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Clip: Enjoying the Moment, Patti Smith Celebrates Time's Passage

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  • Carl Zimring
    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/03/arts/music/03PATT.html Enjoying the Moment, Patti Smith Celebrates Time s Passage By KELEFA SANNEH Published: January 3, 2004
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2004
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      http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/03/arts/music/03PATT.html

      Enjoying the Moment, Patti Smith Celebrates Time's Passage
      By KELEFA SANNEH

      Published: January 3, 2004

      Patti Smith probably wasn't the only performer in New York who welcomed
      2004 by saying, "We salute the departed year, we salute our departed
      friends." But on New Year's Eve at the Bowery Ballroom she also found time
      for more unusual wishes and pleas and dreams.

      About halfway through her set she said, "Happy New Year to John Walker
      Lindh, who is hopefully doing great studies and great meditations in
      government prison." Coming from another performer this message might have
      sounded tendentious or even self-serving, but Ms. Smith made it seem
      nothing more or less than an act of extraordinary kindness.

      All night long the coming of the new year served as both a running joke
      ("So, uh, gee, I forgot all about our mission tonight," she said, with 10
      minutes left in 2003) and as cause for something both wilder and heavier
      than hope. Ms. Smith turned 57 the day before, and although she didn't
      mention her birthday, she found appropriately complicated ways to
      commemorate both occasions. This was a party to celebrate the passing of
      time.

      The concert began with one of Ms. Smith's most ecstatic songs, "25th
      Floor." Loud, sturdy chords kept pace while she intoned her shivery verses:

      Desire to dance

      Too startled to try

      Wrap my legs round you

      Starting to fly.

      And early on, she brought out Steve Earle, who sang a loose, exuberant
      version of his "Transcendental Blues."

      Ms. Smith released her first album, "Horses," in 1975, and part of the
      thrill of seeing her now is the thrill of seeing someone who has learned to
      enjoy her own performances fully.

      Onstage she seems to do only and exactly what she wants to do. Whether
      reciting favorite lines by Rimbaud or leading the crowd in a protest song,
      she found joy in every moment, inevitably dissolving into a huge grin when
      another dense, tangled song was finished.

      Her next album is due in March, and some of the new songs she played were
      unabashedly allusive: there was a serpentine ode to Blake and an oddly
      straightforward tribute to Gandhi. But the best moments were often the
      cagiest. For "Beneath the Southern Cross," from her 1996 album, "Gone
      Again," she picked up an acoustic guitar to strum a pair of chords, over
      and over, while she sang a vivid, splintered poem:

      Oh to cry

      Not any cry

      So mournful that

      The dove

      Just laughs

      And the steadfast

      Gasps.

      When 2004 finally came, Ms. Smith revived the ecstatic spirit she had
      conjured up at the beginning of the concert. She announced that "2004 is
      the year of ecstatic strife," and soon the countdown began. She brought her
      son, Jackson, onstage. (His garage band, Back in Spades, was the opening
      act.) And while she clutched a lyric sheet, they sang the Rolling Stones'
      "Salt of the Earth."

      The rest of the concert was a typically engrossing, uncompromising mishmash
      of greatest hits, political protest and disarming generosity. She dedicated
      Bob Dylan's "I am a Lonesome Hobo" to the crew, and she urged audience
      members to fight to change the world. But she also offered more immediate
      advice for everyone celebrating the new year: "Drink plenty of water."
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