Happy belated birthday to the one and only Patti Smith.
Smith, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and the New Jersey Hall of Fame), turned 75 on Dec. 30, 2021 — and the East Coast music world is ready to celebrate the landmark occasion this month.
Port Chester, New York’s historic Capitol Theater will host Smith and her band for a very special birthday engagement on Thursday, Feb. 24.
In honor of the big day, here are five reasons why you should be celebrating New Jersey’s rock ‘n’ roll poet laureate.
“Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine…”
With that instantly iconic lyric, Patti Smith cemented her place as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s all-time great firebrands.
Opening her 1975 debut album “Horses,” the lyric in question is from “Gloria: In Excelsis Deo.” It’s a swirling, swaggering torrent of raw humanity, as Smith and her band ruthlessly transmogrify Them’s blues rocker “Gloria” into an ecstatic, stream-of-consciousness spree.
Smith’s “Gloria” feels like a raging dance party in electrified defiance of oppressive, religion-mandated guilt. It’s six minutes of magic in the liminal space between the work of fellow South Jersey wordsmith Walt Whitman and the take-no-prisoners bar band rock of the Jersey Shore.
In taking a well-worn three-chord rocker and making it entirely her own, Smith set the template for so much radically human art that came after her. Madonna, U2 and REM have all cited her as an influence.
New Jersey to New York
The Chicago-born Smith, who lived in Philadelphia before calling Deptford and Pitman home in Gloucester County, is the archetypal New Jersey-to-New York success story.
Smith, who left South Jersey for New York City in 1967, quickly made herself an integral part of the arts and culture crowd. She crossed paths with the likes of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg, as detailed in her must-read 2010 memoir “Just Kids,” and glimpsed in “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese,” the 2019 Netflix epic.
“Horses” was produced by John Cale of Manhattan scene-makers the Velvet Underground. The LP arrived in a years-long wave of groundbreaking work from Smith and her mid-’70s New York contemporaries such as the Talking Heads, Television, and the New York Dolls.
Smith still calls New York City home, and in December 2021 she was awarded the key to the city by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
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‘Because the Night’
For plenty of folks out there, if you ask them to name their favorite Patti Smith song or their favorite Bruce Springsteen song, you could very well get the same answer: “Because the Night.”
The song, co-written by the two New Jersey legends, was first released by Smith and her band on their 1978 album “Easter.” It was a mainstream crossover moment for Smith, and has since become a staple in the live sets of both artists.
They’ve played it live together on occasion, notably in 2009 when backed by U2 at Madison Square Garden as part of the concerts celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “This is the song we wish we’d written,” Bono told the crowd at the garden that night.
Over the decades, “Because the Night” has been covered by artists such as 10,000 Maniacs, and New Brunswick’s own Screaming Females as a duet with Garbage.
That righteous rock sound conjured by Smith and her band for decades? That’s jersey all over. Lenny Kaye of North Brunswick has been Smith’s stalwart guitarist since the beginning, and her band also includes Milltown native Tony Shanahan on bass.
Any Jersey band worth its salt knows its way around a few crowd-pleasing covers, and if you want to hear Smith and company in action, check out their 2007 album “Twelve,” particularly its inventively folksy take on Newark native Paul Simon’s “Graceland ” classic “The Boy in the Bubble.”
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Wholesome social media presence
With things online seeming to get more toxic and divisive with each passing day, it’s worth taking a moment to note that Smith is an utterly pleasant person to follow on Instagram.
At @thisispattismith, she reads poetry; expresses her own fandom for everything from Jerry Garcia to “Ghost in the Shell”; shares candid glimpses at her life; and wishes fans a happy birthday in the comments section.
Particularly in the pandemic era, as people feel further apart from each other than ever before, Smith uses Instagram as a form of gentle visual poetry, reminding us of the beautiful quirks of everyday life.
She’s said it to countless commenters on her posts, so now we’re saying it back to her: Happy birthday, Patti.
Presented by WFUV 90.7 FM, Patti Smith and Her Band celebrate Smith’s 75th birthday Thursday, Feb. 24, at the Capitol Theater, 149 Westchester Ave., Port Chester, New York, doors at 6:30 and show at 8 pm, $42 to $86.50; 914-937-4126, thecapitoltheatre.com.