Music News

Happy Birthday, Patti Smith!

Patti Smith, born Patricia Lee Smith on December 30, 1946, grew up as an all-American girl whose fascination with rock 'n' roll and early affair with artist Robert Mapplethorpe helped her assume the title of high priestess of punk in the mid-'70s. Her 1975 debut album, Horses, is still recognized as one of the most influential efforts to emerge from New York's seminal punk scene, while her hit "Because the Night" -- cowritten with Bruce Springsteen -- not only climbed the charts but also became her most indelible anthem. And while her insurgent attitude would seem to have conspired to keep her on the fringes of mainstream recognition, her numerous accolades -- the 2005 Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres awarded by the French Minister of Culture, her 2007 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a Grammy nomination, an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Pratt Institute, the National Book Award she won for her memoir Just Kids, and her 2011 Polar Music Prize -- affirm her standing as one of today's most accomplished artists.

Indeed, while Smith's searing performances and unabashed intensity have brought her international acclaim, she boasts other credits that may escaped the casual observer. Here's a list of some of the other efforts she's accomplished along the way:

Prior to achieving success on her own, she provided the spoken-word soundtrack for an art film titled Robert Having His Nipple Pierced, which starred her friend and sometime lover Mapplethorpe. She also appeared with the notorious cross-dressing punk rocker Wayne County in a play that was appropriately titled Femme Fatale. In 1971, she was featured in a one-night-only performance of Cowboy Mouth, a play that she cowrote with actor/playwright Sam Shepard, with whom she had an affair.

Smith was briefly considered a candidate for the lead-singer role in Blue Öyster Cult after having contributed lyrics to several of the band's early songs. It might have helped that she was romantically linked to the band's keyboardist, Allen Lanier.

One main impetus that steered her musical pursuits was her early work in rock journalism, including pieces that she had published in Rolling Stone and Creem. Notably too, the lead guitarist in the original Patti Smith Group was Lenny Kaye, another rock writer and archivist. Not surprisingly, then, the band's first album was produced by a musician of considerable merit, John Cale, a founding member of the Velvet Underground.

Indeed, rock 'n' roll was imbued in her family bloodlines, especially once she met future husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, formerly the founding member of the notorious Detroit prepunk band the MC5. Although they were drawn together by a mutual love of poetry, she jokingly claimed that she married him because it meant she wouldn't have to change her name. Their son, Jackson, obviously relished those rock 'n' roll genes; he went on to marry White Stripes drummer Meg White in 2009. Still, Smith herself spent most of the '80s in retirement, lured back to performing only after her husband died from a rare illness on November 4, 1994.

Smith's paintings and photography have also attracted a great deal of notice in artistic circles. Her solo art exhibition "Strange Messenger" was staged at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh on September 28, 2002. In November 2006, an exhibition of her photos opened at the Trolley Gallery in London. Two years later, the Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain in Paris hosted a major exhibition of her visual artwork, "Land 250," that collected pieces created between 1967 and 2007.

Smith has also garnered acclaim in the publishing world, thanks to Just Kids. Having published a dozen books of poetry and verse, she's now said to be working on a crime novel set in London. Speaking of which, she recently made her acting debut on the TV series Law & Order: Criminal Intent, making her appearance in an episode titled "Icarus."

Happily, then, Patti's prolific prowess remains unabated.

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Lee Zimmerman