As a child, Patti Smith, who had been taught never to accept anything from strangers, had to regretfully refuse a pin from an electoral campaign that she nevertheless wanted. That day, the future singer, poet and writer had sworn to herself that she would also manage to have, one day, a medal to hang on the lapel of her jacket.
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Mission accomplished, this Saturday, after the legend of American rock received, at the age of 75, the French Legion of Honor from the hand of the French ambassador to the United States, Philippe Etienne.
After telling this anecdote, Patty Smith bewitched the public who came to attend the ceremony at the Brooklyn Public Library co-organized by the Albertine villa, with a few fiery pieces alongside her daughter Jesse on the piano and her longtime guitarist. Lenny Kaye.
“It’s an indescribable honor, I take full measure of it”she told AFP behind the scenes, once the tribute was received.
“For someone who has been largely shaped by French culture, French literature, French art and French cinema, my whole life is especially important”she smiled. “I have adopted France all my life, and it is something incredible to be adopted like this in return.”
An essential artist, a reference for her peers, Patti Smith has aroused the adoration of her fans for more than half a century. His music, his compositions, his poetry and his introspective writing on edge which earned him, for his memoir, “Just Kids”, to receive the US National Book Award in 2010.
True to form, she concluded her speech by paying homage to another artist, the French poet René Daumal, from whom she read – in English – part of the letter addressed before his death to his wife:
“Seeing that we are nothing, we desire to become”she declaimed. Desiring to become, one lives.
Power to the people
Wearing her traditional black jacket, her long gray hair dotted with a few pigtails, Patti Smith notably delighted her fans by playing her song “People Have The Power”, or in French “The power belongs to the people”.
She then developed the idea with AFP, judging that if “artists can inspire people, rally people, give them hope, (…) in the end, it’s not the artists who bring change, it’s the people”. “By voting, by taking the initiative, by monster demonstrations, it is the people who bring change.”
A responsibility that is all the more overwhelming because “the world we live in is very bad”she pointed out, listing the “unprecedented heatwaves”, the “famines” and the “climate phenomena never seen”. “The only way to fix it is a global effort,” did she say. “No matter the gesture, every gesture is important.”
These days, the singer says she writes the way she does “always done”. “Writing songs, writing poems, writing another book – I’m always busy, always doing something.”
After receiving the Legion of Honor, she confided that she would immediately use this inspiration to make “more work, better work”. “To be chosen as a kind of mini-ambassador for the country is really a great joy for me”she summarized.