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“People Have the Power”: Patti Smith on Pope Francis and Her Performances at the Vatican

StoryOctober 08, 2015
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Over the last two years, Patti Smith has twice been invited to sing at the Vatican. We air part of her performance of “People Have the Power” and talk to her about why she cheered when the new pope took the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s end on the issue of climate change, where we’re headed, this Pathway to Paris. You’ll be performing there. But also you’ve performed at the Vatican, and you’ve met Pope Francis. Can you talk about those experiences and what he means to you, this latest pope?

PATTI SMITH: Well, I was studying Francis of Assisi for quite some time, when Benedict was still the pope. And I was studying it for a song that I did for my last album, Banga. And I was so taken with the life of St. Francis, and I thought this was truly the environmentalist saint, because he called upon the people, even in the 12th century, to have appreciation and respect Mother Nature. And I thought it would be so beautiful if there was a pope named Francis, who could embrace the idea of disseminating material things, and—but becoming close to nature and understanding how important it is to respect the Earth. And I met some monks in Assisi, and they said, “This will never happen.” You know, I talked to the monks because I was doing research. “We’ll never have a Pope Francis, because Francis, St. Francis, was too rebellious. We’re never going to have a Jesuit or a Franciscan.” And I said, “Well, you know, let’s hope.”

And then, when Benedict stepped down, I was watching television with my daughter, and the white smoke had come up, and so we were waiting to see who would be pope. And we had to wait a long time, like 45 minutes. And in this 45 minutes, I told Jesse how much I wanted a pope named Francis and why, and I told her the story of St. Francis. And she was saying, “Oh, Mommy, I hope you get a Pope Francis.” I mean, I’m not a Catholic, but I still wanted a Pope Francis. And we’re watching and watching, and then they came out, and, lo and behold, they announce the new pope, and it’s Pope Francis. We were like jumping up and down as if we were at the Kentucky Derby and our horse came in. So, I was quite happy, because I knew anyone who took on this name was taking on a great mantle of responsibility.

And I think that Pope Francis is doing his best, within a very intense structure, to do that. He has really simplified all the pomp and circumstance of the church. He’s gone into the Vatican Bank. He is standing to—you know, in account for the violations against young people sexually. And he has written such beautiful lessons and letters to us all, and recently in concern—with concern about climate change and our environment. And so, yeah, I mean, I did—I sang at the Vatican Christmas concert. I think I was the only American.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you sing?

PATTI SMITH: I sang “O Holy Night” with the Vatican orchestra, but also a Blake—a lullaby that William Blake wrote for the Christ child, and I set it to music, and the Vatican orchestra played the music.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What was it called?

PATTI SMITH: “The Cradle Song,” and a very pretty little poem. And so I—

AMY GOODMAN: Did “People Have the Power” make its way in there?

PATTI SMITH: Yes, we did perform “People Have the Power,” because they requested it. It was a Christmas concert, so I wasn’t going to do that, but they really wanted it. I’ve done it for two years, and I did this last one with my daughter Jesse.

PATTI SMITH: [singing] I was dreamin’ in my dreamin’
Of an aspect bright and fair
And my sleepin’ it was broken
But my dream it lingered near

In the form of shinin’ valleys
Where the pure air recognized
And my senses newly opened
And I awakened to the cry

And the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools
On the meek the graces shower
It’s decreed the people rule

People have the power
People have the power
People have the power
People have the power

Believe it!

Where there were deserts, I saw fountains
And like cream the waters rise
And we strolled there together
With none to laugh or criticize

There is no leopard and the lamb
And lay together truly bound
Well I was hopin’ in my hopin’
To recall what I had found

I was dreamin’ in my dreamin’
God knows a pure view
As I surrender into my sleepin’
And I commit my dream with you

Come on!

People have the power to dream!
People have the power to vote!
People have the power to strike!
People have the power to love!

The power to dream, to rule
To wrestle the world from fools
It’s decreed the people rule
Let’s decree the people rule

Listen, I believe everythin’ we dream
Can come to pass through our union
We can turn the world around
We can turn the earth’s revolution

AMY GOODMAN: Patti Smith, the legendary poet, author and singer, performing “People Have the Power” at the Vatican. Her new memoir, M Train, has just been published. We’ll play more of our interview with Patti Smith next week. Her previous book, Just Kids, won the National Book Award.

Legendary Patti Smith on Her New Memoir ‘M Train’ & National Book Award Winner ‘Just Kids’

Patti Smith on Closing Guantánamo, Remembering Rachel Corrie and Feeling Frustrated with Obama

Patti Smith on 19th Century Poet William Blake and on Creating Political Art ‘Unapologetically’

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