Patti Smith was radiant and fierce in her performance at the Saban Theatre Monday night. I’ve been to dozens of shows by the writer and musician during the last three decades; at this Songs & Stories event for the Aloud series of the Los Angeles Public Library, I saw aspects of her I had never seen before. First of all, she had a PowerPoint. A PowerPoint “to dream, to rule, to wrestle the earth from fools.” (Sorry, that was my riff on her anthem “People Have the Power,” not hers.) Smith clicked through images from her new book, A Book of Days, projected on a screen behind her as she told stories, jokes, and history lessons and sang songs, accompanied by longtime collaborator Tony Shanahan. Actually, an unseen technician advanced the slides for her; Smith laughed about this tour being her first experience with presentation software. In fact, despite her 75 years on the planet, the award-winning author is no Luddite. Book of Days is inspired by Smith’s third act as a social media influencer; her daily Instagram account, ThisIsPattiSmith, has 1 million followers. “I’m not capable of being square,” she said Monday.
(As an aside, my 2021 Los Angeles Times article about Patti’s online renaissance during the pandemic took a second place prize at the National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards presented Sunday night by the Los Angeles Press Club.)
Patti was funny and sharp and sentimental Monday. She offered professional advice: to develop your “writer’s muscle” by having a “daily practice.” Hers is to get up every morning, grab a coffee, and open a notebook, she revealed. Appropriately, Monday was Joan Didion’s birthday; Smith and Shanahan played Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings” for the writer. “When I think of dark glasses, I think of Joan Didion and Bob Dylan,” she said. In response to an audience question, she spoke about the daughter she gave up for adoption when she was young, revealing that they are in each other’s lives “but she’s very private.” Answering another inquiry, she said, “Michigan is where I had the saddest and most beautiful times of my life. I cherish them all.”
In her eighth decade, Smith is just getting better and more appreciated. She is on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, with the headline “The Radical Hope of Patti Smith.” Her voice is more assured, rich, and beautiful than ever. She and Shanahan delivered a stunning version of their 2004 song “Peaceable Kingdom.” But probably my favorite moment of the night was when he goaded her into singing, a capella, a holiday chestnut from her childhood by the Ray Coniff Singers. Roll the tape.
Speaking of Patti Smith cover stories, the first one I wrote was published 27 years ago by The Village Voice.