Earlier in the week, perusing MetaFilter, I couldn’t resist investigating this post promising a YouTube video of “Patti Smith singing ‘You Light Up My Life.’ Seriously.”
It was an appearance Kids Are People, Too, a saccharine affair with a harmless host and an audience of children, who seemed surprisingly excited to get to ask Patti Smith questions. When that part of the segment was over, she said, “I want to sing ‘You Light Up My Life,’ and I know that’s a weird choice from me, but I like that song, ‘cos I think if you really get into the words it’s got a great message.” And then she proceeds to deliver a version of the song that’s respectful, but definitely her own; she doesn’t make a joke of it, but she’s not going through the motions. That is to say, she totally nails it.
I loved this. I’m not the world’s biggest Patti Smith fan, but she was responsible for some truly sublime musical moments in her heyday, and I’d have to count this among them. All week I thought there must be something to say about somebody who started her first album by droning “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” unabashedly embracing Debbie Boone’s megahit, and how that relates to the ongoing niche vs. mass debate of recent years. By now it’s clear I’m not going to come up with any profound statements, so I’ll just ask a question: While YouTube is a powerful example of our modern, tech-ennabled, post-mass culture, why is it that the most interesting clips there are invariably at least 25 years old?