“We’re all marginalized,
but we’re alive.
We have blood.
We have our imagination.
And we’re fucking here.”
That’s what Patti Smith yelled before she belted out Gloria and left us all to dry in awe, euphoria and immortal ecstasy. And that’s when my phone stopped recording.
The visionary performed last Thursday at the Fair Grounds to an intimate crowd of bodies soaked in rain, mud and an unquenchable thirst for life. Moments prior, complaints filled the air around me with accusations that the weather was ruining Jazz Fest. But at 5:40 p.m. in front of the Gentilly Stage, they all disappeared. Shoes were already soaked, rain jackets were no longer functional, and everyone who was there was there.
It’s not just the music that makes a concert what it is; it’s the crowd, the energy, the soul, and the mastermind behind it all. For Ms. Smith, music is not just music; it’s much more than that. It’s art. It’s poetry. And it’s prayer. What I seek in a concert is the rapture of an artist whose words fill the atmosphere with something that has never existed before. So when I heard that the godmother of punk was in town, I knew that I couldn’t miss her show.
Patti came on stage in full androgynous beauty. With her white shirt and black vest, she looked as true to herself as she did in the black-and-white photo of her debut album Horses back in 1975, a look that continues to inspire others not to imitate her punk-rock persona, but rather to embrace his or her own inner masculinity and femininity beyond the lines of gender and falsely constructed identity.
It may be our shared ties to a childhood in Jersey and a young adulthood spent in Brooklyn, or that I’m just now at the age that she and Robert Mapplethorpe were when they were “just kids,” but there are certain artists who just speak to you, and, for me, Patti Smith is one of them. With all of the legends showing their faces on the various stages last week, my mind was unable to entertain the idea of seeing anyone but her.
The recent release of her memoir has made her a significant inspiration not only to my generation, but to all those who have tried to “be something.” Her voice transcends generational lines. And, just as in her memoir, her art and her poetry, in person, she speaks only truth and her words ignite the artist in all of us.
That’s why I risked the life of my iPhone every time she finished a song to try and capture some words of wisdom that I knew were about to roll off her tongue. Eventually, the sun came out and this idea became insignificant to me. I put the phone back in its Ziploc bag and into my rain jacket, so that I could truly join the experience as a player, not as a spectator.
The next day, I found a clip that had somehow recorded the powerful words above that I had been waiting for. Although the video shows only a blurry view of the backs of Patti Smith fans through plastic, it’s a reminder that I was actually there.
At 66 years old, Patti Smith can still rock. Mesmerizing. Powerful. Epic. She reminds us that true magic exists in the moment. Patti left our ears ringing with love, truth, vision and freedom. She talked about disaster. She talked about UFO’s. But in the end, she talked about being here.
And we were all fucking there.
Joey Albanese writes about the twenty-something generation in New Orleans for NolaVie. Send him questions or tell him the answers at firstname.lastname@example.org.