“O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!”
— Tom Paine
“I can relate to Thomas Paine. When he wrote Common Sense, he was trying to stir people up, get them thinking. And he did. Paine’s words — ‘These are the times that try men’s souls’ — became the battle cry of the American Revolution. I can relate to a person like that, who has this calling and does the work.”
— Patti Smith
Patti Smith will be recognized tonight as a member of rock-and-roll royalty.
But Smith is no royalist. She remains as rebellious as ever – and as politically charged.
Few of the dozens of individual artists and bands that have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have accepted the honor at a point when their careers are so vibrant, and necessary.
Because of the Hall of Fame’s quarter-century rule – artists can’t get in until 25 years after they begin recording — inductees tend to be honored at the point when they are either retired or, at the very least, retiring in their approach to demands of the day.
But Patti Smith continues to push the envelope, releasing adventurous albums, touring passionately and speaking up as an American who sees herself in the tradition of Tom Paine.
“I guess I’m essentially a late-18th-century, early-19th-century kind of person. There is a part of me that likes to serve the people,” she says. “In a different era, I’d have liked to have worked with Thomas Paine.”
While she may not work with Paine, Smith’s career has been marked by a determination to work like Paine — as a poet-pamphleteer with a good beat
Smith is an artist, not a politician. But she has never shied away from the power of the pen – or the guitar – to rouse the masses against tyranny and injustice. Her faith in the force of an informed citizenry, expressed in the 1988 song, “People Have the Power,” remains unaltered:
I believe everything we dream
can come to pass through our union
we can turn the world around
we can turn the earth’s revolution
we have the power
People have the power …
“That song came out in an election year, in 1988, and I saw Jesse Jackson delivering speeches and I felt like, if I knew his phone number, I’d call him and say, ‘I have a song for you,'” Smith once told me. “His speeches, the concepts he was addressing, were very similar to the lyrics in the song.”