In addition to being a tech geek, I'm a rocker. I've been playing guitar since I was a teenager. So when Patti Smith agreed to a silent auction to benefit the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) at her concert in Madison, Wisconsin, I began looking forward to meeting the quintessential godmother of punk rock. Little did I know how special the evening would turn out to be.
The concert was held at the Barrymore Theatre on August 5. As CMD staff were soliciting auction items, executive director John Stauber asked me if I "had an old guitar laying around that I'd like to donate." I mulled his question over for a few days and then offered my 1958 Gibson LG-1 acoustic guitar.
The Gibson wasn't considered a "top of the line" instrument - it was originally sold as a student guitar - but was rich in sentimental value. I acquired it when I was 21 years old. I don't remember exactly how - it was either given to me by my guitar teacher or I purchased it for about $50. Regardless, I've played and carried that guitar with me for the last 33 years.
When I offered the guitar for the auction, John was a little taken aback. He tried to talk me out of it - several times, in fact - but I insisted. I wanted to donate it, out of gratitude for everything that CMD has done for me. Patti Smith agreed to sign the guitar, and my Gibson became the premier item of the auction.
The night before the concert, as we were packing up the auction items, CMD office and outreach manager Sari Williams asked me, "Are you sure you want to auction your guitar?" I told her that while I felt sad about letting it go, I believe that whatever you put out to the universe, both good and bad, comes back to you ten-fold. I've made that statement many times, but I've never seen karma play out quite so instantaneously.
The next day, I helped set the auction up in the lobby of the Barrymore. Patti Smith suddenly appeared next to us, almost as if she had materialized out of thin air. The first thing that struck me was how down-to-earth and totally unpretentious she is. If you didn't recognize her, you'd never have guessed that you were standing next to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member.
Patti asked to see the guitar, and asked if it was mine. I said that it was, and that I'd owned it since I was 21. She asked, "Are you sure you want to sell it?" I replied that I had decided to let it go, especially as it would benefit a great cause. She walked around the lobby strumming my guitar and then asked me to sit down on the sofa with her. She asked what the suggested bid on the guitar was. I told her $750 and she replied, "How about if I donate $1000 to CMD and you keep your guitar?"
Needless to say, I was dumbstruck by her selflessness and generosity. I accepted her offer and asked if she'd sign the Gibson for me. She inscribed "People have the power - Patti Smith" in the upper left-hand corner of the body (where it won't be touched when it's played).
Afterwards, CMD senior researcher Diane Farsetta jokingly asked me if I'll still play the Gibson or if it's become a "holy relic." While it's even more special to me now, I know that Patti would want me to continue to play it.
There are no words to express how truly touched I am by Patti's kindness. And the concert was amazing. They really did build things to last in the 40's, Patti. Rock on!
Patricia Barden is the Center for Media and Democracy's IT Director.
CMD would like to thank Patti Smith, Tag Evers of True Endeavors, the Barrymore Theatre, and all the local businesses and friends who helped make the silent auction a huge success. More than $3,500 was raised to support CMD's independent journalism and media literacy work.