Rome

Patti Smith says prayed for pope to call self Francis

'Brave' to follow in steps of saint who loved poor, Nature

Patti Smith says prayed for pope to call self Francis

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, April 10 - 'Godmother of Punk' Patti Smith said Wednesday she had prayed for the new pope to choose the name Francis as a sign that he would follow in the footsteps of the patron of the meek and poor and lover of Nature, 13th-century St Francis of Assisi. Smith, 66, is a declared admirer of the short-lived and famously humble pope John Paul I, who reigned for 33 days in 1978. She told reporters after meeting Francis at a general audience Wednesday that when she heard the shock news Benedict XVI was to abdicate in February, "I prayed that his successor would choose the name Francis". Smith, who is in Rome for a series of concerts commemorating her explosion onto the New York pre-punk scene in the 1970s, said: "After the white smoke (went up), when I heard on the TV that the new pope was called Francis, I was happy." The singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist, whose debut 1975 album Horses was a musical landmark hailed by the punk rockers that came after her, called the name choice "a brave one". She said it was "too early" to judge the first Latina American and Jesuit pope but added that the former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires - who used to dance the tango with a girlfriend as a young man and had a stint as a nightclub bouncer - was an "interesting" man. "I like him", said the rock icon of a pope who has already established a reputation for snubbing the pomp of office and reaching out to the marginalised and other religions, as seen in a recent pre-Easter ritual when he washed and kissed the feet of 12 juvenile detention centre inmates including a Muslim girl. Smith, who is of Irish origin and had a strong Bible-based upbringing, has returned to religion after her years on the rock roller-coaster but has denied reports that she has embraced Catholicism. "I'm not Catholic and so I see things without the weight of dogma but I find it beautiful and brave to have chosen a name that represents humility, the renunciation of materialism and attention to Nature," she said. Smith added she had always had an "extraordinary" reception from Italians, whose "faith has always amazed me". She also recalled her first years in New York, in the late '60s, when "I hung out with people like Allen Ginsberg, Leonard Cohen, William Burroughs and Diane Arbus at the Chelsea Hotel. "They weren't celebrities (yet), we were friends and we used to lend each other money. Janis Joplin lived there for more than a year without anyone asking for her autograph or taking her picture". Smith was a major figure in the New York underground scene at the turn of the '70s before breaking out with an explosive fusion of rock and poetry. Her best-known song is Because the Night, co-written with Bruce Springsteen, a transatlantic hit in 1978. In 2005 she was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French minister of culture and in 2007 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2010 she won the National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids. This month Smith is set to produce and star in what Musica per Roma Foundation has described as "the most significant special music project to be launched in the Italian capital this year". The music icon Smith has personally chosen the multi-disciplinary programme, called My Festival. She appears in two separate events; a tribute to Allen Ginsberg entitled The Poet Speaks With Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Lenny Kaye and Jesse Smith on 13 April; and a concert dedicated to that groundbreaking album, Horses, with Smith and her band, on 14 April. For further information, contact Auditorium Parco della Musica, Viale P. de Coubertin, tel. 0680241281, www.auditorium.com.

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