Veteran Daily News rock critic Jim Farber made a rare venture into Godbeat yesterday with a story on Patti Smith's response to criticism over her planned performance at the Vatican's Christmas concert. Although Farber bases his piece upon a report in The Guardian, he improves upon his source by adding substantial recent background on Smith's faith journey.
The lede is provocative, like Smith herself:
Patti Smith wasn’t sorry for her words then - and she isn’t sorry for her actions now.
Last week, the Godmother of Punk drew criticism from all sides after accepting the invitation of Pope Francis to sing at the Vatican’s upcoming Christmas concert.
One Italian Catholic organization labeled the star “blasphemous.” Meanwhile, some hipsters found Smith’s proposed appearance hypocritical, considering she opened her very first album, "Horses,” with the famous sneer, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/but not mine.”
On Tuesday, Smith answered her critics during a talk at the Museum of The Moving Image in New York. After being asked about the controversy by The Guardian’s Vivien Goldman, who was in the audience, the rocker said, “I like Pope Francis and I’m happy to sing for him. Anyone who would confine me to a line from 20 years ago is a fool.”
Farber then goes into rock-historian mode. By his own admission, he's been writing about music since the Ford Administration, and he's well familiar with Smith's oeuvre:
Actually, the line comes from 40 years ago, kicking off a song called “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo).” The track melded Smith’s own transgressive poetry with a cover of Van Morrison’s ‘60s hit with his band Them, “Gloria.”
Then comes the closest thing Smith offers to a mea culpa:
“I had a strong religious upbringing and the first word on my first LP is Jesus,” Smith explained. “I did a lot of thinking. I’m not against Jesus, but I was 20 and I wanted to make my own mistakes. And I didn’t want anyone dying for me. I stand behind that 20 year old girl, but I have evolved. I’ll sing to my enemy! I don’t like being pinned down and I’ll say what the f--k I want - especially at my age.” (Smith is now 67).