William Burroughs told me, “Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work. And make the right choices and protect your work. And if you can build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.
We’ve heard Patti Smith’s geographic advice, but now the Godmother of Punk expounds more broadly for young artists. Relaying that Burroughs insight was among many quotable moments Smith offered to a recent Louisiana audience. Here’s another: “I’ve done records where it seemed like no one listened to them. You write poetry books that maybe 50 people read, and you just keep doing your work.”
Steadfast focus on the art itself and the work behind it, despite all setbacks, echoes sage words we’ve heard from Neil Gaiman’s art school address to Tom Waits’ Brief History of John Baldessari. But what about after that work finds a wide audience? Smith doesn’t mince words:
“Some people have said to me, ‘Well, don’t you think that kind of success spoils one as an artist? If you’re a punk rocker, you don’t want to have a hit record…’ And I say to them, ‘Fuck you.'” Watch above.