|Patti Smith Performing "Birdland"|
In preparation for the concert I had both listened to a 70-minute interview from a 2012 Danish music festival (http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/patti-smith-i-will-always-live-peter-pan) and purchased and read "Just Kids," her account of her young life in New York with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. My explorations revealed a centered, likable, and virtuous woman. I was quite surprised to discover that she was incredibly kind, good, well read, and versatile. I had not known that she had won the National Book Award for "Just Kids" and I greatly admired its simple language and skillful storytelling.
So the thing I am struggling with is how a centered philosopher puts on a stage show full of all-consuming passion. I haven't solved this incongruity. Except perhaps to accept that we all have our different sides. I'm a careful professional, but put me on a dance floor and all bets are off--I become utterly carefree. Maybe it's the same thing. The interview above touches on that point at its beginning and Smith quotes Whitman in asserting that we all have many different sides to our personalities.
I've attended many vocal performance of aging performers and Smith's voice was simply the best facsimile of a voice from 40 years ago that I have ever heard. Easily so. She was closely mic'd and for most of the concert I could detect very little difference between her voice on the 1977 version of "Horses" and her voice now. She was particularly strong during the highest-intensity stretches of "Gloria," "Birdland," and "Horses." Her near-manic demeanor during fast parts of "Birdland" and "Horses" was captivating. The voice of this woman in her eighth decade of life is amazing.
|Violence Against Guitar Strings|
The most remarkable thing about Patti Smith the performer is her intensity when she's riffing on her own lyrics. Total immersion. The heat of the hot part of the sun. And this intensity led to a question that popped in my head at the beginning of the last number, "My Generation," as she donned a guitar for the first time: How does the passionate spontaneity inherent in guitar smashing jive with the premeditation necessary to carry it out? At the point she put on the innocent, shiny guitar, I said to myself, "Lord God, please don't allow this marvelous septuagenarian to smash the guitar." Well, she didn't. She manufactured lots of feedback; she broke the strings one by one, tossed them aside; but she avoided any nasty splinters by sparing the guitar. Ultimately, she did not behave, but she tempered her defiance with love--and made a comment to that effect that suggested why it was that the guitar's sentence was commuted.
One sign of good art is that it leaves you with unanswered questions. I left asking myself several: Is the performer's persona real or an illusion? What does it mean to be an aging artist? How do intensity and spontaneity co-exist in performance art? It was an amazing show. Too bad Snag missed it.