Patti Smith says that when she stumbled over the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song during the Nobel Prize ceremony last week, it was because she was overwhelmed with nerves by the enormity of the experience, not because she forgot the words to A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall.
Smith writes in an essay published Wednesday by the New Yorker that after loving the song since she was a teenager and rehearsing it incessantly in the months and days leading up to the ceremony, its lyrics "were now a part of me."
"I hadn't forgotten the words that were now a part of me," she writes. "I was simply unable to draw them out."
The singer-songwriter explains that she had chosen one of her own songs when she was invited in September to perform at the Nobel ceremony in honour of the eventual literature laureate. But when Dylan was announced as the recipient, she chose one of her longtime favourites from his catalogue.
Smith writes that on the morning of the ceremony, "I thought of my mother, who bought me my first Dylan album when I was barely sixteen."
"It occurred to me then that, although I did not live in the time of Arthur Rimbaud, I existed in the time of Bob Dylan," Smith writes.
"I also thought of my husband and remembered performing the song together, picturing his hands forming the chords."
Smith suddenly stopped singing during her performance at Stockholm's Concert Hall on Dec. 10 and asked the orchestra to begin again. "I apologize. I'm sorry, I'm so nervous," Smith said at the time.
In her candid, poetic piece published Wednesday, she says many of the Nobel scientists greeted her the following morning, received her kindly and told her that her performance "seemed a metaphor for our own struggles."
She says the experience made her "come to terms with the truer nature of my duty."
"Why do we commit our work? Why do we perform?" she writes.
"It is above all for the entertainment and transformation of the people. It is all for them. The song asked for nothing. The creator of the song asked for nothing. So why should I ask for anything?"
The influential singer-songwriter, poet and artist dubbed the Godmother of Punk, Smith also notes that her upcoming 70th birthday on Dec. 30 — along with a performance that day in her hometown of Chicago — has been on her mind.
"When my husband, Fred, died, my father told me that time does not heal all wounds but gives us the tools to endure them. I have found this to be true in the greatest and smallest of matters," she writes.
"The year is coming to an end...And all the things I have seen and experienced and remember will be within me, and the remorse I had felt so heavily will joyfully meld with all other moments. Seventy years of moments, seventy years of being human."