Jimmy Iovine, Lenny Kaye, Shirley Manson, Bono and more speak on the significance of Smith’s greatest hit -- and the love and loss that continue to fuel it.
In 1977, Patti Smith pressed play for the first time on the tape Bruce Springsteen had scrawled “Because the Night” across. Instantly, she knew the song had transformative powers. She just didn't realize the full extent of them for decades.
Jimmy Iovine, future Apple Music titan and demonstrated hitmaker, was then an ambitious engineer helming his first album as producer with Smith’s third LP, Easter. He shepherded the star-crossed collaboration, which paired Springsteen’s music and chorus with verses penned by Smith. She feverishly wrote while listening to the demo on a loop as she waited for a long-distance call from the boyfriend who would become her husband and the father to her children, Fred Sonic Smith, the guitarist of Detroit’s rabble-rousing MC5. Set to Springsteen’s building piano arpeggios and rising to an enigmatic chorus, her verses immediately bring us into Smith’s room as she paces, waiting: Love is a ring, the telephone. She finished by the time he rang around midnight, the first sign that this song was different -- that this love was different, too.
She and Iovine recorded the track immediately, and “Because the Night” served as Easter’s first single and Smith’s first hit, with reverberations resonating 40 years after its peak at No. 13 on the Hot 100 (on the June 24, 1978 chart). Smith and Springsteen seldom perform the song together, but it’s a regular highlight on both their setlists. They do stride onto the same stage from time to time, sometimes hand-in-hand as they did after an April 2018 performance in New York City. (When U2 performed it at the 25th anniversary concert for the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, Bono invited them both to join the band, and referred to the tune as “the song we wish we’d written.”)
Numerous covers -- including a 2013 collaboration from Garbage and Screaming Females, and a 10,000 Maniacs live version from their 1993 MTV Unplugged set, which peaked at No. 11 on the Hot 100 -- speak to the pop potency of “Because the Night.” But for Smith, its staying power is rooted in its ability to evolve. Their children were young when Fred died of heart failure in 1994, but now they’re grown, with son Jackson playing guitar and daughter Jesse playing piano in her band. Together with the rest of the Patti Smith Group, they perform “Because the Night” as a layered tribute for Fred and Patti’s love, as well as the family and art that came from it.
Below, Smith, Iovine and Lenny Kaye, her guitarist and longtime collaborator, reflect on “Because the Night” and the path it forged over the last 40 years. Shirley Manson of Garbage, Screaming Females’ Marissa Paternoster and Bono also spoke on their connections to “Because the Night,” all showing how many lives are tied up in a single love song that began with one long night spent waiting for the phone to ring. (Their answers, from individual interviews, have been lightly edited for clarity and length.)
On the mend -- and brink -- in 1977
After her epochal debut LP Horses launched Smith and her band out of the subterranean rock clubs of New York and into the national ether in 1975, and follow-up Radio Ethiopia further fueled her punk explorations in 1976, she fell off a stage in Tampa, Fla. and nearly killed herself in the process. The fall took Smith and her band out of commission, but before the end of the year, one that established their home of New York as punk epicenter and rock n’ roll hotbed, the eager, hungry band met their match in an eager, hungry producer.
Patti Smith: In January of ‘77 I had a very bad accident. I mean, I fractured my skull; I had several spinal injuries, so I was out of action for several months. We had done Radio Ethiopia and we were supposed to do another record, and I couldn’t do anything. I was flat on my back for months. We had no money. It was one of these desperate situations.
Clive Davis gave me the opportunity to do my third record, but I’m not a prolific songwriter. I never wanted to be a songwriter. Some people can write 30 songs, you know; I would labor over a song for weeks. So we didn’t have a lot of songs. In those days, you only needed eight; you only had 18 minutes a side. But the way that I worked, I looked at every song like it was a poem -- it just took a long time.
Jimmy Iovine: I always respected Patti, but I didn’t know her. I thought she was incredible. I walked into the Record Plant, and there she was. For some strange reason, she just said, “I want you to produce my next album.” I said, “Yeah, but I just got fired from one.” She said, “I don’t care. I don’t give a s--t about that.” She recruited me, which was an incredible thing.
