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Patti Smith

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Patti Smith
Smith performing in 2022
Smith performing in 2022
Background information
Birth namePatricia Lee Smith
Born (1946-12-30) December 30, 1946 (age 75)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
OriginDeptford Township, New Jersey, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • poet
  • painter
  • author
Instrument(s)
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • clarinet
Years active1967–present
Labels
Websitepattismith.net

Patricia Lee Smith (born December 30, 1946)[5] is an American singer, songwriter, poet, painter and author who became an influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses.[1]

Called the "punk poet laureate", Smith fused rock and poetry in her work. Her most widely known song is "Because the Night", which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen. It reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978[1] and number five in the U.K. In 2005, Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.[6] In 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[7]

On November 17, 2010, Smith won the National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids.[8] The book fulfilled a promise she had made to her former long-time partner, Robert Mapplethorpe. She placed 47th in Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 Greatest Artists published in December 2010[9] and was also a recipient of the 2011 Polar Music Prize.

Life and career

1946–1967: Early life

Patricia Lee Smith was born on December 30, 1946 at Grant Hospital in Chicago [5][10] to Beverly Smith, a jazz singer turned waitress, and Grant Smith, a machinist at a Honeywell plant.[11] The family was of part Irish ancestry[12] and Patti was the eldest of four children, with siblings Linda, Kimberly, and Todd.[13] When Smith was 4, the family moved from Chicago to Germantown, Philadelphia,[14] before heading to Pitman, New Jersey[15] and later to The Woodbury Gardens section of Deptford Township, New Jersey.[16][17]

At this early age Smith was exposed to her first records, including Shrimp Boats by Harry Belafonte, Patience and Prudence's The Money Tree, and Another Side of Bob Dylan, which her mother gave to her. Smith graduated from Deptford Township High School in 1964 and went to work in a factory.[1][18] She gave birth to her first child, a daughter, on April 26, 1967, and placed her for adoption.[18]

1967–1973: New York

In 1967, she left Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) and moved to Manhattan in New York City. She met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe there while working at a bookstore with friend and poet Janet Hamill. She and Mapplethorpe had an intense romantic relationship, which was tumultuous as the pair struggled with times of poverty, and Mapplethorpe with his own sexuality. Smith considers Mapplethorpe to be one of the most important people in her life, and in her book Just Kids refers to him as "the artist of my life." Mapplethorpe's photographs of her became the covers for the Patti Smith Group albums, and they remained lifelong friends until Mapplethorpe's death in 1989.[19] Her book and album The Coral Sea is an homage to the life of Mapplethorpe and Just Kids tells the story of their relationship. She also wrote essays for several of Mapplethorpe's books, starting from one, at his request, for his posthumous Flowers.[20]

She went to Paris with her sister in 1969, and started busking and doing performance art.[16] When Smith returned to Manhattan, she lived in the Hotel Chelsea with Mapplethorpe; they frequented Max's Kansas City and CBGB. Smith provided the spoken word soundtrack for Sandy Daley's art film Robert Having His Nipple Pierced, starring Mapplethorpe. The same year Smith appeared with Wayne County in Jackie Curtis's play Femme Fatale. Afterward, she also starred in Tony Ingrassia's play Island. As a member of the St. Mark's Poetry Project, she spent the early 1970s painting, writing, and performing. In 1971 she performed – for one night only – in Cowboy Mouth,[21] a play that she co-wrote with Sam Shepard. (The published play's notes call for "a man who looks like a coyote and a woman who looks like a crow".) She wrote several poems, "for sam shepard"[22] and "Sam Shepard: 9 Random Years (7 + 2)"[23] about her relationship with Shepard.

Smith was briefly considered for the lead singer position in Blue Öyster Cult. She contributed lyrics to several of the band's songs, including "Debbie Denise" (inspired by her poem "In Remembrance of Debbie Denise"), "Baby Ice Dog", "Career of Evil", "Fire of Unknown Origin", "The Revenge of Vera Gemini" (on which she performs duet vocals), and "Shooting Shark". She was romantically involved at the time with the band's keyboardist, Allen Lanier. During these years, Smith also wrote rock journalism pieces, some of which were published in Rolling Stone and Creem.[24]

1974–1979: Patti Smith Group

Smith performing at Cornell University
, 1978

By 1974, Patti Smith was performing rock music, initially with guitarist, bassist and rock archivist Lenny Kaye, and later with a full band comprising Kaye, Ivan Kral on guitar and bass, Jay Dee Daugherty on drums and Richard Sohl on piano. Kral was a refugee from Czechoslovakia who had moved to the United States in 1966 with his parents, who were diplomats. After the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, he decided not to return.[25] Financed by Sam Wagstaff, the band recorded a first single, "Hey Joe / Piss Factory", in 1974. The A-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 ...").[26][unreliable source?] A court later heard that Hearst had been confined against her will, and had been repeatedly threatened with execution and raped.[27][unreliable source?] The B-side describes the helpless alienation Smith had felt while working on a factory assembly line and the salvation she dreams of achieving by escaping to New York.[1] In a 1996 interview which discusses artistic influences during her younger years, Smith said, "I had devoted so much of my girlish daydreams to Rimbaud. Rimbaud was like my boyfriend."[28]

Later that same year, she performed spoken poetry on "I Wake Up Screaming" from Ray Manzarek's The Whole Thing Started with Rock & Roll Now It's Out of Control album.

