Yesterday I spotted a news story bubbling in my twitter feed: Patti Smith (Godmother to Iggy Pops Godfather of Punk Rock) is planning to perform for Pope Francis. The story turned on an old lyric of hers –
Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.
Her augmentation of Van Morrison’s Gloria; a garage rock and guitar student favourite. But if you substitute Gladys or Glenda with Gloria, the song ceases to be a minimalist classic. Gloria is not simply a name, it’s an allusion to a most glorious being. Something like a god. And the way that name is spelled out G-L-O-R-I-A in the song, just takes you straight to the Christmas Carol Angels We Have Heard On High. Patti even references the chorus: Gloria, in excelsis Deo , on her record sleeve.
Van Morrison hails from Belfast, a place steeped-in and divided by Christian beliefs. Patti was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. They grew-up in a time when the secular society only existed for those on the fringes: the privileged, the political, the marginalised. On Sundays people went to church. They got biblical references. If they were Catholic, they fasted during Lent. If they were Jehovah’s Witness’s they ditched the smoke and mirrors of High Mass.
You see the focus on the controversial lyric misses the point of performers like Patti Smith and Van Morrison. Contained within their music is their experience. Both make emotional music. Music for the soul. Music that is from the soul. Modern devotional music. So whoever’s booked her to play the Vatican, gets that too.