Should Patti Smith have won the Nobel Prize?

Dec 15, 2016 | Inspiration, Music, Reviews, Writing

A few months ago, in March of 2016, I saw Patti Smith perform for the first time.

Before seeing her live show I knew her music but nothing about her background, nor anything about her real personality.

I was both impressed and moved by her performance.

At the Nobel Prize Awards last weekend she did it again.

I saw the same person I had experienced live on stage perform in front of a very different audience.

She was no less impressing.

Being Human

I watch her move the seemingly unmovable: royalty and the élite dressed to the hilt, at a very formal engagement.

In an atmosphere reserved for stiff-upper-lips and ceremony Patti bared her soul. She let herself shine through. Something many others at the event could not truly do.

She broke that barrier, just has she had done with many others before, and infused some reality into the event.

She brought the house down.

She made it human.

Awards

I don’t want to downplay the significance of Bob Dylan winning the award. The Nobel Prize Committee went out on a limb by bestowing an award on him.

He was as shocked as everyone else and needed a bit of time to absorb it all. He did manage to write a speech worthy of the event.

Clearly his message to the world is important.

The choice of the song Patti performed attested to this. “A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall” may have been written in the early 1960’s but it still resonates today.

Patti’s delivery only gave it more credence.

Patti faltered on a couple of lines. She said she was nervous.

I’m sure this is partly true. She was honouring one of the people who inspired her on her own journey. The journey to bring her own special form of literature to the world.

I also think the lines she fluffed were important.

“I saw a newborn babe with wild wolves all around it” is quite an extraordinary image. So is “I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children”.

Patti also lost her lines here:

Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’

Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’

Her version was: “heard one person laugh, heard many people laughing”. None of this was a laughing matter and the people in that hall in Sweden were definitely listening.

There was no laughter. There were tears.

Remembering The Words

As a singer-songwriter I make the same mistakes.

In the middle of a song, a lyric will disappear, or I will paraphrase it.

Sometimes it’s very hard to tell your brain to shut up, to stop thinking and concentrate on delivering the words. Sometimes your mind wanders at the most inappropriate moments.

With all the images in Bob’s song that is not surprising.

Also, he writes really long songs.

I’m sure it would be difficult for anyone to keep track of where they were, even for a seasoned troubadour like Patti. Particularly if it’s not a song you’ve penned yourself.

Patti's Message

Incidentally, I found out about what had happened by chance. I was doing research for my new book and came across the news of Patti performing at the ceremony.

Another coincidence was that I finished reading her memoir Just Kids on the same day.

Just Kids follows her growth as an artist with her brother-in-arms Robert Mapplethorpe. It is also a eulogy to the photographer, her soulmate.

 

Through mutual encouragement they rose to become as great as the people they idolised in their youth.

It is a fantastic book about the power of art, love and friendship. Her drive to keep it real, to be honest and stay true to herself—and her art—were there from the start.

Her passion and bravado have not wained with the years.

When she apologised for her mistake I saw her inner child shining through.

At the Nobel Prize ceremony she showed that having a heart and being authentic still means something in this world.

A world where the hard rain is falling heavier every day.

Maybe if more people followed her lead, we would stop the downpour.

She delivered Bob Dylan’s message but she also delivered her own.

My previous post about Patti Smith can be found at: Patti Smith Does The Paradiso

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