Music: Patti Smith

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Patti Smith, My Generation

Patricia Lee "Patti" Smith (b. 1946) is an American singer-songwriter and published poet who helped form a foundation for the American version of Punk Rock with her ambitious 1975 album Horses. This distinction has to be made here, as on a tour to Britain in 1976, what might otherwise have been a fruitful collaboration was scuppered by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols' sneering on-stage reference to Horses, horses, fucking horses! It had been envisaged that the British and American versions of Punk be brought together with Patti fronting the Pistols in a few covers, but Rotten's clear disdain for what he saw as pretentious twaddle, combined with Smith's reciprocal criticism of the Pistols' lack of basic musical talent, killed that nice sentiment and entrenched the separation between the two schools of Punk.

She has many popular songs, including but not limited to "Because the Night," "Dancing Barefoot," "Gloria," "Redondo Beach," and "Free Money." In 2010, she won the National Book Award for her latest book, a memoir entitled Just Kids. "Dancing Barefoot" was covered by U2 and appeared as the B-Side to "When Love Comes to Town", gaining almost as much radio airplay as the A-side.

Not to be confused with 80s singer Patty Smyth.


Tropes related to Patti Smith:

  • Ambiguous Gender: The cover of Horses, photo by Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti's relatively deep voice adds to this.
  • Ascended Fangirl: Her autobiography mentions how she realised she wanted to be a singer when she saw one of the final concerts of The Doors and thought she felt something passing from Jim Morrison to her. And then there's the whole infatuation with Arthur Rimbaud...
  • Badass Grandma: She is in her seventies now and still going strong.
  • Band of Relatives: In recent years, her band includes her son Jackson, and occasionally her daughter Jesse as well.
  • Continuity Nod: "Radio Baghdad" (2004) to Radio Ethiopia (1976)
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: "Hey Joe". "Gloria" is notable for averting this trope.
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: "Gloria," "Land," and "Hey Joe". The introductory section of "Gloria" was written by Patti Smith, and a spoken word piece was added to "Hey Joe" about Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army.
  • Cover Album: "Twelve" is entirely full with covers.
  • Cover Version: "My Generation", "Hey Joe", "Gloria", "Land of a Thousand Dances" from "Land" (omitting the song's famous "na na na na" hook), "So You Want to Be (A Rock 'n' Roll Star)"
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Poppies", "Horses" (perhaps ironically, she claims "Horses" is the only song she's ever written on acid).
  • Driven to Suicide: "Redondo Beach".
  • Epic Rocking: Most of her albums have at least one song pushing 10 minutes, frequently based around her poetry. "Radio Ethiopia" from Radio Ethiopia, for example.
  • Grief Song: Much of her mid-90s material, after both her husband, her brother, and one of her band members died almost at the same time.
  • Hairy Girl: the cover of her Easter LP shows Patti flaunting natural armpits.
  • Incoming Ham: Arguably the opening lines of the opening song on her debut album.
    Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine/Meltin' in a pot of thieves/Wild card up my sleeve/Slick heart of stone/My sins my own/They belong to ME. ME.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: "Piss Factory," "Pissing in a River," "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger"
  • Intercourse with You: "Because the Night"
  • Ironic Echo: Patti's collaboration with the Blue Oyster Cult, Revenge of Vera Gemini from Agents Of Fortune, is built around the ironic echo; Patti's lines, coming in slightly behind Albert Bouchard's, are sardonic echos that subtly twist the meaning.
  • Los Angeles: "Redondo Beach"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Redondo Beach" sounds upbeat, but the lyrics are likely about a girl who drowned herself after a quarrel with the narrator.note 
  • Lady Looks Like a Dude: She is well known for her androgynous look.
  • The Lancer: Lenny Kaye, who's been her guitarist since her very first gig in 1971.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Varies quite a bit, but much of her early work is in the 4-5 range, with a few 6's ("Pumping (My Heart)" and "Rock N Roll Nigger", which arguably count due to being faster and "meatier"-sounding than most of her other rockers) with the odd tune going down a 2 or a 3 ("Ghost Dance", "Redondo Beach", "Easter", "Birdland"). Most of her later work is in the 3-4 range, with the odd tune going higher or lower.
  • Money Song: "Free Money"
  • Neo Classical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: She may technically be a Punk Rock artist, but she's touched on and/or been influenced by Beat Poetry / Spoken Word, Proto Punk, Reggae, Folk, Country Music, Funk and Soul-influenced Rock, borderline-New Wave Pop, Garage Rock, Noise Rock and Psychedelic Rock, among others.
  • Protest Song: There's a few, especially in her post-90s work - "Radio Baghdad", "1959",
  • Proto Punk and Punk Rock: Horses was the first album released by a band from the New York Punk scene, and by extension one of the first Punk Rock albums released, period. She was a huge influence on many later bands as well, though her sound is unconventional by Punk standards (see the above trope).
  • Refrain from Assuming: The "Horses! Horses! Horses! Horses!" song on Horses is actually called "Land." To further confuse matters, the song "Distant Fingers" on Radio Ethiopia has the chorus "Land, land, land."
  • Rousing Speech: "People Have The Power", "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger"
  • She's Back: Between 1980 and 1995, she basically retired from rock music to raise her kids. Then she picked up where she left off.
  • Shout-Out: "Radio Ethiopia" supposedly refers to poet Arthur Rimbaud's dying wishes. "Piss Factory" mentions James Brown. "About a Boy"'s title references Nirvana's "About a Girl".
    • Banga is a series of portraits of people including Emperor Constantine, Amerigo Vespucci, and Katniss Everdeen.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Way over there on the idealistic side. To give you an idea, one of her more famous songs is called "People Have the Power".
  • Spoken Word in Music: Frequently, especially live where songs can turn into long semi-improvised rants.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Lenny Kaye always sings the second verse of "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger", and also usually gets to sing a solo number during concerts.
  • Survival Mantra: her take on the 23rd Psalm in Privilege (Set Me Free)
  • Wacky Americans Have Wacky Names: in the song Citizen Ship, about immigrants arriving in New York, Patti's spoken, or rather rudely shouted, interlude involves turning to the other band members and Americanising the more difficult to spell Slavonic names.