Famous Like Me > Composer > S > Patti Smith
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Profile of Patti Smith
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||30th December 1946
|Place of Birth:
||Chicago, Illinois, USA
Patti Smith is often confused with Patty Smyth - the former lead singer of the band Scandal.
Patti Smith (born December 30, 1946) is a United States musician, singer, and poet. She came to prominence during the punk movement with her 1975 debut album Horses. Called "punk rock's poet laureate", she brought a feminist and intellectual take to punk music and became one of rock and roll's most influential female musicians.
She was born in Chicago, Illinois and raised in New Jersey. Her father was an atheist and her mother was a devout Jehovah's Witness (the intertwining of religious and sexual fervor that has suffused much of her work can probably be attributed to her upbringing). The family was not wealthy and, her formal education over at 16, Smith went to work in a factory – an experience she found excruciating. She also bore a child whom she gave up for adoption. In 1969 she left New Jersey for good.
When Smith first arrived in New York, she lived in the Chelsea Hotel with Robert Mapplethorpe. The two were lovers for a time, in spite of Mapplethorpe's homosexuality, and they remained close friends until Mapplethorpe's death from AIDS in 1989. (Among Smith's other well-known lovers were poet Jim Carroll and Television member 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 only – 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").
Smith subsidized her career in these years by publishing rock journalism, especially in Creem magazine. She also wrote songs during this period in connection with Allen Lanier of the Blue Öyster 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, Patti Smith 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 Robert Mapplethorpe, the band recorded a 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.
The Patti Smith Group was signed by Clive Davis of Arista, and 1975 saw the release of Smith's 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 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.
As the Patti Smith Group toured the United States and Europe, punk's popularity grew. The rawer sound of the group's second album, Radio Ethiopia, reflected this. Considerably less accessible than Horses, Radio Ethiopia received poor reviews. However, several of its songs, notably "Pissing in a River, " "Pumping," and "Ain't It Strange," have stood the test of time, and Smith still performs them regularly in concert.
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 which had been denied her in 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 minor radio airplay.
Following the release of Wave, Smith married Fred "Sonic" Smith, formerly a member of the early punk agitprop group the MC5 (a running joke at the time was that she only married Fred because she wouldn't have to change her name). Throughout the 1980s Smith was in semi-retirement from music, living in Detroit with her family (the couple had two children, Jackson and Jessie). She recorded only the critically acclaimed album Dream Of Life in 1988. Its best-known song is the revolutionary anthem "People Have the Power" (whose title was suggested by Fred Smith).
After Fred's death in 1994 and the subsequent, unexpected death of her beloved brother Todd later that year, Patti was urged by Michael Stipe and Allen Ginsberg (whom she had known since her early years in New York) 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 worked with her long-time colleagues to record the haunting Gone Again, featuring tributes to her late husband and Kurt Cobain (and almost certainly reflecting, as well, the deaths of Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Sohl, and Todd Smith). That same year she collaborated with Michael Stipe on "E-Bow the Letter," a song on R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi. During this period, she returned to New York.
Since the release of Gone Again, the Patti Smith Group has recorded three new albums: Peace and Noise (with the single "1959," about the Chinese invasion of Tibet) in 1997, Gung Ho (with songs about Ho Chi Minh and Smith's late father) in 2000, and Trampin' in 2004. This last album, Smith's first with a new label, Sony, was critically acclaimed and returned her to the Billboard 200 for the first time in years. A boxed set of her work up to that time came out in 1996, and 2002 saw the release of Land, a two-CD compilation that includes a memorable cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry."
Smith curated the Meltdown Festival in London, England during June 2005. It was by all accounts one of the most successful Meltdown Festivals ever held, with virtually every event sold out. The line-up, all hand-picked by Smith, comprised an extremely diverse array of actors and musicians, from Tilda Swinton and Miranda Richardson, to the London Sinfonietta, to a Siberian throat-singing group which performed Purple Haze (as part of a tribute to Jimi Hendrix). The festival's penultimate event was a performance by Smith of her debut album Horses in its entirety, the first time she has ever done so. Guitarist Tom Verlaine took Oliver Ray's place.
On July 10, 2005, Smith was named a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Culture Ministry. In addition to her influence on rock and roll, the Ministry also noted Smith's appreciation for Arthur Rimbaud.
During the course of her career, Smith has published a number of books of poetry, including 1980's Babel; Patti Smith Complete, 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. In 2003 her artwork was exhibited in Pittsburgh at the Andy Warhol Museum.
Although Smith has never had a RIAA certified record, has had just one Top 20 single, and has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she is regarded as one of the most influential and important artists in rock history. Rolling Stone magazine recently placed her at #47 in its list of "The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time."
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 raised money 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 blame him for Al Gore's loss to George Bush in 2000), to which she responds, "They booed Thomas Paine, too."
- Horses (1975)
- Radio Ethiopia (1976)
- Easter (1978)
- Wave (1979)
- Dream Of Life (1988)
- Gone Again (1996)
- Peace and Noise (1997)
- Gung Ho (2000)
- trampin' (2004)
|US Hot 100
||US Modern Rock
||US Mainstream Rock
||"Up There Down There"
||Dream of Life
- Seventh Heaven (1972)
- A Useless Death (1972)
- kodak (1972)
- Early morning dream (1972)
- WITT (1973)
- Ha! Ha! Houdini! (1977)
- Babel (1978)
- Woolgathering (1992)
- Early Work, 1970 - 1979 (1995)
- The Coral Sea (1996)
- Patti Smith Complete : Lyrics, Reflections and Notes for the Future (1998). The paperback edition, published in 1999, contains additional material and a revised title: Patti Smith Complete : Lyrics, Notes and Reflections.
- Wild Leaves (1999)
- Strange Messenger: The Work of Patti Smith (2003) – the catalog for a show of Smith's artworks at the Andy Warhol Museum, compiled by Patti Smith, David Greenberg and John W. Smith
- Foreword to An Accidental Biography: The Selected Letters of Gregory Corso April 2005
- Auguries of Innocence: Poems, to be published in October 2005
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