Neil Young and Patti Smith both hold an uncanny ability to blur the lines between poetry and music. Their artistry has the capacity to stroke the human brain in ways that you didn’t believe were possible from music alone.
Regardless of the vast differences between their sounds, far more qualities align the pair than separate them. They’ve both enjoyed the world of rock ‘n’ roll’s finest attributes, but they’ve also seen its blemishes and scars. Still, both Smith and Young have survived everything thrown at them with their artistic spirit still burning bright.
Only a handful of people on the planet can genuinely relate to the crazy lives they’ve experienced, and the mutual respect that the pair hold for one another is at the centre of their friendship. “I’m the highway and landscapes. You are cities,” Young once said to Smith during a talk about their books. “We’re on similar paths, but in different geographic places. Our [books] represent that.”
Both artists come from small towns in the shadows of the bright lights of Toronto and New York, respectively. Young grew up in the sleepy Omemee in Northern Ontario, while Smith mainly grew up in New Jersey’s neglected Pitman.
Young once wrote about Omemee in ‘Helpless’, using the town as inspiration for the track. He once described it as “a nice little town. Sleepy little place… Life was real basic and simple in that town. Walk to school, walk back. Everybody knew who you were. Everybody knew everybody.”
On the nostalgic number, Young reminisces about the innocence of adolescence and sweetly sings, “Blue, blue windows behind the stars, Yellow moon on the rise, Big birds flying across the sky, Throwing shadows on our eyes.”
Smith connected with this song as someone who grew up in a place not dissimilar to Omemee. Despite being in a different country, she understood the same struggle. Waves of emotion filled the venue when The Godmother of Punk shared the stage with The Godfather of Grunge at the Bridge School Benefit in 1996.
Somehow, Smith’s searing vocals managed to elevate a beloved classic, and she sang ‘Helpless’ like everything in her life had previously been building to this one moment. What makes the performance even more electrifying, however, is the star-studded cast who’ve joined them on stage and are watching on eagle-eyed. Not only are Pearl Jam front and centre, but David Bowie is glaring on in total admiration as Smith and Young deliver a performance worthy of the history books.
While it is a total joy to see Neil Young and Patti Smith put on a spectacle, one can’t help shake off the thought of Bowie joining in with the duo to make it even more opulent. However, even without The Starman, the iconic pair put on a roof-raising performance which will send shivers down your spine.
See the performance, below.