Smith: Jimmy had never produced a record, I don’t think; this was his first production job. I had watched him work with Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon, as an assistant engineer, as an engineer. To me, he did all the work. I like workers, and Jimmy was a worker. He would work twelve hours. I thought, “This is the kind of person I want to work with. I don’t want to work with someone of high standing who was a band psychologist or anything, or even a person with vision.” I wanted to work with a fellow worker.
And so I chose Jimmy, which was controversial at the time, because my record company would’ve preferred if I chose someone with a track record. So I fought for Jimmy, and he had something to prove, and we had our material -- some of it controversial. Jimmy worked really hard with us, but he really wanted to make a special mark on this record. He was good friends with Bruce, and Bruce had worked on this song.
Lenny Kaye: Jimmy was living on Central Park South -- Jimmy always loved elegance -- and I remember riding home with Jimmy one morning around dawn after we’d been in the studio all night. We were talking about how cool it would be if these two New Jerseyites, Bruce and Patti, could get together on something. We weren’t really sure how that might happen given the fact that both of them are pretty solitary artists, in a certain way: they rely on their bands, and rely on their own sense of conception.
Then -- and I really wish I had these tapes -- I remember Bruce wrote a couple songs for Patti, but he wrote them in our style. It was funny -- maybe he had them in his back pocket before that, but he was trying to write a Patti song, and he’d give ‘em to us, and we’d have a listen. They seemed like neither fish nor fowl, as they say.
Iovine: I just had so much respect for the both of them, and I love them so much, their music and their lyrics, that I said “This should happen.” People don’t do a lot of things until they do them. No one said that to me, you know what I mean? Patti wasn’t sure about it and Bruce was thinking about it and I was positive about it.
Smith: [Bruce] had the music. He had the chorus, but he was struggling with the verses, and he lost interest, I suppose. He was also embroiled in some legal matters. [These kept Springsteen out of the studio in 1976 and 1977 when he and former manager Mike Appel exchanged lawsuits.] Jimmy somehow talked him into letting me work on the song. We were in the same sphere; we were different kinds of people, but he trusted his song with me.
When Jimmy gave it to me, I really resisted... Bruce was already established, and I felt like I should write my own songs. Jimmy gave me this cassette tape -- 40 years later and we still laugh about this -- and I looked at it, and I thought, “I really want to write my own songs.” So I put it on my mantle in my little place.
Kaye: Jimmy did not let [“Because the Night”] out of his hands... I have to say, since it was his first hit production, that he had a sense of destiny about the song, and about his place in the music business. [“Because the Night”] would not have existed without Jimmy. I salute him for his fortitude, persistence and vision. He believed in the song. He believed in Patti as an artist.
He came to us at a time when we were crippled, you know? We weren’t just rock poets anymore. We had the audacity to want to be a full-fledged rock n’ roll band, with all that entailed, without losing our sense of creative energy and spirit and outlier status. Patti fell off the stage, and we were kind of down on our luck, especially in the moment when the two sevens clashed, and it seemed like the music we had championed and inspired and encouraged was starting to take over the world. We were unable to be there because we had to recover. He just came there and worked with Patti to make this really definitive album with a great, great single to be its spearhead.
“It’s one of those darn hit songs.”
As she healed and prepared for her return to performing, Smith was falling deeper in love with Fred Sonic Smith, who lived two Great Lakes and 600-odd miles away from New York. She soon found herself in a serious long distance relationship, which came with a hefty phone bill -- and unexpected inspiration thanks to one frustrated, delayed phone date.
Smith: Every day, Jimmy would call me and say, “Did you listen to the song yet? I’d go, “Not yet, I will.” He’d call me at night. “What are you doin'?” “Nothin', I’m writin’.” “You listen to the song? Put the song on!” “I will, I will, I will.” We were getting very close to finishing the record. He’d call me or talk to me in the studio, and I’d say, “I will, I will.”
We didn’t have any money. To make a long distance phone call then was really expensive. If you were making $32 or $40 a week, and your phone call was $7 or $15... we only talked like, once a week. So Fred was supposed to call me at like, 7:30, and I looked forward to his phone calls more than anything in the world. There wasn’t anything that could eclipse my phone call with Fred. 7:30 came; I guess something happened and he didn’t call… Time was going by and I just was beside myself. I couldn’t concentrate. As I was pacing around, I noticed that cassette sitting there. I can see it. It was a typical cassette. It might have said “Because the Night” on it -- I think it did -- in Bruce’s hand. I thought, “Okay, I’ll listen to the song.”
