Patti Smith

Patti Smith helped create the punk movement but also stood apart from it, as a poet and writer who embraced rock 'n roll. Born in Chicago, she moved to New York in 1967 after dropping out of Glassboro State College in New Jersey. There she began a partnership with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who was both her first creative collaborator and first love; he would recur in her work long after his death. Now part of a pioneering downtown arts circuit, she cowrote the play Cowboy Mouth with Sam Shepard and appeared onstage with Jackie Curtis and others of the Andy Warhol circle. Another early collaborator was rock keyboardist Allen Lanier; she'd later write lyrics for his band Blue Oyster Cult. Her own rock band, the Patti Smith Group, grew out of a partnership with writer/guitarist Lenny Kaye, and released one of the first notable indie punk singles ("Hey Joe"/"Piss Factory" in 1974). She signed to Arista the following year and her first album Horses (with cover by Mapplethorpe) proved a game-changer, providing rock with a new set of possibilities: The nine-minute "Birdland" alone took in post-bop jazz, transcendental poetry and '60s sock-hop rock. It was a major cult and critical hit, and commercial success would follow as the band moved closer to straightforward rock. 1978's Easter brought her biggest hit, "Because the Night," written with Bruce Springsteen and performed by both for many years afterward. Another early collaborator, Todd Rundgren, came in as producer for 1979's Wave whose single was the '60s girl-group homage "Frederick." More autobiographical than fans realized, the song was about her new love, former MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith, whom she would leave the band and the spotlight to marry. Largely retiring and settling in Detroit, the Smiths produced only one album, 1988's Dream of Life during their 14-year marriage; its single "People Have the Power" would become her anthem as she embraced larger social/political concerns. Fred Smith died in 1994 and Patti also lost her brother Todd soon after. Turning to music as therapy she reformed her band with Kaye and toured briefly with Bob Dylan; 1996's Gone Again was steeped in grief but also evinced healing and optimism. That album marked a return to visibility that ran well into the 2010s. Smith and the band produced four further original albums, plus her first all-covers set (Twelve in 2007) and a live re-recording of Horses with guest guitarist Tom Verlaine of Television. She also wrote two best-selling books: 2010's Just Kids, about her time with Mapplethorpe, won the National Book Award that year; the followup M Train won a spoken-word Grammy. Though she ceased recording after 2012's Banga she continued to tour. During 2018 a film of the Horses performance was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival; at the premiere she was joined onstage by Springsteen and their duet of "Because the Night" became a popular viral video.