Patti Smith has her McGarrigles moment
Went to hear Patti Smith at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last weekend -- her fifth appearance there, and hence a long way from St. Mark's Church and CBGB's. I did it because I like her music and like to keep abreast of it, in part because I'd seen the home-movie feature-length documentary about her and wanted to check up on the live person, and in part because I've just agreed to write a longish essay for an Italian coffee-table book on her.
It was a nice event, on the Saturday before Election Day. Patti, who has leaned towards Ralph Nader in the past, said nothing political but did end with "Power to the People" and did urge us all to vote.
The niceness of the evening apparently reflects her personality, as captured in the film. The Met concert was not rock & roll; it was "unplugged," as we have learned to say. It was full of awkward slip-ups, like sheet music and lyrics repeatedly cascading to the floor from a music stand; nothing serious, but sweetly amateurish.
As such it reminded me of almost any concert by the McGarrigles, that beloved family folk act from Montreal who might once have seemed about as far from Patti Smith's artsy rock & roll rebel image as could be imagined. I wrote a whole essay for the NY Times about the last McGarrigles concert I heard; you can read it here or in my compilation, "Outsider," pp. 439-441. The McGarrigles surround themselves with anicillary sisters and children (Martha and Rufus Wainwright et al.) and collaborators of such vintage that they might as well be family, themselves.
On Nov. 1 Patti had her son Jackson Smith and her daughter Jesse Smith (since her late husband Fred was named Smith, too, no feminist issues arose in the choice of their last names), along with her sister Kimberly Smith and Lenny Kaye, himself as family-style collaborator dating back nearly 40 years.
The whole thing was just lovely, which doesn't mean Patti Smith has lost her edge. How one person can combine the incantory, the impassioned, the angry, the loving and the goofy in one angular package is a small miracle. Maybe not so small.
For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.