My mind was blown twice last week, by two 69 year-old rock legends. I was baptized in the church of Patti Smith, as she danced around the Wiltern stage barefoot, doing a live rendition of her 1975 album Horses, her raw, truth-telling voice every bit as powerful as it was then, her long mane of thick white hair tossing back and forth across her face, her (still) lithe body undulating to the beat of her excellent band. She paused in between songs to humbly speak in her down-to-earth, personal way, at one point welling up with tears. Then she was back to wailing and shouting and belting out her plea to us: “Use your voice!” I will heed the call.
She did an awesome version of The Who’s “My Generation” — switching out the line “I hope I die before I get old” to “I hope I live til I get old.” Her song “69”, written as a musing on her current age, was a funny, inspirational, and super-rad litany that made me vow never to stop playing or singing, or stretching myself as an artist, a poet, an activist, and a citizen. She has paved the way and raised the bar to a new height. I hope to hear her one day do “89”.
Patti did a version of “Elegy” that cut to the bone, listing in her grave, deep tones the names of all the seminal artists who have passed since the writing of the song. Little did we know then that just a few days later, we would need to add the name of David Bowie to that list. Writing this I have tears in my eyes. My entire development as a musician, singer, artist, and person would never have been the same without his influence. Space Oddity, Changes, Hunky Dory, all on repeat for so many days, months, years… Every note and lyric memorized, internalized, immortalized. He made me believe that anything was possible, that I could approach songwriting in a different way; that it was okay — in fact it was powerful — for my vocal delivery to be trembling, and raw, and truthful, and unique. He soothed me during those painful teenage years and beyond, and I know I’m not the only one.
Rock heals. It is ageless, and it lives on.