New York (AFP) – As a child, punk poet icon Patti Smith was instructed never to accept anything from strangers – meaning one day she was forced to turn down a campaign button she coveted and everyone had.
As she walked dejectedly back to her family home in New Jersey, she swore to herself that she would soon acquire her own medals to add to her backhand.
On Saturday, the 75-year-old rock legend kept his promise, as France’s ambassador to the United States, Philippe Etienne, presented him with the Legion of Honor, his country’s highest honor.
Smith regaled a delighted audience with this touching anecdote after his medal ceremony in downtown Brooklyn, where crowds gathered for “Night of Ideas,” an annual philosophy and performance marathon hosted by Villa Albertine. of the French Embassy in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library.
“It’s an indescribable honor, I understand the gravity of it,” she told AFP backstage, after delivering a fiery performance alongside her daughter Jesse on the piano and her longtime collaborator. date and guitarist Lenny Kaye.
“For someone…who has been greatly shaped by French culture, French literature, French art and film, my entire life – that’s especially meaningful,” she continued.
“I have embraced France all my life, and to receive such an embrace in return is a wonderful thing.”
For more than half a century, Smith has been celebrated as an artist, adored for her deeply introspective and raw music, writing, poetry and songwriting which in 2010 won the US National Book Award for her moving memoir “Just Kids”.
The book sees Smith digging into memories of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, the late photographer with whom she shared a deep friendship, romance, and creative connection.
“I feel like it’s very appropriate to have such an honor here in Brooklyn – it’s just a few subway stops from where Robert Mapplethorpe and I lived when we were 20,” he said. she told the audience. “At night, when Robert couldn’t sleep, he would ask me to read French poetry to him… I remember those nights so well.”
Smith also felt a special kinship with the location of Saturday’s ceremony.
“It also fits that it was a library, because coming from a very rural area of South Jersey, with very little culture in the 1950s and mid-1960s, I depended on the library to open up and expand my world “, she said. mentioned.
In typical Smith fashion, she honored the artists who came before her by closing her acceptance speech, after opening with a rendition of her 1996 song “Wing.”
The rock winner read the last letter of the spiritual-surrealist poet René Daumal, which he wrote to his wife before his death.
“Seeing that you are nothing you wish to become,” Smith read. “By wanting to become, you begin to live.”
After the ceremony, Smith – donning his signature black blazer over a black vest, plus combat boots and his long gray hair flowing while a few small braids framed his face – delighted fans with a show that included his hit “People Have The Power,” which she wrote with her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith.
Speaking to AFP, she said that while “artists can always inspire people, they can rally people, give people hope…in the end, it’s not the artists who do the change is the people”.
“Through voting, through initiative, through mass marches, it is people who make change.”
Citing the ongoing pandemic and the “pain of war”, Smith said “we live in a very troubled world”, highlighting climate change as the great crisis of our time.
“There are heat waves right now that are unprecedented…there is terrible famine and severe weather that we have never seen,” she said.
“The only way to solve this problem is a global effort, and I think more than anything…it’s the most important thing people need to tackle.
“As small as the gesture, every gesture is important.”
Smith is set to release a new book in the fall called “A Book Of Days,” a visual collection inspired by her beloved Instagram account.
These days, “I’m writing as always,” she told AFP, “I’m writing songs, I’m writing poems, I’m writing another book, I’m always busy, I’m always doing something thing”.
After her performance, Smith said the medal inspired her to do “more work, better work” and that it “felt very fitting to work right after receiving it”.
“I always feel like I got a little bit of, you know, that post-performance adrenaline,” she smiled, “but also just the excitement and the happiness…to receive such an honor. “
“To be chosen to, you know, be a kind of mini-ambassador of the country is really a great joy for me,” she said.
“So you leave me a happy daughter.”
© 2022 AFP