Happy 75th Birthday Patti Smith: Performing With Bob Dylan In 1995
Watch Patti and Bob duet on "Dark Eyes."
Today marks Patti Smith‘s 75th birthday. The renowned singer-songwriter, poet and activist was born on December 30, 1946 in Chicago but grew up in Deptford Township, New Jersey. In 1967, Patti moved from New Jersey to New York City where she became a key and highly influential figure in the literary and musical movements of NYC in the 1970s and beyond.
As such, Smith caught the attention of another famed New York City transplant/poet/singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan. Patti remembered meeting Dylan at one of his old haunts, The Bitter End, in a 2021 interview with Rolling Stone:
The first time I met him was 1974, I think, and he came to see us. I think it was at the Bitter End [in New York]. We didn’t have a record contract, or anything. We were just playing and he came to see us. And then he came backstage. I mean, I loved Bob Dylan since I was 16 years old and suddenly there he was. He comes in and says, “Hey, any poets back here?” And I went, “I don’t like poetry.”
It’s just like a kid in high school being mean to a girl because he really likes her. That’s what I was acting like. He had a good sense of humor and we became quite friendly, in the end. And I think that his support of our band really helped us get signed because everyone took note of it.
Smith and Dylan have been close ever since and Patti performed in Bob’s absence in Stockholm when he won the Nobel Prize In Literature in 2016. A little over 20 years after they met, Patti Smith opened for Bob Dylan during his December 1995 tour swing on the East Coast. The shows marked Smith’s return to public performance and came just a year after the death of her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith. In her recent acceptance speech in receiving the Key to New York City, Smith revealed that the death of her husband was “probably the hardest time” in her life. As she writes in her substack, legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg encouraged Patti to perform again to help her through the tough time. Read Smith’s words on working with Dylan:
In 1995, after 16 years away from public life, I reentered with an East Coast tour opening Bob Dylan. After the death of my husband, the poet-activist Allen Ginsberg encouraged me to perform again. He had appealed to Bob, asking him to help me ease back onto the stage. After the first few jobs I was given the Bob Dylan lyric book and invited to choose a song that we could perform together. I spent a sleepless night going over the many songs I loved, and decided by daybreak on the song Dark Eyes.
I sang the verses, which had a William Blake aspect, and we sang the chorus together. I am not a good harmonizer but he didn’t seem to mind; he was considerate and patient. In the course of that tour I regained my footing and my confidence. I can say, though at the time I felt a spectrum of emotions, from excitement to sorrow, those fleeting moments singing Dark Eyes with him remain among my most cherished memories.
The “first few jobs” took place on December 7 in Danbury, Connecticut and December 8 in Worcester, Massachusetts. On December 10 at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre, Patti joined Dylan onstage to duet with him on “Dark Eyes.” The Boston performance marked just the second time Dylan had performed the song off his 1985 album Empire Burlesque since debuting the tune in Sydney, Australia on September 26, 1986 over nine years prior to Patti’s first sit-in. Dylan brought Smith out to perform the song at every remaining concert in 1995 but has not performed the song since.
The penultimate show of the East Coast swing came in Philadelphia on December 16, 1995 which was also the second of a three-night tour closing stand in Philly. While the accompaniment is mostly just Bob on acoustic guitar, the chemistry between the two singers is electric.
To celebrate Patti Smith’s 75th birthday, watch her perform “Dark Eyes” with Bob Dylan from Philadelphia in 1995 below:
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