So I get my little portable cassette player, and I put it on, and I remember looking at it, just staring at this cassette player, waiting for the phone to ring… it’s in the key of A, my key; anthemic; great beat. I listen to it, and I remember it, all by myself, standing there. There are certain things in my past I can’t remember, but this I can remember second by second. I stood there, and I shook my head, and I might have said it out loud: “It’s one of those darn hit songs.”
Kaye: Jimmy really wanted us to have a hit. Even though we had a lot of good material together for the album that would be Easter, Jimmy was always looking for something with hook potential.
Smith: I thought, “This is a moral dilemma for me: Here, he’s giving me a song that’s going to be very popular if I can deliver it. And so, thus, my first really popular song will be written by somebody else -- or [someone] not in my band. Is that right?” It was because I didn’t have any sense of being a singer. Now I know that people sing other people’s songs all the time, but I was like, listening to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jim Morrison -- people who wrote their own songs. I thought I was supposed to write my own songs, other than songs that I’m reinventing or interpreting. I thought, “Is this fair?”
Meanwhile, Fred hadn’t called me, so I sat there and listened to it over and over. Of course, it’s one of those songs where it’s an immediate song -- it’s like the first time you hear a Smokey Robinson song; it’s like potato chips. You want to hear it over and over.
Kaye: Patti played it for me over the phone… and that chorus is, like, just anthemic. There’s no way that you could deny the power of that anthem, that incredible couplet: Because the night/Belongs to lovers. It was really great.
The song itself, in Bruce’s demo form, had a really different feel -- it was almost Latin in its movement. It was a little more like what Leiber and Stoller would do with the Drifters; it had that kind of sway to it. When we started working on it after Patti wrote the verse lyrics, we definitely, as the Patti Smith Group, put a sense of rock energy into it that wasn’t there on the original. From there like topseed it just grew.
Smith: Fred didn’t call me until almost midnight, but by midnight I had written all the lyrics. All the lyrics. It was like, done. I sometimes labor for months over the lyrics of a song, still, or I’ll shelve a song. Only very rarely do they come in a night. Funny that it’s called “Because the Night.”
A “true marriage” on tape
Springsteen’s fourth studio album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Easter are spiritual cousins: they were released within months of each other, and Iovine, who engineered Springsteen’s effort, can be found in both sets of production credits. “Because the Night” took shape during one of Springsteen’s Darkness sessions, but the track needed her words as much as his music in order to strike such a resonant chord.
Smith: Jimmy said to me, “You listen to the song?” I said, “Yeah, I listened to the song.” He said, “What do you think?” I said, “It’s one of those hit songs. It’s a really great song.” “Well, what do you think?” “Well, I wrote words to it.” “You wrote--?!” We were in the studio that night, I think, recording it, or the next day.
Iovine: When the lyrics are that powerful, it’s something you’re attracted to and you want the whole world to hear it. That’s how I felt about Patti. I just wanted to do the best I could to help everybody hear Patti Smith, because she was such an incredible person. Still is. I knew the song was [written for] Darkness, but [Bruce] wasn’t gonna use it. I just thought Patti, a woman, singing those lyrics, at that time, would be very powerful. They’re just great, powerful lyrics… It’s one of the great rock records.
Smith: I took it to the band, and I had a band meeting -- it was so serious. When I think about it now I have to laugh at myself, because I was so serious about everything. We had to have a discussion: “Well, I’ve received this song. It’s a really great song. If we record it, it’ll probably be very popular, but of course none of you have written it.” I made such a big thing: “If anybody has any objection, tell me.” They were all like, “No! Do it! Do the song.” I’d been out of action; I’d been seriously injured and hadn’t worked for months, so it was both a dilemma, but a thrilling dilemma to have.
Iovine: I remember playing it two hours after I mixed it for Bruce and [Jon] Landau [Springsteen’s manager]. They just thought it was fantastic. They just loved it. I finished mixing it at 10 in the morning and I played it for them at noon.
Kaye: It was fun to record. It was great to see Patti sing it and soar over it. What I really remember most was when Shelly Yakus, the engineer, and Jimmy mixed it -- they had all their hands on the faders, and when the drums came in, they just went, “YEEEAAAH!!!” and pushed the faders up. Those drums come in like thunder, Jay Dee Daugherty’s drums. The next thing we heard was Vin Scelsa playing it on WNEW for about four times in a row on its release date, which is just about 40 years ago from this moment.
