By Kevin Coughlin
Actor Alex Baldwin and punk rock icon Patti Smith were fielding audience questions on Wednesday at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, for Baldwin’s public radio show Here’s the Thing, when the actor shook his head and wondered aloud if a power failure had opened the doors to a local asylum.
Maybe it was just the full moon.
A series of off-the-wall questions proved nearly as entertaining as the hour-long interview, which included Baldwin zingers at Donald Trump and Smith reflecting on her jittery performance at this month’s Nobel Prize ceremony honoring Bob Dylan.
One guy asked if it was true that Smith had been invited to join Van Halen. (No, it was Blue Oyster Cult.)
A woman rattled off anecdotes from Smith’s school days in South Jersey. Another spectator made a rambling movie pitch. Yet another gave a bad Dylan impersonation.
“My God, I feel like Olivier since I walked into this building!” Baldwin responded, to roars of laughter.
“I’m like the greatest actor who ever lived since I came in here. I’m like Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton and John Gielgud rolled into one.”
While Baldwin, 58, has made lots of movies–growing up with financial struggles made him a workaholic, he said–the role he may be remembered for is Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.
On Wednesday he never mentioned his Twitter war with the President-elect. But he sparked hearty cheers by opening the evening with some real fake news, about the electoral college reversing the election.
Later, talking music with Smith, Baldwin mused that if he released an album it would have to include a song titled My Brother is a Politically Uninformed Moron. He referred to brother Stephen Baldwin, a Trump supporter.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin
‘A SACRED QUEST’
Smith made news last weekend when she halted midway through her performance of Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall in Stockholm, where Dylan received the Nobel Prize for literature in absentia.
She saved most of her explaining for a New Yorker piece. But she told the Morristown crowd that the song has powerful connotations for her. It opened her eyes and ears to Dylan when she was 15, suggesting a poet akin to Rimbaud. And the lyric, “Where have you been, my blue-eyed son?” evoked her own blue-eyed son, she said.
Smith spoke movingly of motherhood: She never aspired to it, yet was overwhelmed by the love it stirred.
With her 70th birthday approaching this month, Smith seemed in a reflective mood.
Baldwin teased out memories of her youthful days as a hungry peach thief in rural Deptford Township; her beat-poet mentors, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso; and relationships with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith of MC5.
Some of Smith’s most revealing remarks concerned fame. She traded concert tours for doing “tons of laundry” raising two kids.
Glibly, she recounted ignoring a Bruce Springsteen demo tape that would evolve into her biggest hit, Because the Night.
“Bruce is from a different part of Jersey than me,” she quipped. “I’m from the cooler part of Jersey.”
She grew more serious when a fan requested career advice. Prepare to sacrifice, work hard, and go unrecognized, said the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, whose memoir, Just Kids, won the National Book Award.
“Being a real artist… it is a sacred quest. And it doesn’t have anything to do with fame and fortune. You can achieve fame and fortune in the pursuit of it, because perhaps the stars are aligned. But that can’t be your prime directive.
“Your prime directive has to be to do something new, to give something new to the canon of art, to give something new to the people,” Smith said.
The challenge, she insisted, is creating something great that inspires and endures, “something that will take people somewhere they’ve never been taken. You have to remember why you want to create.”
And do it with a smile.
“Sacrifice happily,” Smith advised, “because if you can’t sacrifice with joy, then it’s meaningless.
“If you sacrifice and maintain your joy and your enthusiasm and your curiosity and your ability to work hard, you’ll achieve something.”
This episode of Here’s the Thing is scheduled to air on WNYC on Dec. 27, 2016.