Patti Smith

From Citizendium
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is basically copied from an external source and has not been approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.
The content on this page originated on Wikipedia and is yet to be significantly improved. Contributors are invited to replace and add material to make this an original article.
For the lead singer of the former band Scandal, see Patty Smyth.

Patti Smith (born Patricia Lee Smith, December 30, 1946) is an American musician, singer, and poet who came to eminence during the punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses. Dubbed "punk rock's poet laureate", she introduced a feminist and intellectual take on punk music and became one of rock's most influential musicians.

Although Smith's success has been limited commercially, with no records certified by the RIAA and only one Top 20 single, she is regarded by some as one of the most influential artists in rock history. Rolling Stone magazine placed her at #47 in its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time[1]. On March 12, 2007, she was inducted[2] into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Early life and career

In Chicago and New Jersey

Though Smith was born in Chicago, Illinois, she grew up Woodbury, New Jersey.[3] Her father was an atheist and her mother a devout Jehovah's Witness. The family being quite poor, her formal education temporarily ended when she was 16. Smith then went on to work in a factory, which experience she found excruciating.

Later, when she resumed her education and attended the Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in Glassboro, New Jersey, Smith bore a child. She gave the baby up for adoption and dropped out of school after the child was born.

New York City

In 1967 she left New Jersey for good and moved to New York City. There she met and befriended many poets, musicians, artists, and playwrights. One of them was Robert Mapplethorpe, a famous but controversial photographer, who met Smith while working at a bookstore. He was Smith's lover for a time, despite his homosexuality, and they remained close friends until Mapplethorpe's death from AIDS in 1989.

In 1969 she went to Paris with her sister and started busking and doing performance art. On returning to New York City, she lived in the Chelsea Hotel with Mapplethorpe. They began frequenting Max's Kansas City nightclub at this time, and Smith appeared with Wayne County in the play Femme Fatale by Jackie Curtis in 1969. (Among Smith's other well-known lovers were poet Jim Carroll and Television's leader Tom Verlaine.) She spent the early 1970s painting, writing, and performing spoken-word poetry—frequently at St. Mark's Poetry Project.

In 1971 she performed for one night in the play Cowboy Mouth, a collaboration with the playwright and actor Sam Shepard. The published play's notes call for "a man who looks like a coyote and a woman who looks like a crow".

To fund her musical career, Smith became a rock journalist. One of the magazines she wrote for was Creem. In this period she also penned songs in connection with Allen Lanier of Blue Öyster Cult. Lanier recorded a few songs that Smith had contributed to, including "Debbie Denise" (after her poem "In Remembrance of Debbie Denise"), "Career of Evil," "Fire of Unknown Origin," "The Revenge of Vera Gemini," and "Shooting Shark".

Rising in the musical field

By 1974 Patti Smith had begun performing rock music herself, initially with guitarist and rock archivist Lenny Kaye, and later with a full band comprising Kaye, Ivan Kral (guitar), Jay Dee Daugherty (drums) and Richard Sohl (piano). Financed by Robert Mapplethorpe, the band recorded its first single, "Piss Factory/Hey Joe," in 1974. The A-side describes the helpless anger Smith had felt while working on a factory assembly line and the salvation she discovered in the form of a shoplifted book, the 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations. The B-side was a version of the rock standard with the addition of a spoken-word piece about fugitive heiress Patty Hearst ("...Patty Hearst, you're standing there in front of the Symbionese Liberation Army flag with your legs spread, I was wondering were you gettin' it every night from a black revolutionary man and his women..."). From February of 1974, the group performed four night a week for almost two months.

The Patti Smith Group was signed by Clive Davis of Arista Records, and 1975 saw the release of Smith's first album Horses, produced amidst some tension by John Cale, formerly of The Velvet Underground. The album was recorded and mixed by Bernie Kirsh. The record fused rock and roll, proto-punk rock with spoken poetry and is widely considered one of rock's greatest debuts. The album begins with a cover of Van Morrison's "Gloria," and Smith's opening words are some of the most famous in rock: "Jesus died for somebody's sins ... but not mine." The austere cover photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe has become one of rock's classic images.

The group toured the United States and Europe, while the popularity of punk music was rising. Their second album, Radio Ethiopia, has a rawer sound. It was less accessible and was held in a lower regard by reviews than the previous Horses, but several songs on the album became widely appreciated and are still performed by Smith today. Examples include "Pissing in a River", "Pumping", and "Ain't It Strange".

While touring in support of the record, Smith accidentally danced off a high stage in Tampa, Florida, falling 15 feet into a concrete orchestra pit and breaking several neck vertebrae. The injury required a period of rest and an intensive round of physical therapy, during which time she was able to reassess, re-energize and reorganize her life, a luxury that had been denied her during her swift rise to fame.

The Patti Smith Group produced two further albums before the end of the 1970s. Easter (1978) was her most commercially successful record, containing the hit single "Because the Night" – co-written with Bruce Springsteen – which rose to #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Wave was less successful, with "Frederick" and "Dancing Barefoot" receiving only a little radio airplay.