Smith: I have been at many crossroads in my life where I’ve been offered really big things, a huge amount of money or some kind of contract I’ve turned down because it wasn’t right for me. It’s not strange that I would have to think about it. But in this instance, we made the right decision. In the end, we were a good match for that particular song. I could have never written a song like that. I’d never write a chorus like that. All I’m saying is he gave us a gift… I would’ve loved [to have] written a song that captured the imagination of the people or the pulse of the people or the beat of the people -- but one isn’t good in everything. I have my gifts. That’s a special gift. I really admire pop singers, people that make our hits. I love listening to hit songs. I dance to them; I listen to them. Sometimes people think that because I don’t write them that I’m snobby about it. It’s not that. If I knew how, I would. I haven’t written one. But we did write that.
Iovine: There’s a lot of respect between them. They’re peers. They’re from the same period of time... Patti and Bruce, they have very, very strong points of view on the world and life in general, you know what I mean? That’s what I think you’re feeling. You’re feeling two very strong lyricists, not just writing about, “How do I have a hit?” They’re not casual songwriters, let’s put it that way. Patti and Bruce are writing to say something.
Kaye: We didn’t hear much of Bruce’s record when we were making it, and I don’t think he heard much of ours, but we were in the same time and space. The world outside was the same. I would say they’re parallel records in a certain way, but there was not a lot of specific interaction. Jimmy helped be the matchmaker. The musics of Patti and Bruce have perhaps some similar roots, but also come from different places in the human artistic psyche.
That, to me, is one of the reasons why “Because the Night” is such a special song: they each brought their fascinations into a single song, and thankfully they were able to complement each other in the same way that sometimes a great collaboration really enhances -- like Leiber and Stoller, the Brill Building artists, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It makes for a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Smith: Some people think that I didn’t do anything: “You stole that song from Bruce!” No, he gave it to me, and he trusted me with his verses -- and I think the verses are good. I think it’s a good marriage. And in fact, when we did it the other night, and he came and did the song with us at the [2018 Tribeca Film Festival], I said to him -- he does perform it live, and he does his own lyrics -- “Please, sing your lyrics on it!” And he goes, “No, no, I want to sing your lyrics.” That was really nice. When we’re together, he calls it my song. It’s truly a Bruce song, but I infused myself into it.
Easter’s rock resurrection
On March 3, 1978, Easter saw its release (and subsequent controversy, thanks to its track list and, uh, armpit hair). Before long, Smith scored her first Rolling Stone cover and “Because the Night” became a slow-burning radio staple, eventually peaking at No. 13 on the Hot 100, her first hit on the chart.
Smith: I was full of energy in those days. I couldn’t wait to get back on the horse. I did a huge amount of physical therapy and just got back in action. Also, we didn’t have any money, the band; I lived in a sixth floor walk-up in the East Village. We were about to experience some success. We didn’t know that, but we were about to.
We went to Europe. The song was huge in Europe -- America, it did really good, but Europe, we were always well-received… I was glad to be back. The only thing that was hard was that I didn’t have all the mobility, and I never regained all my mobility, but I still had the energy to put my foot through an amplifier. [laughs]
Kaye: As a band we were not as radio-friendly as some. To actually hear the song and to tour behind it and see it move up the charts over the weeks was truly exciting. I remember [when] we were on tour that summer -- we were in Kansas City or something like that -- hearing it on the radio, and going out on the balcony of the hotel, and just taking it in, taking a deep breath and saying, ‘Well, we’re in the air. Those radio waves are going over.’”
Bono: It was a sound everyone hoped one day they would hear, and a feeling they hoped one day they would feel. That [“Because the Night”] came together on pop radio made it feel like the radio was again a place for outsiders, like our kind of people had gatecrashed a party the mainstream rarely throws for us. Patti’s voice was no longer crying in the wilderness. The wilderness was the only place to be.
Shirley Manson: To hear a woman talk about lust is so unusual. Women's sexuality is supposed to be covert and hidden somewhere -- certainly back in the '70s when this was recorded. Women were expected somehow to not have sexual desire. That was such a taboo, and it's only men, really, that wrote about that kind of stuff back then. She talks about it in such blatant terms. It's so thrilling. Or at least when I heard it, it was like, "Whoa, she's talking about…" The inference felt so sexual to me… you could taste it and feel it. Powerful stuff.
