In his last weeks as mayor, Bill de Blasio has been bestowing Keys to New York City to a number of figures, including legendary music producer Clive Davis (who helped stage the ultimately Mother Nature-interrupted "Homecoming" concert in Central Park), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for his indefatigable support for the city. On his last Monday in office, de Blasio honored one of his favorite artists, the "punk rock laureate," Patti Smith.
"To me, Patti Smith has an authenticity that you just didn't find... in that many places," de Blasio said, noting that she's been called the "godmother of punk."
"She has done so much to light the way, and she has done it here in New York City, and she was a quintessential member of that musical blossoming that happened in this city and beyond," he added.
Smith was overcome with emotion when she received the key. Calling it "awesome," she reflected on moving to New York City.
"I was thinking this morning, when I learned of this honor. What have I done in NYC, what have I given NYC to earn this? But most of all I kept thinking of what NYC has given to me," she said. "I came here in 1967 from a real rural area of South Jersey. I had just a few dollars in my pocket, and no real prospects. I came here to get a job and to see what I was made of. And I found that the city, with all of its diversities and possibilities, if you're willing to work, if you maintain your enthusiasm, you'll make it."
Smith moved to Detroit in 1979, where she lived with her husband, Fred Sonic Smith, but after his death in 1994, she moved back to the city. "It was very hard times, probably the hardest time in my life," she said. "Again, with hard work and enthusiasm, the city embraced me again... gave me another chance to rebuild my life and continue to evolve as an artist."
She hoped that New Yorkers "will also protect our city, its history, its historic streets and architecture, its community gardens, its trees. All of these things we need, we need because they are part of our identity as New Yorkers. Also the Empire State Building, new skyscrapers, progress, but also the small things. That is part of our great city."
Smith also declared, "I wish I could give NYC the key to me. That's how I feel about our city with all its challenges and difficulties, it remains... the most diverse city, to me, in the world. The city that has so many possibilities."
She and band member, Lenny Kaye, were given birthday cupcakes (Kaye turned 75 on Monday, Smith will be 75 on Thursday), before they performed "Ghost Dance," which de Blasio said was his favorite song of hers.
Smith also detailed her experience as a new New Yorker and her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe in her memoir, Just Kids, which was named 2019's "One Book, One New York" selection.
Last week, de Blasio gave a key to the city to filmmaker Spike Lee (video), who he called "someone who has show own incredible loyalty to this city and love for this city. So much so that regardless of what's happening, he remains a Knicks fan, through thick and thin," and who has "portrayed our city more truly, more from the heart in a way that both demands better of us and tells us how good we are in our souls."
Lee, who pointed out his family was one of the first Black families to move into Cobble Hill in 1963, said that education and affordable housing were the most important things for New York City to address.
"If the Black and brown communities aren't able to afford to stay in this... it's not going to be New York City -- it's not going to have flavor!" he exclaimed. "It's the mix, it's the gumbo of everybody coming here. It's going to be tough, but we've done it before."