So Patti Smith is playing at the Vatican on December 13th.
Patti Smith and this Pope. It’s a natural. Maybe if you only remember Patti from the ’70s, it’s a bit of a shocker.
But once you think about who she really is, you see that they have so much in common; two people who come from humble places, who never wanted wealth or power, who called out greed and stood up for love. They believe in living and bringing peace, they don’t go for glamour and flash. This Pope will not wear the ermine robes; he walks out at night to tend to the people sleeping on the streets.
I’m really touched by all of this.
I was lucky to have so many great role models in music when I grew up. Pop stars seem so vapid these days, photoshopped and autotuned, coming off like bots.
Here is a recent Patti, who is as real as it gets, singing Frederick in Toronto, at a concert in memory of her friend Robert Mapplethorpe. I’m sure that she is also thinking of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith, who died young; they were hugely in love. She raised their two children alone; they grew up to be musicians.
Each of them are playing on this clip; Jesse on piano, Jackson on guitar.
I’m looking forward to seeing her at the end of January (after she sings at the Vatican). I’m heading to San Diego, to see it with Doriot, who amazingly has never seen her live. What are the odds of that?
Here she speaks of her love story with Robert Mapplethorpe. I really identify with this; this is the love that I want with people, and I don’t want anything more or anything less. I have zero interest in superficial relationships.
Patti kind of helped save my life, back in the day.
In high school, I was bullied; I was smart and strange and I didn’t want to talk about bullshit. It was fairly merciless. I had a few friends, thank God. I was forced to go to church and to Sunday School, and seemed at all times to be surrounded by adults who believed in God as a kneejerk thing to do, but who didn’t seem to have any interest in explaining (much less exploring) the disconnect between the concept of loving all people, of love on the ground, and the reality of religion over the centuries; war, persecution, intolerance. I wanted decent answers if I was expected to give honest prayers; I was expected to give my trust, my faith and my heart to their story.
Yet all real questions went unanswered; the biggest, of course, “Why isn’t it enough to simply be good?” What if I don’t need a creation mythology to live love? Why are other mythological Creators wrong and yours the one true Creator? Why were the books that speak of the power of women cut from the King James Bible we used in Sunday school? WTF Lilith!? Why is it important to construct a story to explain what cannot be understood? Why would a God who was about love be jealous, or torture Job, or slaughter innocent children as a revenge for enslaving one people, but encourage slavery in other portions of the same book? Why was it better for Lot to offer his pre-teen daughters to be gang-raped by a mob of roving toughs than to allow them to be gay in his stables? WHY?
Why did adults, who seemed to place so much emphasis on accuracy and education, act like they had no facility for critical thinking regarding the many plot holes in this story?
I do think it’s enough to just be good, and I think the new Pope thinks so too.
Now if he would only repurpose his missionaries in the field to pass out nutritious food and free condoms to all of the impoverished peoples in the world, so that they could control their fertility and prevent the spread of AIDS, we’d really be getting somewhere.
I think this song got me through when I would have just given up. There were days, honestly, when I had to decide each night if I was going to live to endure another day of torment, waiting for the day when I would be old enough to break free, and the love part would kick in.
Leave me something.
Leave me something to live.
Oh, God, give me something:
a reason to live.
I don’t want no handout;
no, not sympathy.
Come on. Come and love me.
Come on. Set me free.
Hearing her cry from the heart still brings all of the old feelings; the well of love all around us, and the deep and suspect promise of salvation.
I feel myself again 12, 13, 14, 15… finding some kind of steel inside myself that got me through. A day, a week… a piece at a time I made it through to love and freedom.
And that’s a big part of the reason that I am so fierce about my freedom now.
It was very hard-won.
Thank you, Patti, for everything. It’s been a perfect life, and I’m so glad I spent it with you.