Smith: The album was controversial for reasons I never even dreamed. I had armpit hair showing on the cover, which never even occurred to me. I had light armpit hair; I never shave my armpits -- mostly out of fear! And my camisole is inside-out, and my label is sticking up. You wouldn’t believe the controversy over the label and the armpit hair. People did not want to show the album cover in stores, and they couldn’t turn it over, because one of the [song] titles was “Rock n’ Roll N----r.” So the album was problematic to show, especially in the South. It was a funny album, because it had our most popular, accessible song we ever did on our most controversial album. I guess in the end I’m just myself.
Kaye: [“Because the Night”] is on an album which, taken in context, is very much the resurrection of its title, with Patti’s coming back from being off the road for almost a year because of her neck injury. We’re gathering our energies. I think we felt our music was sometimes misunderstood in terms of its straightforward rock n’ roll aspects. We wanted to make a very distinct statement about our strength as a band and about our confidence as artists. If you look at the many different songs on Easter, from “Till Victory” through “25th Floor,” through “Our Black Sheep” and “Rock n’ Roll N----r,” or things like “Ghost Dance,” to me, it’s an album that really visits a lot of parts of our psyche, and one of those is the great hit single...
We always wanted to have the freedom to explore pure sound on sound, noise, distortion and lyrical imagery, and then also have a great hit single... We want that whole range of musical exploration to be ours. We’ve never limited ourselves to one thing.
Smith: In those days, I went to all these radio stations, and they all said to me, “It’s a shame this song won’t get on the top 10. Only one female gets onto the top 10.” Debbie Boone had the No. 1 song in the country, “You Light Up My Life,” which was a great song. So, we were destined not to get any higher than maybe 11, but I didn’t care. I thought, “That’s such a stupid rule! What would you do if there were three big female singers at the time?!” I don’t know if that was universal in America, but I was told that by many big, important DJs. It wasn’t like a rumor; I was told it over and over again.
When people said to me, “You’ve sold out, you’ve done the song!” I just told them to go f--k themselves, really. I’d say, “I didn’t do my first record for it to be played in the closet.” The first record, I reached out to the people who were disenfranchised. I figured if 50,000 people liked it, it would be unbelievable. But if 500 million people liked it, it’d be even better. Because if you do your work -- if you do work that you think is worthy, call it art, call it trade, call it anything -- you hope it’ll go to as many people as possible.
Kaye: Sometimes the music is so well developed that there’s no surprises in it left anymore… CBGB’s in the early ‘70s, all the bands were different. As Tom Verlaine once said, they’re all different ideas. After the Ramones, a kind of template for punk rock was invented, and then they all became punk rock, which is great. I love punk rock -- I’ll go in the mosh pit anytime. But you know what it’s gonna be. I like when lines are blurry. I like when things happen, when you put different seasonings into a piece of music and it has its own taste. I like the unpredictability of what comes out when musical minds meet.
I don’t think that either Bruce or Patti understood the power of that song until it became a song and started riding up the charts, and then all of a sudden, we could feel a certain energy coming from these two force fields that intermingled -- Bruce with his E Street Band, Patti with her group. And together we all made something that was greater than all of us.
Manson: I do remember listening to Easter in my bedroom in Scotland at home. And to be honest, [“Because the Night”] wasn't my favorite Patti Smith song at the time… I thought it was very commercial-sounding when I first heard it compared to some of the stuff that I'd been listening to. But of course, over the years, I've just realized what a genius pop song it is and I've started to sort of understand properly the longing behind it -- which is universal and exquisite.
A legacy born “when hearts beat together”
“Because the Night” remains Smith’s biggest hit, a fixture in her live show and a song that’s been covered by musicians all over the world, from U2 and Garbage and Screaming Females to Italian electronic acts and Japanese singers. The musical bones and potent lyrics lay the foundation of its legacy, but its inspiration -- Fred and Patti Smith’s love story -- is eternal, and its most faithful testament only gets better with age.
Smith: I was a pretty arrogant, independent kid back then. I mean, I am, still. People might say, “How could you do that? How could you not listen to it right away?!” Because I had thoughts about it: Was this the right thing to do?
