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Sonny Smith Q&A

A Man of the Arts

We might get a shorter answer if we ask what San Francisco’s Sonny Smith is not. Musician, artist, playwright, prose-poet, director and actor, Sonny Smith’s devotion to the arts has to intimidate lovers.

Smith’s latest project is an art exhibit at Gallery 16 for which he was the commissioner-in-chief. It’s called 100 Records, a collection of fantasy album covers made by 100 artists, on display until May 28th. He recently talked with SF Station about music, book, and movies — what else?

SF Station (SFS): You're a musician, artist, writer, playwright, director, actor, I'm sure among many other things. Is doing what you love for a career as great as everyone think it is?

Sonny Smith (SS): All those things sound real good but I don’t know if I deserve them. I acted in a little short film. I directed a little short film some years ago. I wrote a couple plays for a couple residencies. I’ve only had a few short stories published in some little lit mags. So those kind of labels makes me sound huge — like I’m accomplished and established at all that stuff. Not true! My main thing is writing songs, and all the other stuff have been little explorations along the way.

I should probably rewrite that bio on my website. Get it more current anyway. And the photos: way out of date! I’m handsome now! Just kidding.

SFS: Pardon the triteness, but I have to ask — who are your musical influences?

SS: Sometimes I’m just inspired by the thought of musicians, not so much their music. I don’t sit around listening to much John Coltrane, but I get inspired thinking about him. The same for Woody Guthrie or Frank Zappa or any type of musician that just is bursting with creativity coming out all over the place.

SFS: Will you talk about your novel? Did you put it on pause to do “100 Records”?

SS: I was writing a novel. The novel spiraled into making records for the characters in my novel. The novel was shelved and the “100 Records” project got bigger and bigger. I didn’t so much put it on pause; the project just shoved it out of the way. There’s not much to tell about the novel. It was my first try. I thought it wasn’t amazing. If I work on it, I will hack it up and start almost from scratch.

SFS: What’s your literary palate like?

SS: I was into Steinbeck at an early age. I might have been drawn to him because of his interest in archetypes. I don’t like to read him anymore because his writing style is a little too pastoral, but I still like his themes.

I was into Kerouac and the Beats after that. And maybe I borrowed some feeling for writing about friends from them. That was early on, before I tried to write songs or anything else. Last year I was really into [Louis-Ferdinand] Céline. I just did the whole Céline thing then I was into [Henry] Miller briefly. It was a season of all those big 1940s macho male writers. I read Camus that season too. I read Philip Roth too, now that I think about it. He was pretty good.

SFS: Are there any good movies out there that are not in 3-D?

SS: In the last year I saw these great, great movies: Waltz with Bashir, The Fire Within, The Brother from Another Planet, Live Flesh, Wendy & Lucy, Paranoid Park, and Come & See.