Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Patti Smith, the Chutzpah Champ

Posted By on 03.13.07 at 11:07 AM

click to enlarge 1146.jpg

I watched it, because VH1 Classic is reliable like Ex-Lax (and if you're old enough to care about most of the bands in the museum, you know your laxatives). This year a whole generation shuddered as hip-hop goes under glass for the first time. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were pure class and really seemed to appreciate it. But just wait til Flavor Flav has to take time off his reality show for Public Enemy's big moment.

Michael Stipe of R.E.M. seemed to appreciate it too; his speech was long-winded enough. Clearly he was the Designated Talker; guitarist Peter Buck just stood behind him and drank. (Guitarist Keith Richards, on the other hand, stole the whole evening just by being himself and looking like...well, like Captain Jack Sparrow's father.)

I never thought I'd say this, but I felt sorry for Sammy Hagar, stuck representing Van Halen. Since neither of the VH brothers even showed up, and since he knows damn well that the records that got them up there aren't the ones he's on, there was really nothing for him to do but look humble. And kvetch that after the 50 whole shows he did last year, he wants to take a year off and spend time with his family. Aside from the fact that I thought it was mostly departing Bush Administration disgraces who used the family-time excuse, 50 shows and you need to rest for a year? He did look out of shape. But then when they did the cattle call, getting everybody up onstage for Patti Smith's "People Have the Power" at the end, he looked and sounded so earnest and desperately wanting to be liked by the cool kids, I just had to let my heart melt a little. I'm a sap. A cheeseball. The U2/Springsteen duet last year (replayed this year) gave me chills too. I admit it.

Patti Smith was the Chutzpah Champ, though. Gave a touching little speech about her mother and how when she was dying she asked her daughter if she got into the Hall, please do her favorite song, the one she likes to vacuum to, and Patti did. The song? "Rock 'N'Roll Nigger." (God, I still squirm when I have to type the word.) Not a flinch. Great relish, in fact. Did she know that right after her it was going to be Rev. Al Sharpton giving a tribute to James Brown? Oh, to be a fly on the wall inside his head.

I like to think that the joint R.E.M./Patti Smith performance of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" was their little protest about Iggy still not making the cut, because otherwise there was no excuse for it. It was like, pre-stolen-election-Al-Gore wooden; granted, I don't expect Michael Stipe to demonstrate much sexual chemistry with women, but yeesh.

"People Have the Power," on the other hand...that's one of those songs that, on record, is kind of flat and embarrassing but when you actually see it played live it takes you to church. Even Eddie Vedder can't ruin it.

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