Now, I’m grateful. That song really delivered me in time of great crisis. When my husband died [in 1994], we had no money. I had two small children. We lived very simply. We didn’t have any big windfalls or anything. A couple of things happened that helped me: 10,000 Maniacs did the song, and Bruce put it on a live box set [1986’s Live/1975-1985]. [Springsteen also included the studio version of “Because the Night” on The Promise, the 2010 album of material recorded during the Darkness sessions]. Because I get a certain royalty from it, it helped deliver me from a very difficult time. You know, I was really grateful for that. I was grateful that a choice that was made somewhat reluctantly when I was young helped me years later in time of trouble.
I love singing it. It’s all written for Fred. I was so in love. Fred has passed away; we went through such difficult times and I lost him. But when I sing it, I can reclaim all of that youthful idealism and passion and belief. I enjoy singing it. I never not enjoy singing it.
Kaye: It’s a true love song. To see it evolve and come of age with Patti’s family, to see it tell the story of her life with Fred -- it’s almost like she reaches into the future. It’s almost like Fred’s legacy in a certain way, as well as Patti’s. To see it evolve into a true tribute to the beauty of this family, which was just in its visionary stage when this song was done, and now to see Jackson and Jesse on that stage, you realize that this is what love is about. It’s from the heart. It’s from both of their hearts, which is really nice when hearts beat together.
Smith: The first couple of times we [performed it with Jackson and Jesse] I cried through the whole thing. I mean, first hearing Jesse play it… Now, my daughter plays those opening lines in a song about her father, and Jackson playing, it moved me so that I just cried. I had to stop, it was difficult. Now, I really enjoy it. I feel happy; I feel like we’re doing this song for their father. Bruce was very kind to my children after Fred died. The song has evolved, not just like a love song to Fred, but it’s a real family… Bruce, we’re still here, both of us. We’ve both lost many people, but we’re both still here, still working, we have our children, and so when I sing the song, what I said at Tribeca was the truth. These three men are in my mind: Jimmy, who forced me to do it; Bruce, who gave me the structure of the song; and Fred, who inspired the words. That’s a happy meld, those three men, that will always be a part of my cosmology through the song. That’s not a bad cosmology to, you know, have in one’s memory and one’s present.
One funny thing, though, is Fred really admired Bruce’s songwriting abilities. Fred was such a musician, and he really liked Bruce’s song structures. When he wrote “People Have the Power” [the single off 1998’s Dream of Life] -- I told this to Bruce the other night -- Fred studied “Because the Night.” He really studied its structure. Obviously, it’s a political song, but he wanted it to have an anthemic impact like “Because the Night.” At this point, the only song that has ever eclipsed “Because the Night” in popularity in every way has been “People Have the Power,” which I think Fred would get a kick out of.
Kaye: To me, a great song can be covered in any number of different ways. Most of them stick pretty close to what the song is -- Garbage/Screaming Females is a little more punk; [10,000 Maniacs]’s is a little more laid back and wholesome.
Marissa Paternoster: When you do covers, it’s fun to do stuff that’s a hidden gem from an artist’s catalog. But for the most part, [“Because the Night”] is a joy for everybody, the audience and the performer… I feel like it’s a song that lends itself to any musician -- that’s the beauty of it. It’s just some chords and a really, really strong melody and really good lyrics. As long as you know how to play it, you can do it, and then you can siphon that through your own personal lens and personal style. That’s the cool thing about a lot of Bruce Springsteen songs: if you’re learning how to play music, it’s a good place to start. There’s that instant gratification.
Kaye: Sometimes, when we’re performing it onstage, I like to look at the audience and think that the audience is doing the song, because we’re singing it and playing along, trying to keep up with them. The audience rises up when we play it. What else could you hope for for a great song to energize the people and sing along with? It’s the same thing I do. I’ve been to see Bruce, when I’m out there in the pit, when he’s singing “Because the Night,” I’m singing along. It all makes a great, beautiful circle.
“Same guy. I’m the same girl. Just a little older.”
On April 22, 2018, the Tribeca Film Festival premiered Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band, a black-and-white documentary that immortalized the final two shows of the tour celebrating that album’s 40th anniversary. The band performed a brief set after the credits rolled, and Springsteen shocked the audience when he sauntered out to perform with them -- an occurrence so rare it’s only one of a handful of times both he and Smith have sang their verses together.
