I’ve had the honor of meeting Ms. Smith, and wrote about it earlier this year, but I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing her perform live. (How is this possible??) The free concert she gave at Lincoln Center tonite, July 20th, presented a chance to rectify that at long last. It almost didn’t happen tonite either. I got there way early and got in fine. Then I went back out.
All of NYC had shown up in the meantime, so I had to wait on two ridiculously long lines to try and get back in. Luckily, I barely did but wound up about 350-400 feet away from the stage, as you can see below. Luckily, the sound system was excellent all the way to the back, so I could hear fine. Well, this is Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, so that’s to be expected, right? Being that far away, though, if there is one tall person between you and the stage, you’re not getting a picture. There were 2- one on each side of me. So, I had to wait and wait and wait, finger on the shutter release, until I was finally able to get a few.
Patti, blissfully oblivious to my travails, and her band, augmented by her daughter, Jesse, on piano early on, tore the roof off roof-less Damrosch Park, under one of the biggest full moons I’ve ever seen, in the shadow of the Metropolitan Opera’s south fascade, as much with their music as with Patti’s “state-of-the-union” rebuttle comments as the generous 90+ plus minute set progressed.
She opened with reading poignant passages from “Just Kids,” her instant classic memoir that is chock full of them. Yes, she opened by reading from a book to a sold-out house of a few thousand folks, who had just heard some mariachi band(?) futiley try to get them to dance or clap for 45 minutes. While she read, it was so quiet you could hear a safety pin fall out of an earlobe.
As she slowly, and beautifully, built the set from there, about half way through, she did a wonderful rendition of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” adding her own lyrics(!) towards the end. Shortly after starting it, she stopped, to let an intrusive photographer have it, and when she resumed things promptly took off to another level, and stayed there the rest of the night. Setlist, here. (Per Kitty, my go to source for all things Patti, she compiled her own and confirms it’s correct. Thanks, Kitty!).
Between songs, she then spoke about the Republican Convention, the lack of media coverage about the remarks made therein calling for the execution of the other party’s nominee(!), “enemies” in politics, and where things are really at for “the people.” While she stayed away from saying who she was backing or voting for, she made it very clear how she felt about the state of the rhetoric that seems to get a pass in the media these days. She said that she doesn’t get scared easily, but she is scared now. Form then on, she spoke about what is at stake for us and our children, “the future, and the future is now,” she said.
I found it stirring, and her call to “use your voice,” struck me, since, well? I have a voice. Though my focus is Art & Music, my cards also list “Life” as the third realm of NighthawkNYC. Along with some other things I’ve Posted under “Life” thus far, is this, during Pope Francis’ visit to NYC, questioning the prison-like installations along 5th Avenue, around the corner from Moma.
I think Patti is right. Things seem to be going to hell in a hand basket. It’s getting harder and harder to find sanctuary in the worlds of Art & Music when every single new day seems to bring some new horror to light, be it mass shootings, or verbal violence, espousal of racism, and an increase in the “us versus them” vitriol to never before seen heights. How long will this go one before it spills over into actual physical political violence? Haven’t we been through all of this before?
I don’t care what side of the political coin you’re on, or if you’re like me, you’re on a totally different coin, i.e.- my own. I think we can all agree that this is going too far, it’s dangerous, and, as Ms. Smith said tonite, it’s un-American.
While I wasn’t around for World War 2, it seems to me that we fought that war to fight fascism, anti-semitism and racism. Talking about barring this or that group of people sure doesn’t sound like anything I was taught this country was about. As we also see daily, there are too many guns in the wrong hands, and too many guns only the police or the military should have, for anyone to feel safe, and no matter the horror unleashed NOTHING changes. And, along with this there are, also, too many questionable deaths happening at the hands of the law (Morrissey seemed to “warn” us about this in his last NYC show).
Too many things are amiss in our society, our systems and our government. I don’t know where this is going to end, but I fear it’s going to get even worse before it gets any better.
I’ve said that the reason to live in NYC is for the Art. One of the other great things about living here is the diversity. People from all over the world live here. I, for one, am proud of this. They enrich the City and all of our lives in countless ways, including culturally. And? People from 115 different countries died here on 9/11. Take a ride on the Subway and you see what America is supposed to be, right there in front of you- the “great melting pot.” I believe it when people here say- “Hatred is not one of our values.”
I like to believe that most people in this country feel that way, and they will be heard. We live in a very difficult world in a very challenging time. Yet? We have a say in where this goes. One of Patti’s closing songs was “People Have The Power.”
“And the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools”*
For me, and perhaps many others, Patti Smith IS New York City. She represents the best of what New York is. She came from nothing and became a star here, while remaining true to her self, and retaining and exuding cool. She’s both street smart & wise. She’s creative, multi-talented and constantly evolving, like NYC is. She takes no shit from anyone, while remembering the best of everyone. She warns us of the difficult road life is, while exalting all of us to the beauty and joy possible in life- big and small. She lives in the moment but never forgets the past. That she is also a touchstone in the guise of a Poet for so much of this City’s recent & glorious past is no small part of her mythology, and a blessing for those of us now living, and yet unborn. And? She’s Rock and Roll! She will kick your ass on stage with her band, or off it if you intrude on it. As New Yorkers like to say, she is “the real deal.” My respect for her continues to grow. As I learned tonite, she is one of those rare people that when you are in their presence, be it one on one in a room together, or 400 feet away among thousands of others, you FEEL you are in the presence of someone special, someone who has the “sacred knowledge” she’s gained from both revered mentors, and on her own. And, someone who has the power to relate it, to transmit it to you, naturally, effortlessly, and poetically, like a zen master. As she travels the world (so I don’t have to), and meets countless people in countless other Cities, I know my City is in the best of hands. It’s like saying, “Here’s New York for you. Show me what YOU got.” I know, I know…good thing I stay home.
At one point, between songs, someone actually yelled out that Patti run for President! She replied “I’d rather be the janitor in any public school,” than be President.
This fall, if you’re still at a loss for a candidate? I feel your pain. It could still finally be time to make a woman President.
In spite of what she said? Write “Patti Smith” in, anyway.
There are far worse people you could vote for. What scares me most is- They are actually running.
*Soundtrack for this Post is “People Have The Power” by Patti Smith and Fred “Sonic” Smith, published by Druse Music, Inc.
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