We Know It’s Only Rock N’ Roll But We Like It


[Illustration by ALEX FINE]

AMY SAYS: Patti Smith is 60 and graying, a widow, the mother of two grown children. Somewhere in the last few years, people began referring to her less as “punk priestess” and more as “punk matriarch.” Her new album, Twelve, is a genre- and generation-spanning collection of covers that has kinder critics saying she’s coming full circle now, which would almost make sense were there anything cyclical, round, or non-linear about Patti Smith. Her body is like an arrow always pointing forward, the direction all visionaries cast their eyes. She may not get there with us, but she has seen the promised land. Her entire career has been about knocking down the walls that separate us and keep us scared and alone — and barring that, she just climbs over the top and heads to the next one: She came to the Philadelphia Book Festival to sign things and then read poetry, but the noise from the Vine Expressway below the stage was too loud. So OK, sing some songs instead. She ran into local singer-songwriter Jeffrey Gaines and they got to talking about music — so OK, come up onstage and do some. Keep going. The only other accompaniment, save for the crystalline sunshine, was her twenty-something son, Jackson Smith, on guitar. They kind of wandered onstage together unannounced, ready or not here we come, and did a brief but well-received set that included favorites “Because the Night” and “People Have the Power.” From the selections on Twelve, she chose the Allmann Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” which was kind of a drag — I was hoping she’d do “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which under her hand finally becomes the poem that was always hidden under Kurt Cobain’s mushy delivery.

POET, PROPHET, MOTHER: Patti Smith, Philadelphia Book Festival, Last Night [FLICKR]

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