Pope Francis, who has been lauded as one of the “coolest” and most progressive Popes in history, is upholding his reputation. After he invited punk rock legend Patti Smith to the Vatican’s upcoming Christmas concert, the two have faced criticism from all sides.
While Francis has been taking the heat from religious organizations that claim the performance is blasphemous, a number of punk fans are calling Smith’s decision hypocritical. Some of Smith’s old song lyrics, specifically “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” from the song “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo),” are being brought into the discussion.
Yesterday, Smith responded to the controversy during a talk at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. “I like Pope Francis and I’m happy to sing for him,” she said. “Anyone who would confine me to a line from 20 years ago is a fool.”
The line was, in fact, from 40 years ago. “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)” was the opening song on her very first album, Horses, released in 1975.
“I had a strong religious upbringing and the first word on my first LP is Jesus,” said the 67-year-old musician. “I did a lot of thinking. I’m not against Jesus, but I was 20 and I wanted to make my own mistakes. And I didn’t want anyone dying for me. I stand behind that 20-year-old girl, but I have evolved. I’ll sing to my enemy! I don’t like being pinned down and I’ll say what the f*** I want – especially at my age.” The crowd reportedly erupted in applause.
Pope Francis and Smith first met last spring, when they shook hands in St. Peter’s Square. Smith has described him has “very interesting.” She also said in a recent interview that she finds the Bible to be “very resonant” today.
“It has everything – creation, betrayal, lust, poetry, prophecy, sacrifice,” she explained. “It doesn’t really matter what religion you are or if you have no religion, those stories are still relevant to what people go through in their lives and they’re also beautifully-written passages.”
Smith has often used religious imagery in her music. Her breakthrough album, released in 1978, was titled Easter. It features lyrics adapted from Psalm 23 and heavy Christian symbolism throughout. Additionally, the sleeve insert included a cross under each band member’s name and a quote from the Second Epistle to Timothy, 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course.”
At this time, Smith is still slated to perform for the Christmas show, which will be broadcast live from Rome’s Conciliation Auditorium on December 13th. Some of other artists on the lineup include DJ Bob Sinclar and singing nun Sister Cristina Scuccia, who won Italy’s version of The Voice. Ironically, Scuccia’s first single was a cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.”