Patti Smith is no sellout, and she was not about to ignore a protest to perform where she wasn’t wanted. We reported earlier this week that the living legend was scheduled to play a private show for Hotel Chelsea denizens last night, and that some of them weren’t so thrilled to see her headlining an event sponsored by Joseph Chetrit, the developer who’s currently in the process of renovating — i.e. gutting — it. A few speculated that she wouldn’t have signed on if she knew who she was supporting.
On Wednesday, Smith took to her website to explain herself, writing that she had gotten involved in Hotel Chelsea business a few months earlier, after hearing rumors that it would be demolished. When she spoke to the architect working on the building, she learned that this wasn’t true, and that “every effort would be made to save and restore the building, which was greatly deteriorating.” Smith said that her participation in the hotel’s renovation has been “unofficial and uncompensated,” elaborating that:
My personal objectives have always been: To offer uncompensated advice as to the aesthetics of the renovation project. To council all concerned to develop positive communication with the rightful tenants. To be available in the future, without fee, in participating in the development and preservation of the artistic cachet of the hotel. To participate in the development of a possible artists-in-residence program.
Although Smith also mentioned in her statement that the performance was her own idea and would be an “opportunity to communicate directly” with residents, some tenants were still opposed and planned to stage a “People Have the Power”-soundtracked “die-in” at the event. And so it was that Patti Smith’s private Hotel Chelsea show never happened. In another short note on her website, she wrote, “In respect for the wishes of the Chelsea Hotel Tenants Association I have canceled tonight’s performance. My motivation was solely to serve the tenants. If this serves them better, than I am satisfied.”
Now, we’ll side with tenants attempting to protect a legendary art-world landmark over a real estate developer every time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t debate the meaning of this particular incident. Did the idea of Smith playing an uncompensated and, until the controversy arose, largely unpublicized concert for them, seemingly motivated by nothing more than her own desire to give back to their community, really merit a full-on die-in? Do those of us who’ve been loyal Smith fans for years truly believe she’d suddenly sell out a place that means so much to her out of ignorance, greed, or some other bad-faith motive? Could both residents and Smith have benefited from the face-to-face conversation she hoped to have about their concerns at the show? Is it really so bad to have a celebrity who understands the hotel and its legacy representing tenants’ interests to the suits? Would it be better to have no liaison at all? Let us know what you think in the comments.