Patti Smith, I Hardly Knew Ya!

December 15th, 2016 by elaine

I heard Patti Smith’s performance of Bob Dylan’s song, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, at the Nobel Prize for Literature award ceremony.  I listened twice by myself and twice now with my husband.  I was deeply moved every time and expect I always will be. The next day after I first heard her sing that song, I read the piece she wrote for the New Yorker called How Does it Feel. She was writing about how she felt about her performance, but started with the day she was born, and her first line almost blew me away:

I was born in Chicago on December 30, 1946,

because I was already feeling a tender bond with her, and I was stunned.  How often do you hear a person say, I was born on December 30, no matter where no matter when.  Me, I was born in Milwaukee on December 30, 1929.

I think I know why she started her piece way back on that stormy day in Chicago, although it is certainly not obvious.  I mean, I just know when you are talking about feelings, sometimes you just have to start from the day of your birth because it’s so much a part of the whole story. I bet Patti Smith has told that story many times, because I have told mine many times, probably more than she has because I am older and my oldest sister, who lived to age 92, never ever failed to tell it to me on my birthday every year no matter where I was in the world, by letter if not by phone or in person.

Patti’s story involves a wild snow storm, mine a kind of storm in the very large family that was completely surprised by my birth.  (Second Oldest Sister near tears on the phone to Older Married Sister, Ma’s in the hospital! OMS:  What happened?  I just saw her yesterday! SOS now wailing:  She had another baby!)

Patti’s story was more welcoming than mine, and she expresses her love and appreciation of her parents for their keeping her alive when her life was not to be taken for granted.  I think that’s what gives her the enormous courage she has had all her life to be so creative in her own way and why she needed to call upon their memory after what she thought was a deeply flawed performance.

I have been trying to figure out why I didn’t know her, singer, writer, poet.  I’m not that much older than she is, and I know people younger who do not know her work either.  I favoured Janis Joplin and Buffy St. Marie and Joan Baez and Carol King and Joni Mictchell, and of course the Beatles and Leonard Cohen and the Beach Boys, and wasn’t that her era?

No, she was into “early and obscure”rock and roll in her very creative unique style in the 70′s, just when we moved off to farm in Prince Edward Island.  I’m not sure I would have liked her then.  I love her now.  Just this week I found so much love in my heart for her, I must share!  You must follow this link to the piece she wrote for the New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/patti-smith-on-singing-at-bob-dylans-nobel-prize-ceremony and click on the link within the piece that takes you to the performan­ce itself, and listen again and again and read her piece again and again and again, especially coming to the end of it about the day after her performance, which goes like this:

When I arose the next morning, it was snowing. In the breakfast room, I was greeted by many of the Nobel scientists. They showed appreciation for my very public struggle. They told me I did a good job. I wish I would have done better, I said. No, no, they replied, none of us wish that. For us, your performance seemed a metaphor for our own struggles. Words of kindness continued through the day, and in the end I had to come to terms with the truer nature of my duty. Why do we commit our work? Why do we perform? It is above all for the entertainment and transformation of the people. It is all for them. The song asked for nothing. The creator of the song asked for nothing. So why should I ask for anything?

There is one bit more that speaks to all of us:

……Looking to the future, I am certain that the hard rain will not cease falling, and that we will all need to be vigilant. The year is coming to an end; on December 30th, I will perform “Horses” with my band, and my son and daughter, in the city where I was born. And all the things I have seen and experienced and remember will be within me, and the remorse I had felt so heavily will joyfully meld with all other moments. Seventy years of moments, seventy years of being human.

Thank you Patti Smith.  You asked for nothing from me, but you won my heart.  That’s how it feels to me.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

Posted in Eighty and then some..., Theatre Reviews, Uncategorized, Your character is your fate


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