Singer/songwriter/writer/artist Patti Smith went to Stockholm last week to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature for the famously reclusive Bob Dylan. To that end, Smith stood on a stage in front of women in tiaras and men in tuxes and a whole bunch of pomp and ceremony and sang Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” She fumbled a line, then stopped. She looked up. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I am so nervous.” The dignified crowd burst into warm, enthusiastic applause and Smith started over. It was a beautiful moment.
The headlines, however, were not kind. There was “Patti Smith Blanks Out During Nobel Prize Performance” (Fox News) and “Patti Smith Botches Nobel Tribute to Absent Bob Dylan” (New York Post). But one headline stood out: The New Yorker’s which said: “A Transcendent Patti Smith Accepts Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize.” Author Amanda Petrusich wrote “The entire performance felt like a fierce and instantaneous corrective to “times like these”—a reiteration of the deep, overwhelming, and practical utility of art to combat pain. In that moment, the mission of the Nobel transcended any of its individual recipients. How plainly glorious to celebrate this work.”
Art is created by human beings.
That was Patti Smith’s unintentional reminder, and the heartfelt applause she received its validation. Amanda Petrusich and a hall full of Nobel Prize ceremony attendees witnessed a moment at the intersection of art and humanity and recognized it for what it was- transcendent.