Patti Smith was given the key to her chosen city of New York ahead of her 75th birthday on Thursday, December 30th, 2021.
She was given this honor on December 27th, 2021 at a press conference organized by outgoing mayor, Bill De Blasio, who also delivered keys to filmmaker Spike Lee, and senator, Chuck Schumer, during his final week in office. De Blasio complimented Smith for having “a genuineness that you just don’t find [in] that many other places,” and for an “ability to cut through all the swirl around us and convey some more profound truths,” citing his personal affection for the punk movement of the 1970s.
In his speech, De Blasio shared:
“Some have called Patti Smith the godmother of punk, and I think it’s a fair phrase because she inspired so many people, helped shape a whole artistic movement, and in many ways a political movement as well. Her work as a musician, as a singer, as a lyricist, as an activist – so many elements influenced so many people and showed people a way. And when we honor people, I particularly think about the pathfinders – the people who show the way to so many others. There’s a lot of artists out there who realize what they could do and what they could say because they heard the works of Patti Smith.”
Smith spoke about her beginnings in New York, describing how she came to the city from “a rural, rural area of South Jersey,” in 1967 with “just a few bucks in my pocket, nothing to stay [and] no real possibilities.” She added that when she returned to New York in 1994, 15 years after she and her late husband had moved to Detroit, the city had changed, but it “embraced me again [and] gave me another chance to rebuild my life and continue to evolve as an artist. […] I wish I could give New York City the key to me, because that’s how I feel about our city. With all its challenges and difficulties, it remains – and I’m quite a traveler – the most diverse city, to me, in the world.”
Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye, who Smith has worked with since the band’s formation in 1974, was also in attendance at the conference. They performed an acoustic version of “Ghost Dance,” a deep cut from Smith’s 1978 Easter album, which De Blasio described as “unbelievably powerful to me and many others,” and “one that I am, to this hour, impacted by.”
Smith released an EP of live recordings made at New York’s legendary Electric Lady studio in August. It was her first new music since 2012, when she released Banga, her most recent full-length album. The Live At Electric Lady album includes covers of songs by Bob Dylan (“One Too Many Mornings”), and Stevie Wonder (“Blame It On The Sun”), in addition to five of her own songs.
You can read the transcript of the press conference here, and watch the entire ceremony below.
In related music news, the “When We Were Young” festival is raising some concerns.
Photo via Ed Reed, Mayoral Photography Office