U-News, Smith discusses her new Pathway to Paris project, speaking at a press conference at the UN, protest music and advice for college students interested in social and political activism.

Q: I just finished reviewing a September 15 press conference at the UN, where you joined your mother, Patti Smith, and your creative partner, Rebecca Foon, to discuss an early November performance at Carnegie Hall–part of a series produced by your organization, Pathway to Paris. How did that go? Was the assembly receptive?

A: It was really great. The room felt charged with this inspired energy, full of positivity, hope, and courage to move forward with real, ambitious, creative solutions. It is so easy to get demoralized, afraid, angry, bogged down and overwhelmed by the terrible things happening currently in our world. It is easy to feel that there is no hope. We want to try our best whenever possible to have the attitude of ‘what now? what can we do?’ We want to identify the problems, acknowledge them, keep ourselves informed, and then actually do something real to solve it. We want to show people what is being done. So much of our news is always about what is ‘not’ being done, about what is going wrong. We want to also highlight both what people are already doing to solve major issues, and more importantly what we can do, need to do, and how to do it.

From left: Jesse Paris Smith and her creative partner, Rebecca Foon, at the UN press conference last month.

From left: Jesse Paris Smith and her creative partner, Rebecca Foon, at the
UN press conference last month.

Q: What was the first piece of music you heard that made you want to tear down the empire and what continues to move you? Who is doing work now you feel is important and why?

A: I suppose the first music that really moved me in terms of social movement, music speaking out with a message, was Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, and CSNY. When I was 14, those were some of my favorite groups. I would listen to songs like “Hurricane” and “49 Reasons” over and over again. I loved “Ohio” and “Southern Man.” I had a live bootleg of CSNY and Stephen Stills did a very long extended version of “49 Reasons” with lots of improvised words. I listened to the whole thing taking the time to write out the transcript and I hung it on my door. I wrote my first song when I was 14, and it was a protest song. I was so inspired by the protest music of the ‘60s and ‘70s and of Bob Dylan. I had listened to “Hurricane” so many times and I felt like I wanted to use the power of music for that same purpose; to deliver messages to the people, to tell the truth in stories, to ignite them to action, to get them talking with each other.

Q: What would you say to university students in Kansas City who more often than not find themselves in what Abbie Hoffman once called “the hotbed of social rest?” Is activism still important for young people and why?

A: Everyone is affected in some way by our current political situation. Activism is people’s response to the things that need changing and we need change everywhere. People will do what they can according to what they have to respond to. I can’t speak for any area, it is people that are active. There are people who are aware everywhere and they need to connect with each other. Activism is important more than ever. With each generation the hope of the world is always the next generation. They have the power through media and technology now to create even greater global efforts than ever before. People can connect instantly with each other all over the world.

Check out the full interview online at www.unews.com.

sasyr8@mail.umkc.edu

 

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