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28 December 2021

Patti Smith Honoured With The Key To New York City

Patti Smith Key New York City
Photo: ZUMA PRESS INC/Alamy Stock Photo
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Ahead of her 75th birthday on Thursday (December 30), Patti Smith has been bestowed with the key to her adopted home of New York City.

Smith received the honour on 27 December at a press conference held by outgoing mayor Bill De Blasio, who, in the last week of his tenure, also gave keys to filmmaker Spike Lee and senator Chuck Schumer. Noting his personal affinity for the 1970s’ punk movement, De Blasio praised Smith for having “an authenticity that you just don’t find [in] that many other places” and an “ability to cut through all the swirl around us and speak some more profound truths”.

“Some have called Patti Smith the godmother of punk,” De Blasio continued in his speech, “[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 realise what they could do and what they could say because they heard the works of Patti Smith.”

In her own speech, Smith touched on her origins in New York, having moved from “a rural, rural area of South Jersey” in 1967 with “just a few dollars in my pocket, nowhere to stay [and] no real prospects”. She explained that when she moved back to New York in 1994, 15 years after she’d moved to Detroit with her late husband, the city “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,” she joked, “because that’s how I feel about our city. With all its challenges and difficulties, it remains – and I’m quite a traveller – the most diverse city, to me, in the world.”

Also present at the conference was the longstanding Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye, with whom Smith has played since her band’s inception in 1974. Together they performed an acoustic rendition of Ghost Dance (a deep cut from Smith’s 1978 Easter record), which De Blasio noted was “unbelievably powerful to me and among so many others”, and “one that I am, to this hour, moved by”.

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