The Patti Smith Group was signed by Clive Davis of Arista Records, and in 1975 recorded their first album, Horses, produced by John Cale amid some tension. The album fused punk rock and spoken poetry and begins with a cover of Van Morrison's "Gloria", and Smith's opening words: "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine" (an excerpt from "Oath", one of her early poems). The austere cover photograph by Mapplethorpe has become one of rock's classic images.[29] As the popularity of punk rock grew, the Patti Smith Group toured the United States and Europe. The rawer sound of the group's second album, Radio Ethiopia, reflected this. Considerably less accessible than Horses, Radio Ethiopia initially received poor reviews. However, several of its songs have stood the test of time, and Smith still performs them regularly in concert.[30] She has said that Radio Ethiopia was influenced by the band MC5.[28]

On January 23, 1977, while touring in support of Radio Ethiopia, Smith accidentally danced off a high stage in Tampa, Florida, and fell 15 feet into a concrete orchestra pit, breaking several neck vertebrae.[31] 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.

The Patti Smith Group produced two further albums before the end of the 1970s. Easter (1978) was her most commercially successful record, containing the single "Because the Night" co-written with Bruce Springsteen. Wave (1979) was less successful, although the songs "Frederick" and "Dancing Barefoot" both received commercial airplay.[32]

1980–1995: Marriage

Smith with her daughter Jesse Smith at the 2011 Time 100
gala

Before the release of Wave, Smith, now separated from long-time partner Allen Lanier, met Fred "Sonic" Smith, former guitar player for Detroit rock band MC5 and his own Sonic's Rendezvous Band, who adored poetry as much as she did. Wave's "Dancing Barefoot" (inspired by Jeanne Hébuterne and her tragic love for Amedeo Modigliani) and "Frederick" were both dedicated to him.[33] The running joke at the time was that she married Fred only because she would not have to change her name.[34] They had a son, Jackson (b. 1982), who would go on to marry The White Stripes drummer, Meg White, in 2009;[35] and a daughter, Jesse Paris, who is also a musician and composer[36] (b. 1987).

Through most of the 1980s Smith was in semi-retirement from music, living with her family north of Detroit in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. In June 1988, she released the album Dream of Life, which included the song "People Have the Power". Fred Smith died on November 4, 1994, of a heart attack. Shortly afterward, Patti faced the unexpected death of her brother Todd.[16]

When her son Jackson turned 14, Smith decided to move back to New York. After the impact of these deaths, her friends Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Allen Ginsberg (whom she had known since her early years in New York) urged 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).[21]

1996–2003: Re-emergence

In 1996, Smith worked with her long-time colleagues to record Gone Again, featuring "About a Boy", a tribute to Kurt Cobain. That same year she collaborated with Stipe on "E-Bow the Letter", a song on R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which she has also performed live with the band.[37] After the release of Gone Again, Patti Smith recorded two new albums: Peace and Noise in 1997 (with the single "1959", about the invasion of Tibet) and Gung Ho in 2000 (with songs about Ho Chi Minh and Smith's late father). Songs "1959" and "Glitter in Their Eyes" were nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.[38] A box set of her work up to that time, The Patti Smith Masters, came out in 1996, and 2002 saw the release of Land (1975–2002), a two-CD compilation that includes a cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry". Smith's solo art exhibition Strange Messenger was hosted at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh on September 28, 2002.[39]

2004–2009

On April 27, 2004, Patti Smith released

On July 10, 2005, Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.[6] In addition to Smith's influence on rock music, the Minister also noted her appreciation of Arthur Rimbaud. In August 2005, Smith gave a literary lecture about the poems of Arthur Rimbaud and William Blake. On October 15, 2006, Patti Smith performed at the CBGB nightclub, with a 3½-hour tour de force to close out Manhattan's music venue. She took the stage at 9:30 p.m. (EDT) and closed for the night (and forever for the venue) at a few minutes after 1:00 am, performing her song "Elegie", and finally reading a list of punk rock musicians and advocates who had died in the previous years.[41]

Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 12, 2007.[7] She dedicated her award to the memory of her late husband, Fred, and gave a performance of The Rolling Stones staple "Gimme Shelter". As the closing number of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Smith's "People Have the Power" was used for the big celebrity jam that always ends the program.[42] "Gimme Shelter" appeared on her tenth album, Twelve, an all-covers album issued in April 2007 on the Columbia label.

From November 2006 to January 2007, an exhibition called 'Sur les Traces'

Smith with National Book Critics Circle President Jane Ciabattari and NBCC board member John Reed. Smith's memoir Just Kids was an NBCC autobiography finalist at the 2010 awards.[45]