Patti Smith. I mean what can be said that hasn't already been said about her? She is iconic- a key figure in the punk movement and a role model for female musicians looking to break into the rock and roll scene. She was a poet, a musician, a visual artist, a mother, and a prolific writer. Patti Smith has had a larger influence than we can really understand. Having written music reviews for Rolling Stone and Creem magazine in the early 70’s, she's been writing confidentially her whole life, however her most recent literary success and largest success came in the form of her National Book award winning biography Just Kids, a story about her early years in New York and her tumultuous relationship with the man she calls the most influential person in her life – avant garde photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The book is poignant and engaging and transports you back to the days of The Factory and the Chelsea Hotel, when Andy Warhol and Jimmy Hendrix could be found lounging around languishly in hallways; and love and creation and art and expression were all that mattered. I listened to Just Kids over my recent vacation, I had it on CD and it was the perfect driving companion as I wove my way through the picturesque Rocky mountains, listening to Smith’s distinct New Jersey accent and scratchy voice recant her story of heartbreak and self actualization as a starving artist in the late 1960’s. Interspersing her dialogue with bits of her songs like “Because the Night” and “Gloria”, makes it one of the most compelling biographies I’ve read (or listened to).
It was a different time, in a different New York than we know now, but you can feel the burning desire Smith had to create something meaningful in the world- her need to create was the driving force behind every interaction, every conversation and every line of dialogue. They don’t call her the "Godmother of Punk", for nothing, her powerful yet elegant story is nothing short of a musical miracle and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in music history or popular culture- you don’t get much more real and authentic then this trip-py journey down memory lane. She casually interacts with musical and literary giants, meeting Alan Ginsberg at a soda machine, consoling a distraught Janice Joplin after she is booed off stage at a small show in Central Park, running into an atypically depressed Jimmy Hendrix wearing his signature fringe vest in a hallway of a club- every story Smith recounts reeks of cultural significance, forcing you to wax nostalgic for a time when it seemed like everyone who surrounded Smith, would inevitably go on to really "be" someone. One of the pioneers of punk rock music, a trailblazer who redefined the role of female rock stars, a poet who unleashed her lyrical talent over powerful guitars, Patti Smith stands out as one of the greatest figures in the history of rock 'n' roll. Still creating well in to her 60’s, Smith finds her continued motivation to write and make music in the unfairly shortened lives of her loved ones and the needs of her children. "The people I lost all believed in me and my children needed me, so that's a lot of reasons to continue, let alone that life is great," she says. "It's difficult but it's great and every day some new, wonderful thing is revealed. Whether it's a new book, or the sky is beautiful, or another full moon, or you meet a new friend—life is interesting." Patti Smith, in all her chaocitc and strange beauty, will always be a Ladywood hero, and today in particular, she is our Monday Music Maven.
Check out below one of her most well known tracks “Because the Night” as well as her cover of Van Morrison's "Gloria", that opens with her potent words: "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine".
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