Few artists have done more to reconstruct the course of contemporary culture than Patti Smith (b. December 30 1946). Celebrated as the “Godmother of Punk,” her musical influence reverberates across acclaimed artists from Garbage to Morrissey to Madonna, and Michael Stipe famously cited her as the core inspiration for founding R.E.M. As a poet and visual artist, she has explored with lyrical poignancy issues of irrepressible urgency, ranging from foreign policy to mortality.
Among Smith’s greatest feats it the systematic demolition of the the perilous and artificial divide between “high” and “low” culture. In 1978, her song “Because the Night” from the groundbreaking album Horses reached #13 on the Billboard 100 chart; in 2010, her remarkable memoir Just Kids earned her the National Book Award. William Blake and Arthur Rimbaud have inspired much of her music, which has moved generations of hearts and bodies across dance floors and mosh pits. In 2005, she was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture; in 2006, she brought down the house at CBGB’s with an extraordinary 3½-hour masterpiece of a performance. The following year, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Allen Ginsberg once bought her a sandwich in the East Village after mistaking her for “a very pretty boy.”
In the decades between Horses (1975) and Banga (2012), Smith recorded nine other studio albums, delivered countless poetry readings, and authored a number of books, including the breathtaking The Coral Sea, which chronicles her grief over the loss of her onetime lover, lifelong friend, and comrade-in-artistic-arms Robert Mapplethorpe.
In Just Kids, which documents how Smith found her creative voice during her early life with Mapplethorpe when both were aspiring artists in New York City, she articulates the singular duality of her muse:It’s the artist’s responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation.