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