“Never let go of that fiery sadness called desire.” — Patti Smith
Patricia Lee “Patti” Smith was born on this day in Chicago, Illinois, USA in 1946. She is 66 years old today.
Smith grew up in Chicago, Germantown, Pennsylvania and Woodbury , New Jersey. She was shy, sickly and awkward as a child, but she had a spark inside that would one day transform her into a world renown rock musician.
“I mean, I wasn’t attractive, I wasn’t very verbal, I wasn’t very smart in school. I wasn’t anything that showed the world I was something special, but I had this tremendous hope all the time. I had this tremendous spirit that kept me going … I was a happy child, because I had this feeling that I was going to go beyond my body physical … I just knew it.” [Biography.com]
She attended Deptford High School where she tuned into the music “of John Coltrane, Little Richard and the Rolling Stones and performed in many of the school’s plays and musicals.” [Ibid]
After a short gig as a factory worker she enrolled at Glassboro State Teachers College on tract to become an art teacher. But poor academics and a focus on experimental and obscure artists meant put an end to her college career in 1967. Smith moved to New York City. While working at a bookstore she met Robert Mapplethorpe a photographer, painter, sculptor and activist.
She gave her first public poetry reading at St. Mark’s Church in 1971. She published several collections of her poetry with Seventh Heaven, Early Morning Dream and Witt. She also wrote for music magazines Creem and Rolling Stone and began to set her words to music.
In 1974, she formed a band and recorded the single “Piss Factory,” now widely considered the first true “punk” song, which garnered her a sizeable and fanatical grassroots following. [Ibid]
Piss Factory reflected her time working in a toy factory after high school. The success of the single helped her land a record deal at Arista Records and in 1975 she put out Horses, her debut album. The album featured break out singles Gloria and Land of a Thousand Dances.
Her follow up albums Radio Ethiopia (1976) and Easter (1978) also achieved commercial success, especially with Because the Night a tune she co wrote with Bruce Springsteen.
Things slowed down with the release of her fourth album, Wave. Smith married Fred”Sonic” Smith in 1980 and pretty much dropped out of the music scene for the next 17 years.
When Fred “Sonic” Smith died of a heart attack in 1994, the last in a series of many close friends and collaborators of Smith’s who passed away in quick succession, it finally provided her the impetus to revive her music career. Smith achieved a triumphant return with her 1996 comeback album Gone Again, featuring the singles “Summer Cannibals” and “Wicked Messenger.” [Biography.com]
She followed Gone Again with Peace and Noise (1997), Gung Ho (2000) and Trampin’ (2004) all of which did well both with the fans and the critics. In 2008 she put out a live album with Kevin Shields, The Coral Sea. In 2010 her memoir, Just Kids, about her relationship with Mapplethorpe and her life in the 1970’s was published. It won the national Book Award for Nonfiction.
This “Godmother of Punk,” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on march 12, 2007.
Her latest album, Banga (Believe or Explode) came out in June of 2012.
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