Following the release of Wave, Smith, now separated from long-time partner Allen Lanier, met Fred "Sonic" Smith, former guitar player for legendary Detroit rock band the MC5, who adored poetry as much as she did. The running joke at the time was that she only married Fred because she wouldn't have to change her name. Patti and Fred had a son, Jackson, and later a daughter, Jesse. Through most of the 1980s Patti was in semi-retirement from music, living with her family north of Detroit in St. Clair Shores. In 1988, she released the well-received album Dream of Life. This album was considered more mainstream than her earlier punk-influenced work.

In 1994 her husband, Fred, died of a heart attack. Not long after, her beloved brother Todd died. Smith decided to move back to New York. Her son, Jackson, who turned 12 at that time, had a band called Back In Spades.


After the deaths of her husband and brother, her friends Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Allen Ginsberg (whom she had known since her early years in New York) prompted her to go back out on the road. She toured briefly with Bob Dylan in December 1995 (chronicled in a book of photographs by Stipe). The next year, she collaborated with her old colleagues to record the album Gone Again, featuring, "About a Boy", a tribute to Kurt Cobain.

Smith greatly respected Kurt Cobain, but was more angered than saddened by his suicide. She was quoted in Rolling Stone, "When you watch someone you care for fight so hard to hold onto their life, then see another person just throw their life away, I guess I had less patience for that."[4]

On Sunday, October 15, 2006 she performed the final show at CBGB in Manhattan. Her tour de force to close out CBGB's 33-year run lasted over 3½ hours, as she took the stage at 9:30 PM (EDT) and closed for the night (and forever for the venue) at a few minutes after 1:00.


In 2005, she was made "Commander of the Order of the Arts and Letters" by the French culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres for her influence on rock music, this being one of France's top cultural awards [5]

Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame March 12, 2007. Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine delivered Smith's induction speech. Smith dedicated her award to the memory of her late husband, Fred. Smith gave a performance of the Rolling Stones classic Gimme Shelter, which she considered as a great anti-war song. As the closing number of 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction evening, Smith's "People Have the Power" was used for the big celebrity jam that always ends the program. Among those playing or singing were Eddie Vedder, Stephen Stills and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. All the other inductees to the Hall that night joined: Sammy Hagar and Mike Anthony of Van Halen, the Ronettes, Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five and R.E.M. including Bill Berry on drums.[6]

Political engagements

Politically, Smith actively supported Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign, touring with him and playing "People Have the Power" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" before crowds of thousands at the campaign's "super-rallies." She also performed at several of Nader's subsequent "Democracy Rising" events. She nominally endorsed John Kerry in the 2004 election. While she did not participate in the Vote for Change tour, "People Have the Power" was performed at all the shows involving Bruce Springsteen. However, after the election she was discovered raising funds to help Nader's 2004 campaign, deeply in debt from lawsuits by the Democratic Party.

She also toured with Ralph Nader in late 2004 and early 2005 to hold rallies to end the Iraq War and impeach President George W. Bush. Her mentions of Nader at concerts are usually greeted with boos by a substantial portion of the audience (who may blame him for Al Gore's loss to Bush in 2000), to which she responds, "They booed Thomas Paine, too."

Smith premiered two new protest songs in London in September 2006. Louise Jury, writing in The Independent, characterized them as "an emotional indictment of American and Israeli foreign policy". One song ("Qana") was about the Israeli air strike on the Lebanese village of Qana, the other ("Without Chains") about the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay.

Jury's article quotes Smith as saying, "I wrote both these songs directly in response to events that I felt outraged about. These are injustices against children and the young men and women who are being incarcerated. I'm an American, I pay taxes in my name and they are giving millions and millions of dollars to a country such as Israel and cluster bombs and defense technology and those bombs were dropped on common citizens in Qana. It's terrible. It's a human rights violation."

"Without Chains" is about Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germany, detained at Guantánamo for four years. Jury quotes Smith, "He is the same age as my son, Jackson. When I read the story, I realised how I would feel as a mother if my son had been taken away at the age of 20, put into chains, without any hope of leaving, without any direct charge."[7]

Smith is also concerned about the plight of Tibetans under the oppression of the People's Republic of China. In an 1996 interview she recollected that in 1959, as a child, she prayed for the Dalai Lama when he disappeared during the invasion of Tibet by PRC troops.[8] She also wrote a song titled 1959 in memory of the event.


Studio albums

Live albums



Year Title Chart positions Album
US Hot 100 US Modern Rock US Mainstream Rock UK
1978 "Because the Night" #13 - - #5 Easter
1978 "Privilege (Set Me Free)" - - - #72 Easter
1979 "Frederick" - - - #63 Wave
1988 "Up There Down There" - #6 - #85 Dream of Life
1988 "People Have The Power" - - #19 #97 Dream of Life


  1. The Immortals: The First Fifty. Rolling Stone Issue 946. Rolling Stone (April 15, 2004)..
  2. Ben Sisario, Jan. 8, 2007, The New York Times, "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Backs New Members", available at .
  3. Biography
  4. Rolling Stone, July 11, 1996, quoted in South Coast Today (Massachusetts)
  5. .Patti Smith given French honour, BBC News, July 11, 2005.
  6. Patti Smith Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction evening show
  7. Louise Jury, Patti Smith rails against Israel and US, The Independent (UK), 9 September 2006. Accessed online 7 Oct 2006.
  8. Thurston Moore, Patti Smith, Bomb, Winter 1996.