Do you ever feel so alive and electrified you believe you could simply burst into flame?
Is there a moment – a second, a day – when you’re overcome by your own power, your strength? The power of those around you, light shining everywhere?
Patti Smith makes me feel that way.
Tonight I saw Patti Smith and Philip Glass at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The evening was billed as a tribute to Allen Ginsberg. Both Smith and Glass were close friend’s of the Beat poet. But I was there to see her.
She’s in town for a few days with a different event each night. Last night she did an unplugged set. Tomorrow she will perform “Horses” from beginning to end.
I’ll admit: I wanted to go to those other nights more than this one. I wanted to simply bathe in the passion and spirit of Patti; I’m not particularly an Allen Ginsberg fan.
Was I disappointed?
Heck no. Patti can rock the socks off people no matter what she’s doing.
Philip Glass, the renowned pianist, played beautifully (as expected) while Patti Smith read some of her own poems and some of Ginsberg’s, too.
(Smith’s first dream was to be a poet. Then she realized she could reach more people through music. You know what, though? She’s an artist in all mediums, just in her very being. A poet, painter, photographer, singer, songwriter. She’s just won the National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids about her relationship with legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Is there anything this woman can’t do? Nope.)
After some Ginsberg poems, Patti sang a few of her own songs and I could tell from the energy in the room – a lot of us had been hoping for that.
Patti is one of the most incredible performers I’ve ever seen. I didn’t even know I loved her until I saw her live a decade ago. I had heard her music before, but hadn’t been particularly hooked.
Until I saw her perform, that is. Instant hero. A force of nature.
Imagine this ending:
Patti Smith reads a footnote from Ginsberg’s most famous poem “Howl,” Glass plays piano, her old collaborator Lenny Kay, her daughter, and another fine musician shake tambourines while she shouts “Holy! Holy! Holy!” over and over and over again.
“Holy are my hands, holy is the typewriter, holy is love, holy is light, holy is the subway…” (I’m making up these words here, but there was a whole string of ’em, from the most commonplace object to the most transcendent of feelings).
Because then she starts improvising, too. “Holy is the chair, holy is God, holy is the hand…”
Part of the set for the evening was a screen where the French translations of poems were projected while she read.
Now she tells the audience, “Don’t look at the screen! Stand up! You know! Holy is breath, holy is the circulatory system, holy is the table, holy is the heart!”
How could one not feel that everything on this beautiful earth is holy! How could one not burst into flames?
As if we weren’t revved up enough, she then did a rendition of the always rousing “People Have the Power” with her daughter on piano (not Philip Glass! He was standing and clapping!)
And so everyone in that formal, sit-down theater stood up and claimed their power. Clapped and hooted and yelled it. (I have never seen a French audience hoot before).
I know why the French like her. She appeals to the revolutionary fervor they pride themselves on (even if I’d argue it’s no longer that real).
But tonight it was real. Everything was real and alive and holy.
I am in love with life right now.
Who or what makes you feel alive?