Patti Smith, long time singer and writer, was recruited back in September to sing at the 2016 Nobel Prize Ceremony – a fitting candidate to honor the singer-poet winner himself. Patti had originally intended to sing a song of her own, but when she heard the news that Dylan was the winner of the laureate of literature, she had a change of heart.
“I found myself in an unanticipated situation, and had conflicting emotions. In his absence, was I qualified for this task? Would this displease Bob Dylan, whom I would never desire to displease? But, having committed myself and weighing everything, I chose to sing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” a song I have loved since I was a teen-ager, and a favorite of my late husband.” – The New Yorker
In case you missed it, here’s Patti singing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, a topical performance for the rainy Stockholm day.
Stuck by what she called “a plethora of emotions, avalanching with such intensity,” Patti fumbled through verse and chorus, unable to negotiate the swell of emotions the experience evoked in her. “Unaccustomed to such an overwhelming case of nerves, I was unable to continue. I hadn’t forgotten the words that were now a part of me. I was simply unable to draw them out.”
Despite the shakes and stumbles, Patti’s response speaks to her relationship with the heartfelt lyrics, lyrics from the first Dylan album Smith ever had, bought for her by her mother from a discount bargain bin. “As I took my seat,” Smith shared with The New Yorker, “I felt the humiliate[ed] sting of failure, but also the strange realization that I had somehow entered and truly lived the world of the lyrics.” Despite the fumble, Patti was still praised by attendees and other speakers. Several winners in other fields even came up to her after the event, telling Smith they wouldn’t have wanted the performance any other way: it spoke to their own anxieties and emotional experience in attending and speaking on such a monumental day.
You can read the full essay here, on The New Yorker.
Featured image courtesy of Fox.