Why is Patti Smith Important to Music?
By: Betty Black
The image of her on the cover of Horses. Her physique is remarkable and although she's not playing with sexpot girl musician. It really is amazing what she's accomplished just by being herself and knowing herself so well. The photograph of Patti Smith that everyone knows was taken just before her Horses album was released. In it, she's wearing a white shirt with suspenders. The jacket slung over her shoulder and that slight tilt to her chin, Her hand held close to her heart. Defiant and vulnerable. Choppy hair in a black and white photo shot by her soulmate, Robert Mapplethorpe, makes up the cover of 1975's Horses, her first album and the record that was one of the catalyst for PUNK rock. She was intriguing. A musician, poet, painter and photographer whose art has always been as much about grace as ferocity. She is a mother.
Her first album, Horses is a record that made her an icon. Her songs of the violence of things being shattered in order to be remade. She is claimed her place among poets with her lyrics. After the release of Horses, The Patti Smith Group played CBGBs, giving her the title of the "godmother of punk" and that has stuck.
She had been a cultural icon not only in music but in her books. In 2010, she published Just Kids, her memoir of her youth in New York with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Now, at 73 an age when many female musicians used to turn invisible, she's more visible than ever and her black outfits, long gray hair and huge easy grin still make her an individual that never conformed to some bullshit makeover. We continues to love her.
I first got turned on to Patti Smith in 1974 through the NYC Punk scene. Her lyrics contain world and subject matters most musicians can not pull off. " I don't know anybody else who could possibly write like her. She's always been the only one saying what she says, in the way that she says it. When I first saw her play live I stood there in awe. She didn't look or sound like anyone else. I took in each lyric. She made us think about each word and then digest them. She never left my head. Patti has intelligence and the way she views things is like no one else, mixing her imagination and her perspective on politics, culture, art, pain and love. All you have to do is read her lyrics and poetry to understand where she comes from. She connects with you band then open your eyes to something deeper. Her voice is unique and and she trying to be pretty.. When Radio Ethiopia came out, her voice came into its own on that record. She sang, "My heart starts pumping, my fists start pumping…" She can invest real passion into things when she sings those words most people wouldn't. She always mixed art, poetry and rock'n'roll into her music. She brings her whole lifestyle on to the stage. Live she is awe-inspiring and entertaining, She is funny. Patti is Patti. She one of the pioneers in the beginning strong women and punk rock colliding. She was revolutionary in the portrayal of women as people. She is human and sings and writes about all the beauty and ugliness of life.
Patti’s words are very lasting. I think she sees herself as a writer first and a rocker second. One of my favorite Patti songs is Privilege (Set Me Free). She combines the Bible with music. In the 1970’s when she first appeared to us, strong women were needed.
Her attitude influenced me, when I was younger. In fact I was asked to leave school after writing, “I Don’t Fuck With The Past But I Fuck Plenty With The Future.” BUT what really pissed the school off was the second Patti lyrics I wrote. “Jesus Died For Somebody’s Sins But Not Mine.” Black marker in the girls room. Oh well The did let me back in. She's just a roaring icon that was needed in the 1970s and is needed now. She speaks to us. Her music combines the head and the heart. The good, the bad, the beautiful and the truth.
Patti Smith completely inspired, and empowered a whole new generation of female singers. We finally could say what we wanted. We could look how we wanted. We could sing what and how we wanted. We could sound how we wanted. I think she once said: "Freedom is the right to write the wrong words.” Take that in. Really roll that around in your head. Patti Smith opened the door so we all could walk through it.
Patti lost nothing in her writing by getting older. Instead, she becomes more magnificent and more impressive. She still opens new doors for her to walk through and we watch and follow. Patti Smith opened the door so we all could walk through it. "Power to the people." She truly meant that. The song is now an anthem.
Her album, WAVE, Is a really special record and is deeply personal in content, a beautiful declaration of love. Patti is able to find poetry and beauty in reality. I've witnessed the power of her words and her communication.
I've never stopped listening to Patti. From the 1970s to present, her music is honest. It doesn't age. Listening to her music is a totally different experience from listening to other people's she makes you take notice. She keeps your attention. She wants you to feel something. She wants you to learn. Her songs even without the music make great poems. She's really made a craft of using language. Using words. She pushed forward the idea of nonconformity. She is so completely "her" and nobody else. This is why she is important to music.
A badass, poetic visionary Patti Smith is just cool. She released her last album, Banga in 2012 and continues to tour endlessly until Covid-19 shut us all down.