For Patti Smith, one of the best things about being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was getting the call on Jan. 8 — Elvis Presley’s birthday.
“I did my salute to Elvis for my Web site, and that was the last thing I did” on Jan. 7, Smith says. “I woke up and checked the site and saw that it was there, and then I received the (Hall of Fame) call. So that was very auspicious indeed.”
The Chicago-born Smith — who lived in the Detroit area (mostly St. Clair Shores) from 1980-96 with her late husband, MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith and their two children — will become the latest artist with Motor City ties to enter the Rock Hall, joining the likes of Bob Seger, Aretha Franklin, Bill Haley, Hank Ballard and a slew of Motown’s biggest names.
The ceremony, which takes place Monday (March 12) at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, also will honor Van Halen, R.E.M., the Ronettes, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and the late Atlantic Records Founder Ahmet Ertegun. It will be broadcast live on VH1 Classic.
The 60-year-old Smith, who now resides in New York City and began setting her poems to music in the early ’70s, is being honored for potent body of work that was widely embraced by the punk rock community during the mid- and late-’70s — though she only had one bona fide hit, “Because the Night,” co-written by Bruce Springsteen, in 1978. Smith declared that “Outside of society/is where I want to be,” but her music was rich in humanity and community ideals as well as political and social commentary.
“I’m probably happier for Patti than I am for us,” says R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills. “I was afraid that her lack of huge record sales might blind people to her influence. She was very important to us and ... to a lot of other people.”
Over the years, Smith’s artistic stance mellowed as she became a wife and mother, spending far more time in those roles than she did in recording music, and taking gaps of up to nine years between some of her albums in the ’80s and ’90s. The nonconformist streak still runs strong within her, but Smith is allowing herself to enjoy the Hall of Fame recognition.
“I’m actually really happy,” says Smith, who will be inducted by Rage Against the Machine singer Zack de la Rocha and will perform with her band at the ceremony. “It’s such an honor. These things, they’re institutions and everything, but they still represent a body of thought and work and people.
She notes that Fred Smith, who died of a heart attack in 1994, would be particularly pleased by her induction.
“At the end of his life, he was really hoping that something like this would happen for me,” says Smith, who met her husband in 1979 in Detroit. “And he counseled me when he was ill that if it did happen to be happy about it and to feel good about it and not rebellious.”
Smith adds that her enthusiasm for getting into the Rock Hall diminished for a time after her parents passed away “because it meant so much to them.” But, she notes, “It still means so much to them, and I know that whatever sphere they’re in, they’re really happy.”
So is Jackson Smith, her 25-yearold son, who returned to Detroit in 2000 and has played in local bands such as the Paybacks.
“It’s nice for her to be appreciated in that way, ’cause she’s done so much over the course of her life,” says the younger Smith, who’s currently a guitarist in his mother’s group. “But it’s still just ... my mom, you know? It’s just another great thing in her career.”
Patti Smith — whose daughter, Jesse, also lives in New York — plans to add to those achievements on April 17, when she releases “Twelve,” an album of a dozen cover songs including personal favorites by Neil Young (“Helpless”), Jimi Hendrix (“Are You Experienced?”), the Rolling Stones (“Gimme Shelter”) and others. She recorded the closing track, Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise,” at Effigy Studios in Ferndale with producer Luis Resto.
She be hitting the road in May in Europe, with U.S. dates planned for later in the summer. But for now, her focus is on Monday night’s festivities.
“We’re working hard, we’re healthy, we’re strong,” Smith says. “It’s a nice roster of people, and I think that we’ll all combine and rally together to make it a positive night for everybody. It’s a night for rock ’n’ roll.
The 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony takes place 8:30 p.m. Monday (March 12) at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. It will be broadcast live on VH1 Classic.
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