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Zack de la Rocha inducts Patti Smith

"Good evening. I read an article recently that some critic identified the very moment that the cultural revolution died, if you can believe that. According to the stats, the spirit passed in the summer of 1969 when violence broke out at a free Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway. How such a ridiculous conclusion could be drawn escapes me, when you consider that the 70’s would produce some of the most revolutionary art that the world had ever seen. If there was even a grain of truth to what this guy had to say, somebody forgot to tell Patti Smith. By the time Amiri Baraka had released the now infamous poem, “It’s Nation Time”, and Marvin Gaye ... two years later ... released “What’s Going On”. One of the sparks that set the punk prairie fire and left south Jersey for the lower east side of Manhattan. In 1975 with Lenny Kaye, Ivan Kral, Richard Soul and J.D. Dougherty, Patti Smith released “Horses”. The opening to “Gloria” might be one of the greatest moments in American music. The shadow line and the space within it speaks to us like a dark gospel, and then you hear that voice, and you think “nothing can be this haunting and nothing can be this healing at the same time.” Then the words “Jesus died for someone’s sins but not mine” delivered like someone who’d left the church that was repressive America and burned into the ground. The body of the song becomes a celebration of the outsider. It possesses a chaos that only Patti can summon and only she can control. She sings, screams, howls, chants ... so attuned to the moment that anticipating the next one is an impossibility. The breath between her words is as powerful as the words themselves, and by the end of the song, a couple of things remain apparent. Punk seeds have been planted, the culture will be changed forever and it would be hard for me to ever listen to Van Morrison again. In 1976 Patti released Radio Ethiopia. Songs were a little more refined, but still daring and still carrying that outsider’s dignity. In 1978 she released Easter, where along with Bruce Springsteen, co-wrote ... she would have her first hit with “Because the Night”. Patti’s spirit ultimately proved too restless for radio and far too threatening. She seemed far more interested in creating transcendent, poetic moments than fashionable hits because she had already carved her legacy into something much deeper. The movement she helped define explained what people like me ... who related more to the Bad Brains than we did to the Eagles ... why we championed the Clash and hated Ronald Reagan ... and why we dropped our textbooks and picked up Sonia Sanchez, Alan Ginsberg and Langston Hughes. Expanding rock’s boundaries, Patti Smith the poet, revealed truth regardless of the political and social consequences. Patti once said, “I stand in front of a microphone and I’m not afraid.” And she remains just that ... fearless ... fearless throughout her losses, fearless as a mother, fearless when she put the Bush administration up on a firing line for this illegal war and pulled her poetic trigger, fearless in pose and fearless in her life, it is my honor and privilege to induct Patti Smith into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "

Patti Smith