Life lessons from a punk rocker

Over the weekend, I watched two videos that moved me to tears.

The first was a performance at a famous awards ceremony. In front of an august gathering of luminaries & dignitaries & royalty, the performer froze mid-performance.

You could hear the audience gasp – here was an accomplished punk rock musician, an iconoclast, who was like a nervous teenager who’d forgotten the lyrics to a long practiced piece. The performer stopped, apologised & asked to start again. IN FRONT OF THIS FAMOUS CROWD AT A FAMOUS EVENT! UNBELIEVABLE!   She apologised again, & said “I am very nervous”.

The performer was the legendary punk rocker, Patti Smith, performing Bob Dylan’s “A hard day’s rain gonna fall”, in honor of his 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The second video, thanks to the YouTube algorithm, was an interview she had with Skavlan, a Swedish talk show host. The title of the video says “I was humiliated & ashamed”. Shocking headlines are clickbait. In this interview, she shared so many beautiful thoughts but two in particular touched me deeply.

The first one was her response when asked about the “failure” during the performance that night. She says simply, “I just had to tell the truth.… I just told them I got nervous. I never get nervous, but I was so nervous, I just asked if I could start over.”

The second was serendipitous. My daughter has been asking for help with her schoolwork, mostly her writing assignments. Well, she did yesterday, & Patti Smith answered the question, how did she become such a prolific writer. She speaks simply of her discipline of learning how to write, despite the domestic chores she willingly chose for herself, disappearing from public life to focus on her relationship with her husband, Fred Smith & to raise a family.

We watched this video together, my daughter & I. Maybe she’ll remember it, maybe she won’t, but in that moment, Patti Smith was the teacher we both needed – to remind us about the discipline required over a period of time to become good at anything, to be forgiving of ourselves when we failed, & that everyone of us fails, regardless of how many times we may have done it before. Thank you Ms. Smith!

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