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Patti Smith: About

Patti Smith

2011 BOOKED for the Evening Honoree


Who is Patti Smith?

A skinny woman with a tangle of dark hair and a hacked-in fringe stands before a plain white wall. She wears a man’s white shirt and holds her black jacket slung across a shoulder. Gazing at the man behind the camera, her hooded eyes are unreadable. This is Patti Smith – poet-priestess, artist, soon-to-be icon – and the photographer is Robert Mapplethorpe, her former lover and lifelong friend who will become famous for his beautiful, erotic images.

This portrait will become one of the most famous album covers of all time. The album itself, Horses, will combine the energy of punk with the poetry of Rimbaud. And Patti Smith will redefine music, performance and style forever.

‘Interviewing her was one of the highlights of my life,’ explains author Geoff Dyer, who hosted an on-stage conversation with Smith two years ago. ‘She tells great jokes and has a great capacity to charm an audience. When I saw her play with her band, it was obvious that we were in the presence of a great performer.’

Smith clearly had artistic vision from a young age. ‘All I ever wanted, since I was a child, was to do something wonderful,’ she says.

She was born in Chicago in 1946, the first of four children. Her mother, Beverly, was a waitress; her father, Grant, worked in a factory. Frequent illnesses – including scarlet fever, which gave Smith hallucinations – meant she spent days confined to bed, her only entertainment being books, records and her imagination. She daydreamed about becoming an artist and muse, became obsessed with Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison, and lost herself in the visionary literature of William Blake and Charles Baudelaire. 

But real life was more mundane. She finished school, started teachers’ college and worked summers in a tricycle construction line. It would inspire one of her greatest songs – Piss Factory – but, at the time, it was just a dead-end job in a depressed town. And then she fell pregnant.

Smith was 20; the father, who she has never named, was 17. Realising that neither of them was capable of raising a child, Smith decided to give the baby up for adoption. ‘For a brief moment I felt as if I might die; and just as quickly I knew everything would be all right,’ she recalled in her 2010 memoir, Just Kids. ‘An overwhelming sense of mission eclipsed my fears. I would be an artist. I would prove my worth.’

Three months after the birth, in July 1967, she arrived in New York, carrying only a few pieces of clothing, some pencils for drawing and a book of Rimbaud’s poetry. Continue reading from Marie Claire UK

From our Collection

Link to Patti Smith on Patti Smith edited by Aidan Levy in the catalog
Link to Year of he Monkey by Patti Smith in the catalog
Link to Just Kids by Patti Smith in the catalog
Link to M Train by Patti Smith in the catalog
Link to Patti Smith: Collected Lyrics, 1970-2015 in the catalog
Link to Patti Smith by Victor Bockris in the catalog
Link to Dream of Life by Patti Smith in the catalog
Link to Patti Smith's Album Easter in the catalog
Link to Dancing Barefoot: The Patti Smith Story by Dave Thompson in Hoopla
Link to Devotions by Patti Smith in the catalog
Link to Patti Smith: Under Review DVD in the catalog

Link to Revolutionary Biographies Resource Guide Series