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Patti & Howard

January 28, 2010

patti.jpeghoward.jpegPatti Smith only heard the news about her friend Howard Zinn's death shortly before going on stage at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco last night to talk about her new book, answer questions and sing a couple of songs.

Most people in the audience including myself, hadn't yet caught wind of Zinn's passing. A wave of sorrow and shock spread across the City Arts & Lectures audience when moderator Kevin Berger mentioned Zinn.

Many people know about Smith's close ties with the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Shepard. But her friendship with the activist and author of The People's History of The United States was less familiar. Smith stayed composed throughout her presentation, even though, according City Arts & Lectures director Sydney Goldstein, she had reacted strongly to the news when she first heard it.

In the most touching moment of her talk, Smith recited the lyrics to her song "People have the Power" in honor of Zinn. Smith said Zinn was particularly fond of that song and would often ask her to sing it or recite the words when their paths crossed.

Smith's recitation came from deep within her. As the verses rolled on, her breath became deeper and the words more rounded and full. What started off as a quiet poem ended up as a full-blown incantation.

Backstage after the talk, Smith remained calm. Slumped on a couch in a wool beanie over her long wavy brown hair, baggy blue jeans tucked into scuffed worker boots and several shapeless sweaters, the great singer and poet was on the phone when I entered. Eventually she looked up. "I was just texting my daughter with the news about Howard," she said, before politely shaking my hand.

People Have the Power

I was dreaming in my dreaming
of an aspect bright and fair
and my sleeping it was broken
but my dream it lingered near
in the form of shining valleys
where the pure air recognized
and my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
that the people / have the power
to redeem / the work of fools
upon the meek / the graces shower
it's decreed / the people rule

The people have the power
The people have the power
The people have the power
The people have the power

Vengeful aspects became suspect
and bending low as if to hear
and the armies ceased advancing
because the people had their ear
and the shepherds and the soldiers
lay beneath the stars
exchanging visions
and laying arms
to waste / in the dust
in the form of / shining valleys
where the pure air / recognized
and my senses / newly opened
I awakened / to the cry


Where there were deserts
I saw fountains
like cream the waters rise
and we strolled there together
with none to laugh or criticize
and the leopard
and the lamb
lay together truly bound
I was hoping in my hoping
to recall what I had found
I was dreaming in my dreaming
god knows / a purer view
as I surrender to my sleeping
I commit my dream to you


The power to dream / to rule
to wrestle the world from fools
it's decreed the people rule
it's decreed the people rule

I believe everything we dream
can come to pass through our union
we can turn the world around
we can turn the earth's revolution
we have the power
People have the power ...


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