From Courtney Love to Madonna to R.E.M, her work has inspired and influenced artists throughout the decades, ever since the release of the 1975 album “Horses”, keeping up an exceptional artistic integrity despite the success her name achieved
The influential rocker, poet and performer Patti Smith celebrates 74
Patti Smith was born Patricia Lee Smith in Chicago, Illinois on December 30, 1946. The experimental poet and singer-songwriter moved to New York City in 1967 where she first met the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe while working at a bookstore, with whom she’d start a lifetime relation and connection. Though initially lovers, she and Mapplethorpe never had a quiet romantic relationship as they struggled with poverty and in the photographer’s case, with his own sexuality. Patti Smith has stated that she considers Mapplethorpe to be one of the most important persons in her life and the “artist of my life”. They’re very close relationship remained until his death in 1989, resulting in a series of famous and iconic photographs that graced Patti Smith Group album covers including “Horses”. In 1969 Smith moved briefly to Paris, returning to New York shortly after where she moved into the legendary Chelsea Hotel. The artist spent the early 1970’s mainly painting, writing and performing. During that period she became increasingly engaged in doing music and in 1974 she formed The Patti Smith Group, releasing their debut album “Horses” in 1975. The now influential album was produced by John Cale in the months that anticipated the explosion of Punk, but distinguished itself from other albums at the time as it fused Punk with spoken word and poetry, much in the tradition of The Doors, who were one of Smith’s biggest influences. A famous line that is featured in “Horses” is on the track “Gloria”, a Them cover where Smith starts the song by saying “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”, an excerpt from “Oath”, one of her early poems) that caused some controversy at the time. Another influential track was the title one, “Horses” and the band became increasingly popular as Punk also grew popular beginning to tour the U.S and Europe, and despite going into a less commercial direction with their second album “Radio Ethiopia”, still maintained their popularity with Smith being praised by musicians such as The Doors Ray Manzarek with whom she worked. In 1978 she released what is considered to be her most popular song, “Because the Night,” co-written with Bruce Springsteen, which topped the charts worldwide.
Look back at Patti Smith performing her signature song “Horses” and “Hey Joe” at the Old Grey Whistle Test, 1976
As the 1980’s approached, Smith, who never “sold out” to the commercial side of music despite her success, continued to release new work and as the decade started, met Fred “Sonic” Smith, the former guitar player of the 1960’s Detroit proto-punk band MC5. With Fred Smith she lived a stable and loving relationship, marrying him and both collaborating artistically together until his death in 1994. The 90’s introduced Patti Smith to a new generation of fans too as she was praised by Alternative Rock artists at the time such as Courtney Love and R.E.M. Love, who cited Smith as one of her biggest influences, tributes her on the Hole song “Violet” with the opening lines “And the sky was all violet / I want it again, but violent, more violent”, alluding to lyrics from Smith’s “Kimberly” R.E.M and in particular Michael Stipe also begun a long lasting collaboration with Smith that most famously resulted in the 1996 song “E-Bow The Letter”. Also in 1996 she worked with her long-time Patti Smith Group colleagues to record “Gone Again”, an album that featured”About a Boy”, a tribute to Kurt Cobain who had recently killed himself. Smith’s popularity have remained untouched, today she’s as popular and influential as ever among the new generation of Indie Rock and Alternative musicians and artists, maintaining a large cult following, while keeping at the same time her activism, specially political, as in 2016 when she performed “People Have the Power” at Riverside Church, Manhattan, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Democracy Now together Michael Stipe. Patti Smith has had a long and exceptional career marked by absolute artistic integrity, for that she has been recognized several times; made a a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture in 2005 inducted in 2007 to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Patti Smith remains at 74 relevant voice in Rock music. She released her latest album “Banga” in 2012.
Watch Patti Smith performing “Gloria”, live in 1976
Also watch Patti Smith performing her most commercially successful song “Because the Night” at the Old Grey Whistle Test, 1978
Music video for “E-Bow The Letter”, the 1996 R.E.M collaboration with Patti Smith
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