Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Patti Smith :: Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Inductee

I never thought that punk poet/rebel Patti Smith would make it through the lingering misogyny of the music establishment to be honored by the Hall. Last night, at age 60, she accepted with grace and humility, performing with power and passion.

Smith's raw, angry style, seemingly in-your-face lyrics with their surprising subtlety of meaning, and refusal to doll herself up in the "girl group" tradition of were so inspiring to me when I was a young woman coming of age at the height of the Feminist Movement. I even went through one summer - thankfully only one - with unshaven armpits, inspired by her Easter album cover. I'm frankly glad that she lived to see the day that she was inducted into the Hall. I remember rushing from my secretarial job at CBS Records to the the Wollman Rink in NY in the summer of 1977, arriving breathless, just in time to see her carried out, unconscious, before the show ever began. She lived life her way, all the way, in those days.

And then she retired to be a mom, raising two children with MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith (their son played rhythm guitar with his mom onstage last night).

Fifteen years ago, in the weeks while we were waiting for our own daughter to be born, Chris and I made a complilation of the best, most accessible rock songs we could think of, titled "Songs to Sing with Julia." It was to be our baby's introduction to rock 'n' roll, and it was our way of declaring that we weren't going inflict insipid "kiddie music" on our child. Rather, we would respect her intelligence and introduce to her to quality music right from the outset. The playlist began with John Lennon's "Julia" (of course) and ended with Patti Smith's "People Have the Power."

It is not her best composition, but I have always loved "People Have the Power" as an anthem for how I aspire to live my own life. And, I was always intrigued that from this dark, often angry writer came lyrics which were inspired by The Beatitudes (....Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven....blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.....etc ). Thinking about it again today, I shouldn't have been surprised at the reference. The Beatitudes, which were the opening lines from Christ's powerful "Sermon on the Mount," were designed to shock. He got his audience's attention by going completely against the prevailing belief system, describing the "citizens of heaven" as the poor, the weak, and the helpless. That instinct, to push the envelope in pursuit of social commentary, is Patti Smith's MO. Who else could have come up with the title "Rock and Roll Nigger" as a way of expressing the isolation of the visionary?

Although it is nineteen years old, "People Have the Power" holds up both as a song and as a call to action. Its timeless relevance speaks to why this fierce yet fragile artist was inducted into the Hall of Fame last night.

I was dreaming in my dreaming
of an aspect bright and fair
and my sleeping it was broken
but my dream it lingered near
in the form of shining valleys
where the pure air recognized
and my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
that the people / have the power
to redeem / the work of fools
upon the meek / the graces show
it's decreed / the people rule.

The people have the power
The people have the power
The people have the power
The people have the power

Vengeful aspects became suspect
and bending low as if to hear
and the armies ceased advancing
because the people had their ear
and the shepherds and the soldiers
lay beneath the stars
exchanging visions
and laying arms
to waste / in the dust
in the form of / shining valleys
where the pure air / recognized
and my senses / newly opened
I awakened to the cry


Where there were deserts
I saw fountains
like cream the waters rise
and we strolled there together
with none to laugh or criticize
and the leopard
and the lamb
lay together truly bound
I was hoping in my hoping
to recall what I had found
I was dreaming in my dreaming
god knows / a purer view
as I surrender to my sleeping
I commit my dream to you


The power to dream / to rule
to wrestle the world from fools
it's decreed the people rule
it's decreed the people rule
I believe everything we dream
can come to pass thru our union
we can turn the world around
we can turn the earth's revolution
we have the power
People have the power......

Lyrics © 1988 Druse Music/Stratium Music, Inc.

No comments:

Post a Comment