Smith: I hadn’t planned to do a film. We did this Horses tour, and my drummer, Jay Dee, was diagnosed with cancer. He’s alright now, but those last couple dates were traumatic, because we found out. We had to sort of go off the road; Jay had to go through his treatments. He’s been my drummer since 1975, so I wasn’t going to do anything without him. Those two L.A. dates were our last Horses dates, and we had no idea we would be out of action because we didn’t know what the prognosis would be with Jay. So at the last minute I asked Steve [Sebring, director], “Will you film this so we have something archived?”
Jimmy Iovine, once again -- the same Jimmy that handed me that cassette -- I love things like this, it’s like fate again. He comes backstage at the last concert… He loved the concert. He was thrilled with it, happy, excited. He said, “I wish we filmed it. Why don’t we do another?” I told him, “We can’t do anymore -- but we did film it; we sort of rag-tag filmed it.” Steve and I had done all this backstage footage. He said, “You mean you have this night?!” I said, “Yeah, in our way.”
He talked to Apple and they agreed to fund whatever it took to make it a film, which was a lot of technical work. We only had what we had, and that required a lot of editing. We agreed, Apple funded us, and really, it’s a nice arrangement, so they’ll stream it for awhile. Eventually it’ll be our little film and then we’ll do what we do with it. Because of Jimmy and because they gave us the resources, we were off the road, had to regroup and it gave our people some work to do.
Tribeca heard that Steven was doing this and asked if we wanted to show it, and that was exciting enough. Right at the last moment, someone from Apple talked to someone from Bruce’s people unbeknownst to me, and it was a sort of a surprise for me. They didn’t ask me! Believe me: Bruce works really hard. In fact, I was really pissed at them. I said, “This man works on Broadway, what, six days a week, and he has one day off, and you’re gonna ask him to come here on his day off?!” They said, “No, he’s in town! He’s happy to do it!” I scolded them! They thought I was gonna be in heaven, and I said, “How could you do that to him?!”
Bruce came to the rehearsal that day and everybody was happy to see him. We did our rehearsal, and “People Have the Power” was going to be the next song, and I said, “Play on “People Have the Power! You’ve performed it!” I thought, I had one of those moments... [She tears up] I’m there onstage with my daughter, my son, and Bruce doing “Because the Night” and “People Have the Power,” and I just know Fred would’ve loved to have been there playing -- and I know his amp would’ve been just a little louder than Bruce’s. Bruce’s was the loudest, but I know Fred would’ve made his just a little louder. It started with a Horses moment, but it ended, as many things do, as a Fred moment.
It was great. I loved it because, the thing is, Bruce and I, our roots, no matter what successes he has and how we’ve evolved, we’re just the same people. He sauntered on the stage and I can recognize who we are. Sometimes, people change. Same guy. I’m the same girl. Just a little older.
Iovine: They have an unordinary amount of respect for each other. I watched that Patti performance standing next to Bruce, the one at the other night at the Beacon. We both just looked at each other and said, “Wow. Man, she’s great.” And she is.
Kaye: It’s great to have him there. It’s a shared sense of wonder that 40 years after this song was part of Top 40 history that it was able to be celebrated in such a nice way. There’s a lot of songs that don’t get to live on past the six weeks they have to make an impact on the public, but here’s a song that has been taken to heart for over 40 years. Hopefully, we’ll still be sung along to for the next 40.
Smith: There are certain songs I listen to and they’re themselves. When I think about them or I look at the lyrics, there’s something very specific in the abstract or they reflect a moment in time when I was young. But “Because the Night” -- not just because it’s a collaboration with Bruce -- when I wrote it, so many things had happened that the song traveled with me. I fell in love; I wrote the lyrics of the song for Fred; I left New York; I left the public eye; we had our children; and then he died, and I was obliged to come back and start working again to take care of my kids, doing the song again.
The song has followed me. When I look at my personal life, I can’t sing the song without seeing the ‘70s on. I see it’s a whole life in a song. I met Fred in ‘76. A lot of my memories in life and my hopes and dreams are tied up in that meeting, and are sort of embedded in the song. The song for me spans decades. It’s not a song I used to do; it’s a song that seems alive every time we do it.