I finally got around to finishing The Rolling Thunder Revue on Netflix this week. It was a long overdue watch, but I’m convinced it’s the kind of film you have to be tuned into a very particular frequency to really engage with.
One of my favorite moments is a brief interlude with Patti Smith, who improvises a song in front of a live audience.
She begins by telling the story of an archer and his sister, which very quickly flies off the rails. “You know the ground was in 16th century Japan?” Patti says at one point, reaching to establish a setting for her characters.
There’s terror in her eyes as she mutters, “You know how it is…” She puts her hands on her head and says, “Oh, what a mess,” as if to tell the audience she knows she should be embarrassed.
Then something remarkable happens.
Patti shuts her eyes and presses through the doubt, through the judgement. She keeps going. Her tempo speeds up and the words come pouring out. Eventually, a hook comes soaring out of her and the guitar arrives to back her up.
This is the creative process, compressed into an instant. It’s one of the bravest and most vulnerable things I’ve ever seen in my life.
Sometimes, to get anywhere, you’ve gotta riff a bit.