On the morning of her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, Patti Smith showed up on the OpEd page of The New York Times. Is this a sign that rock and roll has truly grown up, or another indication that rock and roll has gone mainstream. That was actually what Patti Smith was musing about.
Some people have suggested that the mere existence of a “museum” honoring rock and rollers is a contradiction in terms. On one level, rock and roll has been about rebellion. To use the words of Patti’s late husband Fred Sonic Smith, “Kick out the jams, motherfucker!” But along the way rock and roll also became big business. The balance between art and commerce has been a struggle ever since. As for the Hall of Fame, well, the driving force behind that was the late Ahmet Ertegun, the Atlantic Records founder who approached music as a business but never, ever forgot that the music came first.
After Fred Smith’s death in 1994, Patti pretty much vanished from the music scene, spending her time raising their two children. Sounds pretty middle-class, but if you think about it, rock and roll is also about a shared consciousness and community, and about caring for one another. If you ask me, taking time out because your kids need you isn’t at all inconsistent with being a rocker.
Now that the kids are grown (and frequently playing with Mom), Patti’s entered a new, prolific era of her career. Her poetry and her music remain just as powerful, though one can hear a bit of wisdom that comes from experience mixed in. Her recent commentary on the war in Iraq (musical and otherwise) prove that the spirit remains.
In the OpEd piece, Patti mentions her NY neighbors reaction to her induction into the Hall of Fame, best summed up by the sanitation man who shouted down the street, “Hey Patti. Hall of Fame. One for us.”
So a big cheer for Patti Smith, Hall of Famer. And a big cheer for all of us.