Patti Smith on the Big Questions

Patti Smith on the Big Questions

On the eve of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Patti Smith, as always, asks all the really interesting questions:

Should an artist working within the revolutionary landscape of rock accept laurels from an institution? Should laurels be offered? Am I a worthy recipient? I have wrestled with these questions and my conscience leads me back to Fred and those like him — the maverick souls who may never be afforded such honors. Thus in his name I will accept with gratitude. Fred Sonic Smith was of the people, and I am none but him: one who has loved rock ’n’ roll and crawled from the ranks to the stage, to salute history and plant seeds for the erratic magic landscape of the new guard …Rock ’n’ roll drew me from my mother’s hand and led me to experience. In the end it was my neighbors who put everything in perspective. An approving nod from the old Italian woman who sells me pasta. A high five from the postman. An embrace from the notary and his wife. And a shout from the sanitation man driving down my street: “Hey, Patti, Hall of Fame. One for us.”

Art. Revolution. Questioning one’s worthiness. Questioning the validity of accolades to begin with — it’s like a message in a bottle from another time when we were all less cynical, less interested in pure celebrity, less liable to equate success with sales figures.

One of the many things I’ve always admired about Patti Smith is that she never seemed to take her iconic stature seriously. She lives in Detroit. In a neighborhood. She raised her kids and went to the store and never fell into the trappings of celebrity that would have been so easy with someone who appeared in all those iconic Mappelthorpe photos (Mapplethorpe — another message in a bottle. Remember the hysteria over that museum show? Remember those flowers? Remember all those gorgeous men, dead now?).

And when the Rock and Roll hall of fame came knocking, she still had the sense to ask “is this a good thing?” I’m glad she’s accepting. I’m glad she’s accepting in the spirit she is. I’m more than glad she’s still out there reminding us to ask the questions.

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