Patti Smith Knocks Socks off Paris

Salle Pleyel before it gets its socks knocked off

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.


Patti Smith  (Asheville NC, 1997)

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?

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15 Responses to “Patti Smith Knocks Socks off Paris”

  1. 1 Sarah Marian Seltzer January 22, 2011 at 1:42 am

    OMG that sounds utterly transcendent. I love her, and I love “Howl” and wow. just wow.


  2. 3 Susan January 22, 2011 at 2:25 am

    Hi! I found your blog by trolling around other Paris bloggers (I’m joining the club in April). Great post! I read Just Kids a few weeks ago and loved it! I’m not that familiar with her music (I was old enough but grew up in the mid-West, or maybe I just wasn’t cool enough yet). Your post reminds me that I wanted to download some of her albums. Nice to “meet” you and I’m putting your blog in my reader.


    • 4 paris (im)perfect January 22, 2011 at 2:36 am

      Hi Susan! Welcome! You are way ahead of the game. Starting a Paris blog before you’re even Paris! It took me 3 years! Very happy to “meet” you. See you around blogland – and in person in a few months, I guess!

      I’ve heard great things about “Just Kids.” I’m pretty much in love with this woman, so I want to read the book. I wasn’t cool for a long time (um, I’m still not, really), but was fortunate enough to “accidentally” go to a Patti Smith concert several years ago. Sold!


  3. 7 Kind Reader January 22, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I love experiences like this…’in love with life’…very cool…enjoy…

    I hope you will post when/if you discover the source of the bell sounds? πŸ™‚ Still contemplate that one…


    • 8 paris (im)perfect January 22, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      Hi Holly.

      Ah yes, the bells. I actually think it might have been my elevator. It sounded like bells at first, but now the elevator is becoming squeakier and squeakier and I don’t hear the bells anymore. Guess it’s time for some maintenance πŸ™‚


  4. 9 Shannon January 22, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    This sounds just awesome. I tend to fall in love with almost every concert I go to whether it be classical or hard rock… I can totally relate. There’s almost nothing more moving than hundreds or thousands of people all in 1 room, some part of them moving to the same beat.

    Pretty magical πŸ˜€ Thanks for sharing!


    • 10 paris (im)perfect January 22, 2011 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks, Shannon. I hear you. Patti really is one of the most magical performers I’ve ever seen, though. Not every one makes me start gushing and writing stream-of-consciousness Beat blog posts πŸ™‚ All in keeping with the Ginsberg tribute, I guess!


  5. 11 Renee Vollen January 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    I was there! Your comments are in tune with the experience, no doubt. I’m old enough to remember when that energy infused the people in the U.S. It made me sad to realize, at least for now, it’s gone. Like your blog and your attitude. We’re in our 70’s and have fallen in love with Paris and the feeling of solidarity here. Our blog:


    • 12 paris (im)perfect January 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm

      Thanks for visiting, Renee! I’m glad my write-up resonated with your experience, too. (So I’m not the only one who left thinking everything was holy? πŸ™‚ )

      That is a melancholy observation about the US, but one that seems, in many ways at least, true. I don’t have the advantage of comparison over so many years, but I would say yes: the US could stand a good dose of solidarity.

      Glad you are enjoying Paris.


      • 13 Renee Vollen January 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm

        By the way, we cited your blog in our posting on Good job. American infatuation with Paris has historic roots going back to the Revolutionary War which was strongly reinforced by French troops and money. The book, Americans in Paris by Brian Morton notes and geographically places many of them. Your, as well as our, affections are a clear affirmation of those feelings.


      • 14 paris (im)perfect January 25, 2011 at 3:40 pm

        Thanks so much! Nice blog! (I didn’t see exactly where you cited me, but I’m happy that you did!) Glad you’re enjoying Paris so much.


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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