One for Friday — Patti Smith, “People Have the Power”


Twenty-four hours from the moment I am typing these words out, students will be marching. They are marching in anger. They are marching because of their unyielding conviction. They are marching because they are engaged. They are marching because they refuse to be so jaded that they can’t believe in positive change. They march for their fellow students who are gone, their futures eradicated by the harrowing gun violence that has an increasingly prominent place in society because of the brazen manipulation of centuries-old law to preserve a narrow culture of weapon fetishization in the name of keeping a handful of manufacturers flush with cash.

As the top power structures in the nation continue to instill misplaced value on the voices of elderly white men whose primary qualifications are the absences of either empathy or conscience, these young people are perhaps — hopefully! — poised to be the first American generation that doesn’t complacently accept the most dismal societal norms left to them as a toxic inheritance. Led by the amazing survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, operating with candor, passion, and a thrilling belief in leveraging the structures of democracy to get the outcomes they desire and deserve, the insurgent movement has been a pure inspiration. If the insidious campaign to transform universities from places of learning into systematized mills churning out obedient workers can be stopped, the Never Again movement will be the primary case study of any half-decent PR class for the foreseeable future.

In recent days, Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” has been thumping relentlessly in my head. When she originally released the single, in 1988, it came across as a sweet, almost naive relic of a recent past that seemed impossible distant. The protestors of the nineteen-sixties and -seventies had already largely transformed into the Big Chill acquiescent capitalists who heartily endorsed the empty Reagan Revolution. Smith, mounting a comeback with her first new music in nearly a decade, was singing in the past. Instead, it turns out her song was thirty years too early.

Go get ’em, kids. Wrestle the world from fools.

Listen or download —> Patti Smith, “People Have the Power”

(Disclaimer: Usually, I try to stick with songs that I believe to be unavailable for purchase as physical items that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. That’s surely not the case today, as, if nothing else, “People Have the Power” is probably on any number of comps celebrating the artistry of the legend who performed it. I will instead present this track in this space as celebration and encouragement. If you don’t have any Patti Smith in your collection, that’s a mistake. If you do, you probably don’t have enough. Head to the record store any which way you can and make the appropriate purchases. The nineteen-seventies classics earned that unofficial designation for a reason, but the run from 1996’s Gone Again to 2004’s Trampin’ is also wonderful. I understand my enthusiastic endorsement doesn’t immunize me from copyright law. Although I believe I’m operating under the principle of fair use, I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)