(Venice, Italy) The first time I saw Patti Smith perform was a bit more than 35 years ago, just when she was becoming Patti Smith. I was in my late teens and it was in New Jersey, at a college like William Paterson or Fairleigh Dickerson. Her energy gave me such a buzz that I wanted to jump on stage and invite her home with me. Horses was the most brilliant album by a female I had ever heard, and she became my hero. Back then, she and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe were the daredevils of New York, leaving a trail of broken rules and codes of conduct behind them. It was a time when artists were allowed to do their jobs and force the population, by shock if necessary, to WAKE UP.
Patricia Lee "Patti" Smith (born December 30, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist, who became a highly influential component of the New York Citypunk rock movement with her 1975 début album Horses. Called the "Godmother of Punk", she integrated the beat poetry performance style with three-chord rock. Smith's most widely known song is "Because the Night", which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen and reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978. In 2005, Patti Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture, and in 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Now Patti Smith is 63-years-old, and her energy remains the same, only more refined. Last night in Piazza San Marco she was the High Priestess leading her people in song. I was surprised to see how many young Italian fans she had, both male and female, and how they knew all the words! Young Italians, filled with emotion, singing along to the words of an American poetess. She wore a tee-shirt with the image of a skull under her traditional jacket, and started off with some good ones -- "Redondo Beach," "Money." The energy level was high quality, and a clump of kids from the audience in the back ran up to be close to the stage, and I went with them.
The stage at Piazza San Marco is set way back from the first row of seats, so that the performer is not close to the audience. (Last week Norah Jones kept saying, "You're so far away! You're so far away!") But Patti Smith is an old pro and knows how to use her magic to move her people. At first security would not let anyone get close, but then during "Dancing Barefoot" Patti signalled deftly, subtly with her hands, and everyone moved in, so close that she could touch her fans if she wanted to, and she did. She balanced the night perfectly, with old and new, spoken word and song.
She indicated the Basilica at the other end of the square, and dedicated a song to Papa Luciano, or Pope John Paul I, who was the Patriarch of Venice before he became Pope and died after only 33 days -- and then she kicked right into "Gloria."
Since this was a concert for EMERGENCY, just what is the emergency? From Emergency's website: