Patti Smith still playing and writing at 70

Patti Smith still playing and writing at 70

By Lucy Kiefert, Round Table entertainment editor

As far as the merging of punk and poetry goes, Patti Smith is the queen.

For those who don’t know who she is, Smith was a pivotal part of the punk rock scene in New York during the ’70s, and her debut album “Horses” launched her on to that scene with full force. “Horses” turned Patti’s whimsical poems into raging rock ‘n’ roll songs that crowned her as one of the major female founders of that era, and as a result, her influence still lives in the hearts and minds of people of all ages.

On Wednesday, Oct. 12, Smith was interviewed at the Lincoln Theater in Washington, D.C., by local venue owner, Seth Hurwitz, about her book, “M Train”. Hurwitz is one of the founders of IMP Entertainment, the conglomerate under which the 9:30 Club, Merriweather Post Pavilion and many other locales occupying the DMV area fall.

“You’re a rock star,” Hurwitz said at the beginning of his discussion with Smith.

She smiled abashedly in response and leaned back in her chair, causing a blend of laughs and cheers to emit from the audience.

While Smith is mostly known as a musician, she has a wide array of books under her belt that deal with both poetic and autobiographical content matter. Her memoir, “Just Kids”, the most popular of her works, focuses specifically on her relationship with photographer and artist, Robert Mapplethorpe.

Smith has a long and exciting past filled with stories that aspiring musicians, poets and artists could only hope to experience. Still, she maintains a surprising level of normalcy. She’s witty, laid-back and has trouble adapting to evolving technology like any other person her age.

“I turn 70 in December,” she told the audience candidly at the end of her five-song performance.

There was not a single point during the event where Smith seemed like she was purposely distancing herself. She spoke openly about the deaths of her loved ones, whom she looks up to, why she loves graveyards and how much coffee she drinks. Most notable in my eyes, however, was the way she described her writing process.

“When I’m writing poetry,” Smith said, “I do it completely for the poem. But when I’m writing music, I try to think about who’s going to be listening to it.”

A huge part of what made the evening so great was Smith’s rawness and honesty. The small set she performed to accompany the discussion in place of a book signing was extremely simple but still elegant. The only instruments other than her voice were guitar and piano. The sole movement that occurred while she was performing was with her hands to express emotion or to gently ask the audience to sing with her.

The one exception to this was during Smith’s closing number, “People Have The Power”. She commanded everyone who was watching to stand up and clap along after giving an impassioned speech about what the masses should ask of their leaders.

“I think during these next four years, we really need to take a look at our world and turn things around.” Holding up a peace sign and kicking off the song, she said, “Vote.”

Somehow, the sheer simplicity that was maintained throughout the entire night whether Smith was speaking or singing made the experience twice as touching. There was no phony persona or façade, which is something other performers are often weakened by when they put more work into how their show looks rather than how it sounds. While complicated visuals and rows of backup dancers are impressive, there’s definitely something to be said about a woman who writes a song from her heart and believes in her work, then gets on stage and just sings.

What could be said, in my opinion, is that she is the truest definition of the word “artist.”