Seventy-year old rocker Patti Smith sang at Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize induction this earlier this month. She chose to sing Dylan’s It’s a Hard Rain That’s Gonna Fall, but she had a rough go at it. As Patti writes in the New Yorker, she had totally prepared, but when the time came to deliver the lyrics, she was overcome by the momentous occasion and the thought of the luminous laureates who had come before and, though she could feel the lyrics inside herself, she could not pull them out. She started over. But, as she writes, it never got easier.


Watch her performance. It is raw and authentic. Though the lyrics are imperfect, she delivers the song. Her stumbles went to the heart of what the song is about.


Of course writing and illustrating books are not performance art. Our process allows an attempt at perfection with countless revisions of text, and – especially since the advent of digital art – endless dinking with the illustrations.

So I’m thinking about Patti Smith’s performance more in terms of navigating life than in creating a picture book.

Here we are in the thick of the holidays with their expectation of perfection: the perfectly decorated perfect tree, the perfect feast just like Mom used to make, perfect gifts tied up with perfect bows. And I think we can learn from Patti Smith’s experience: prepare the best we can and trust the song will come through.

As Leonard Cohen writes eloquently in Anthem:

       Ring the bells that still can ring 
       Forget your perfect offering 
       There is a crack in everything 
       That’s how the light gets in.


Happy holidays to all our BATT readers. Here’s to a New Year full of music and good stories and light. Lots of beautiful light.


P.S. Bob Dylan did not attend his ceremony, but he sent a letter. You can read that here: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2016/dylan-speech.html

6 responses to “RING THE BELLS

  1. This event in Patti Smith’s life and her article in the New Yorker really struck me. The imperfect makes us unique and special. Joy and happiness to you in 2017.

  2. Powerfully sung.

  3. Thanks–was just brewing a storm of perfectionism and then read this. So so true.

  4. Hi Laura-

    I’ve been thinking about perfection recently myself. I read a somewhat joking piece on how to throw a not perfect dinner party. I threw a not perfect brunch and my friends loved it and it was only my expectations that weren’t met, not theirs. The tree wasn’t done, I hadn’t vacuumed, etc. So I’ve been trying to let go of some other expectations I have.

    I saw Patti Smith in concert at the Fillmore last year with Jessie. On Patti’s birthday in fact. She is amazing!!! And it was after U2 performed one of her songs following the Paris Bataclan attacks so I was all fired up.

    I hope you and John are well, I believe you have visitors arriving soon! I was so lucky and got to see Emmett twice last week. He makes my heart sing, he is so sweet and loving.

    All my love and Merry Christmas, Stephanie

    Stephanie E. Pinkham +1 415.378.3078 San Francisco


  5. I had never heard the lyrics so clearly before Patti sang them, humanizing and true. Thank you for the rumination on imperfection–we all need to remember that perfection is a ridiculous goal.

  6. Thank you. I’ll keep Patti’s experience, Cohen’s lyrics, and your insightful comments in mind as I navigate my way through the holiday season and into 2017, living my life one day, one moment at a time without the pressure to be perfect.

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