Patti Smith

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Stark in its simplicity, the cover of Patti Smith's first album, Horses, was a photo by Robert Mapplethorpe.

Patti Smith (born December 30, 1946) is a United States musician, singer and poet. She was born in Chicago, Illinois and raised in New Jersey, the daughter of an atheist father and a devout Jehovah's Witness mother, and these opposing influences have informed much of her work since.

She spent the early 1970s painting, writing and performing both poetry and a play, Cowboy Mouth (a collaboration with Sam Shepard), a career path subsidised by rock journalism, especially within the pages of Creem magazine. She also wrote songs during this period in connection with Allen Lanier of the Blue ֹster Cult, who recorded several songs to which Smith contributed, including "Career of Evil", "Fire of Unknown Origin", "The Revenge of Vera Gemini", and "Shooting Shark".

By 1974, however, she was 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 money from Smith's friend and former lover Robert Mapplethorpe the band recorded a first single in 1974. The A side of "Piss Factory / Hey Joe" featured a story describing abuse received in an early job in an assembly line in New Jersey, with the flipside a version of the rock standard with the addition of a spoken piece about fugitive heiress Patty Hearst.

1975 saw the release of their first album Horses, produced amidst some tension by John Cale, formerly of The Velvet Underground. The record fused rock and roll, proto-punk rock with spoken poetry and is widely considered one of rock's greatest debuts. The cover photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe, then her roommate, also became one of rock 'n roll's classics. As Smith toured the United States and Europe, with the newly christened Patti Smith Group, punk's popularity grew and the second album Radio Ethiopia reflected this with a rawer sound, although the murky production contributed to its poor reviews.

While touring in support of the record, Smith fell from a stage in Tampa, Florida, falling 15 feet into a concrete orchestra pit and severely damaging a number of 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-energise and reorganise her life, a luxury which had been denied her in her early rise to fame.

The 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" only gaining minor radio airplay.

In the 1980s she appeared to be in semi-retirement from music, living with her husband Fred "Sonic" Smith (formerly of early punk agitprop stars, the MC5). (A running joke at the time was that she only married Fred because she wouldn't have to change her name.) She recorded only the critically panned album Dream Of Life in 1988, the most known song from which was her semi-revolutionary anthem "People Have the Power".

Following Fred's death in 1994, Patti toured briefly with Bob Dylan in December 1995 (chronicled in a book of photographs by Michael Stipe). The next year, she released Gone Again, featuring tributes to her late husband and Kurt Cobain. That same year she dueted with Michael Stipe on a song on R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi. She released Peace and Noise (with the single "1959" about the Chinese invasion of Tibet) in 1997, Gung Ho (with songs about Mother Teresa and Smith's father) in 2000, and Trampin' (featuring a song about Gandhi) in 2004. A box set of her work to that time was released in 1996 and a two-CD compilation including a cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry" and titled Land was released in 2002.

Smith was an active supporter of Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign, touring with him and playing "People Have the Power" before crowds of thousands at the campaign's "super-rallies." She also performed at several of Nader's subsequent "Democracy Rising" events. She nominally supported 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 proceeded to help Nader's 2004 campaign, deeply in debt from lawsuits by the Democratic Party, by raising money. 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.

Smith has also published a number of books of poetry, including 1980's Babel; Complete Works, a collection of her lyrics; Early Work, collecting a number of the small poetry volumes and broadsides she published in the early 1970s; and The Coral Sea, an extended elegy to Mapplethorpe.

Marilyn Manson covered the Patti Smith song "Rock and Roll Nigger" on his 1995 album Smells Like Children.



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