Can you believe that Patti Smith is 62 years old? I can’t. Especially since she still looks like the androgynous punk waif she was when her first album came out in 1975. My brother-in-law played on a bill with her a few years ago and my then very young nephew Spencer, being the true hipster that he already was, knew her music and was thrilled to meet her. There was a great photo taken of Spencer with Patti Smith which unfortunately got lost in a computer crash.
There are few artists I respect more than Patti Smith. I’m no fanatic who follows her every move, knows all her lyrics, or agrees with everything she says (some of her politics make me squirm), but this woman once dubbed the “female Mick Jagger” is definitely the real deal. In my opinion there’s not an inauthentic bone in her body, she is what I’d call a true artist who could have sold her soul to the devil a million times over for endless riches but never did.
Which is why the video clip I want to share with you that I just saw on a friend’s Facebook page made my eyes bug out of my head. It’s from the 1979 network TV show “Kids Are People, Too!” which featured guests such as Brooke Shields, Scott Baio, and the cast of “Eight Is Enough.” Somehow the producers got Patti Smith to appear on the show and take questions from the all-kid audience. Then, inexplicably, instead of singing one of her own tunes or performing one of the covers she frequently did of Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, or Neil Young songs, Patti chose to sing a completely straight version of Debby Boone’s treacly hit, “You Light Up My Life.” Huh?! Take a look at this bizarre but wonderful clip:
As you can see, there’s not a trace of condescension in the way Patti Smith talks to children. In that respect, “Kids Are People, Too!” was the perfect show for her to appear on, despite the inanity of the series. I’m sure that respect for children is what Spencer picked up during his encounter with Smith. I’m sure it also made her a great mother to her now grown children she had with her husband, the late Fred “Sonic” Smith from MC5. The couple lived quietly in Detroit when their children were young. “Our kids had no idea that we did anything, except be mom and dad and read a lot. I was always reading, studying and writing. So my children had an image of me always with my nose in a book. They had no sense that I did this. I had to talk to them about it when I went back. Still, they don’t identify with me as a rock'n'roll star. I’m their mom.”
And because I just can’t leave it at Debby Boone, here’s a recent video of the much older Patti Smith singing “Because the Night.” She hasn’t lost a thing. In my book, that’s what comes from leading such an honest life.