With everything that went wrong with last year, some things went right. One of those things was getting Patti Smith tickets for her birthday show at the Rivera Theater in Chicago the day they went on sale. For the bargain basement price of less then 50 dollars. Because I'm a crazy person who believes I will get a date I bought two.
This was before Patti sang for Bob Dylan at the Nobel ceremony last year. A performance that was either lauded or lampooned depending on whether or not you really understand what it means to be a professional performer. Personally, I thought her performance was brilliant. And Patti Smith, being Patti Smith, she wrote about her own performance. Sometimes I feel like she fully understands what it is like to be me. I feel sometimes like I want to write stories to explain the results of both the good and bad things in my life.
It was not lost on me that the narrative of the song begins with the words “I stumbled alongside of twelve misty mountains,” and ends with the line “And I’ll know my song well before I start singing.” As I took my seat, I felt the humiliating sting of failure, but also the strange realization that I had somehow entered and truly lived the world of the lyrics.
Patti get's it. She knows how to go through it and come out the other end. I had tickets before she called, and was even more excited after. It didn't hurt that this show was also her celebration of Horses, an album that has been near and dear to my heart since Shimer College.
My only problem would be that I needed a date, but I figured out how to take care of that by asking the Chicago friend tree a bit to see if I could find someone that I know that would be interested. this was not as hard as you think. So with a date secured, I went to the show.
In the late 90s I was very fortunate to see Nina Simone in concert. At the first show I saw her at she had returned to do her performance just after Bush had been elected. She was dressed in white.
She sat at her piano.
She played her best songs. He most violent songs.
And she looked at us in a pause between the music and she said
"You'll have to get yourselves out of the Bushes."
It was perfect. She understood the political moment. She understood her audience well enough.
Patti Smith was no different in many ways.
Patti took the stage, the theater was packed. It was her birthday. It was the day before the end of the year. She wore jeans, a white t-shirt and a vest. Her hair was silver.
Her face and body aged, time has changed her in so many ways. But not voice. Her voice was pure Patti. Her voice was her voice then, her voice now, her voice tomorrow, her voice always. she was perfect Patti.
And she sand Horses, an album that is roughly as old as I am. She sang horses, and the cords were similar, the sounds were similar. But the words have changed. The words reflected our now. our today. The words where our moment. She told us, in the song of Johnny, she told us that we were stuck in thorns, trapped, that it was up to free ourselves, like Johnny would have to free himself.
The album, from cover to cover and then several cover songs afterwards she sang for us. Allo f them lovely. All of them changed. All of them Patti for this moment communicating what it was that we needed to know.
She finished with My Generation, covering the Who, which was sort of perfect in it's own way. And in her cover as the song finished she told the band "Keep going, keep playing, keep it going."
And she turned to us.
And she turned to the audience.
And she turned to us.
And she spoke.
And she said
"Fuck my generation. Fuck my generation. My generation is filled with selfish assholes. y generation is the reason that your generation is where it is at today. My generation is trying to freeze progress and drive us backwards. Fuck my generation. This is now. It's your generation. It's yours. It's time to move on. To destroy my generation and make your own. Make your own."
We sang happy birthday to celebrate her life. We came to her show to celebrate how she shaped a generation. We came to see her because we have found something in her music over forty years.
We came to her to help us.
And she did.