Maybe the Yo Gabba Gabba of its day, the Sunday morning kids’ show Kids are People Too ran from 1978 to 1982, during which time it attracted such guests as Cheap Trick and KISS to its studio. KISS was virtually a cartoon already, and Cheap Trick definitely had its kid-friendly elements, but one of the show’s musical guests probably didn’t reach into a lot kids’ bedrooms with her blasphemous take on Van Morrison’s “Gloria,” her “Hey Joe / Piss Factory,” or her spoken word open letter to Patty Hearst. But the lengthy Q&A with Patti Smith before she sings, with host Michael Young prompting questions from excited audience members, leaves me with the impression that she was more popular with America’s youth than I thought.
Maybe it was her 1978 hit “Because the Night,” written by Bruce Springsteen, that tempted Kids are People Too’s producers to invite Smith on the show to sing another cover, “You Light Up My Life,” with composer Joe Brooks. It’s a pretty weird moment in pop culture history, especially considering the strange turns both musicians’ lives took. Smith went on to win a National Book Award and remains vital and creative. Brooks went on to a very sordid, ignominious end. But here, they cross paths after Brooks won an Oscar for his song and Smith had recovered from a disastrous fall from the stage and rebooted her career in a more pop direction. Despite her greater mass appeal, Young still assumes that Patti Smith means one thing. He even asks the kids in the studio audience, “didn’t you say Patti Smith, punk rock, right?” The kids all yell back, “Yeah!” Hip kids or very effective teleprompter? You be the judge.
*Note, an earlier version of this post identified the host as Bob McAllister and stated that “Hearst went on to win a National Book Award.” As some readers have pointed out, the host was Michael Young, and it was Smith, of course, not Patty Hearst, who won the National Book Award in 2010.