Patti Smith: A Beacon in the City of Lights

Photography © Sue Rynski, 2005. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.According to GloNo’s unofficial eye on the street in Paris and rock and roll photographer extraordinaire Sue Rynski (we use that adjective because (1) it sounds [and, well, essentially is] French and (2) Rynski hails from Detroit but now has her domicile [note our evident fluentness in a language we can’t speak]), while there were performances in eight cities around the globe with actors, musicians and others of a blovating nature holding forth on a subject upon which they have a tenuous grasp at best (i.e., poverty in Africa), there was an event of a different nature held in Paris: the seventh Solidays AIDS benefit. Rynski notes that the three-day event not only had music on three stages, but that in addition to the music, there were “villages” at the venue where people could learn about the subject that continues to be so devistating. Clearly, a novel concept in this age of “let’s pretend we really understand international finance before we move on to something else that catches our fancy.”


One of the performers at Solidays was America’s own Patti Smith who, Rynski reports, received the insignia of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres from France’s Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres on July 10. Sue helpfully translated the insignia as Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, then broke it down for us by explaining:

There are 3 ranks in the Order: Knight (Chevalier), Officer, and Commander. Only foreigners and certain French members of the Legion of Honor can be named directly Commander, at the Culture Minister’s discretion. Most recipients receive the rank of Knight, and must remain in each rank for at least five years and demonstrate new achievements before being eligible for promotion to the next rank. That Patti was named directly to the highest rank demonstrates the esteem France holds for her oeuvre and accomplishments.

Sue points out, for example, that Iggy Pop is a Knight and Martin Scorcese is an Officer. Clearly, Patti Smith matters in France (certainly more so than she does in the U.S. if you’re talking “official” recognition).

Reporting on the Culture Minister’s remarks during the event, Rynski says that it included a précis of Smith’s life and career, “beginning with her vocation as a writer, her love for and influences from French literature, her contribution to rock music—and especially to women in rock, her family, her social engagement for causes like AIDS and encouraging young people to register to vote.” Rynski reveals, “There was a very emotional moment when the Minister spoke of Patti’s life raising a family in Michigan with husband Fred Smith [“Sonic” Smith of the MC5] and the couple’s creative collaborations.” If there was a culture minister in the U.S. and the name “Fred Smith” came up, the founder of FedEx would undoubtedly come to mind.

He concluded “that Patti is first and foremost a poet laureate.” Mon dieu! As they might say around those parts. Imagine what the Red States consider her to be: she sure as hell isn’t Hallmark.

Photography © Sue Rynski, 2005. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

Photography © Sue Rynski, 2005. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

For more of Sue’s amazing photos, check out her gallery at Motor City Music.

12 thoughts on “Patti Smith: A Beacon in the City of Lights”

  1. It’s weird how the French seem to respect the very best of our culural and artistic pioneers more than we do.

    Here in Michigan you’d be hard pressed to find someone on the street who even knows who she is.

    Kudos to her and her work. She deserves it.

  2. I will suffer all comers, go out on a limb and state, for the record, that Jerry Lewis was once a comedic genious.

  3. Patti is now, and has been for 30 years, the soundtrack to my life. Hooray that someone, somewhere, recognizes her importance!

  4. Who among us has not, in moments of ambition, dreamt of the miracle of a form of poetic prose, musical but without rhythm and rhyme, both supple and staccato enough to adapt itself to the lyrical movements of our souls, the undulating movements of our reveries, and the convulsive movements of our consciences? This obsessive ideal springs above all from frequent contact with enormous cities, from the junction of their innumerable connections. Baudelaire

    Vive la Patti!

  5. And on the eve of Bastille day, the Brazilian culture minister, Gilbert Gil, gave a concert at the Place de la Bastille. Unfortunately, a friend of mine in Paris’s only (as far as I know) only conjunto band, Los Gallos, was playing in a bar, so I missed it (although my version to big crowds would have kept me from going anyway).

    The goofy looking guy on Patt’s right is Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, the French culture minister.

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