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press: 'a great joy': punk laureate patti smith granted france's highest honor

As a child, punk-poet icon Patti Smith was instructed never to accept anything from strangers -- which meant one day she was forced to decline a campaign button she coveted and everyone else had.

While dejectedly walking to her New Jersey family home, she vowed to her future self that she would soon acquire her own medals to add to her lapel.

On Saturday, the 75-year-old rock legend made good on that promise, as France's ambassador to the United States Philippe Etienne bestowed her with the Legion d'Honneur, his country's highest order of merit.

Smith regaled a rapt audience with that touching anecdote after her medal ceremony in central Brooklyn, where crowds gathered for the "Night of Ideas," an annual marathon of philosophy and performance put on by the French Embassy's Villa Albertine in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library.

"It's an indescribable honor, I understand the gravity of it," she told AFP backstage, after delivering a spirited performance alongside her daughter Jesse on piano and her long-time collaborator and guitarist Lenny Kaye.