Patti Smith's Performance at the Nobel Prize Ceremony Holds Lessons For Us All

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Patti Smith's Performance at the Nobel Prize Ceremony Holds Lessons For Us All Photo

by Kelsey Duchesne | 12/13/2016

If you haven’t been following the Bob Dylan/Nobel Prize saga let me speed you right up: This year, 75-year-old Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, making him the first musician to ever win the prize.

The Swedish Academy stated that Dylan was awarded the prestigious honor for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” While there was plenty of controversy surrounding his win, it only escalated when Dylan kept mum and didn’t release a statement accepting the award. Once the Swedish Academy finally tracked him down, he accepted, but said he had preexisting commitments keeping him from attending the ceremony in his honor (which leads me to desperately wish I could see Dylan’s personal planner, given that he must have the most extraordinary and busy life.) Not wanting to be rude, Dylan sent along fellow icon/living legend Patti Smith to accept the award and perform in his place (like I said-- most extraordinary life.)

Smith, a woman who posses musical superpowers and literary artistry, reminded us that everyone makes a lyrical flub from time to time, but it doesn’t have to take away from the overall beauty of the performance. Originally, Smith was going to perform one of her own songs, but decided on one of her favorites by Dylan;  “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” from his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Less than a minute into the song, Smith tripped over her line. Instead of panicking or continuing, Smith took a moment to stop, take a breath, and begin again. “I’m sorry, can we please [re]start that section?”, she asked. I apologize, sorry, I’m so nervous,” she told the audience, met with applause. Smith continued the 6 minute song and finished it beautifully.  

Before the performance, Smith told Rolling Stone why she ultimately chose a hard Rain. “ I chose [it] because it is one of his most beautiful songs. It combines his Rimbaudian mastery of language with a deep understanding of the causes of suffering and ultimately human resilience.” In a moment where resilience is something our country so desperately needs, the theme felt especially poignant coming from the lyrics of one American icon and the performance of another. Like Smith, we’ll keep moving.

Watch her performance below:


by Kelsey Duchesne

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