Legendary musician, poet, and memoirist Patti Smith turned 75 today. Fans, fellow musicians, and friends are reaching out over social media to share their best wishes for the iconic artist who some have referred to as the punk poet laureate.
Smith, born this day in 1946, was one of the driving artistic forces of the early to late seventies punk movement in New York City. Her hit song “Because the Night,” co-written with Bruce Springsteen, reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978. In 2007 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In his induction speech for Smith, Rage Against the Machine vocalist Zach de la Rocha noted that the opening to Smith’s cover of Them’s “Gloria,” “might just be one of the greatest moments in American music”
Born in Chicago, Smith grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey before leaving for Manhattan where she met and befriended photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith’s and Mapplethorpe’s relationship went from lovers to beloved friends and was the subject of Smith’s 2010 memoir, Just Kids, which won the prestigious National Book Award for Nonfiction. Smith categorized her relationship with Mapplethorpe as one of the most important in her life. Mapplethorpe shot the photo that became the cover of the singer’s iconic debut album, Horses, in 1975.
Smith spent her earliest years in New York in a variety of artistic endeavors in the city’s vibrant counter culture as a member of the Saint Mark’s Poetry project — painting, writing, and doing performance art. She appeared in Cowboy Mouth, a play she co-wrote with her then-lover, playwright and actor, Sam Shepherd. She would go on to write several poems inspired by Shepherd.
The Patti Smith Group was signed to Arista records in 1974 and released Horses the following year. The album starts with “Gloria” which fuses Smith’s poetry with Van Morrison’s original lyrics. Smith notably added the opening line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” from an earlier poem entitled “Oath.” The band released two more albums in the seventies including its most successful, 1978’s Easter, which contained the hit “Because the Night.” Smith married former MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith in 1980 and spent much of that decade in semi-retirement, giving birth to children Jackson and Jesse and spending much of her time with her family.
Fred Smith passed away prematurely in 1994. With the encouragement of friends such as REM’s Michael Stipe and fellow poet Allen Ginsberg, Smith returned to touring in 1995 to support Bob Dylan on tour. She would record the Patti Smith’s group sixth studio album in 1996 and dedicate it to the late Kurt Cobain. Smith has continued to record and tour regularly ever since.
In the last to decades, Smith has been lauded as one of the most influential artists of the last century and has been granted a long list of honors, including being named as a commander in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture in 2005 and being granted an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the Pratt Institute in 2012. Just this week, Smith was awarded the ceremonial Key to New York by outgoing Mayor De Blasio.
Happy Birthday from We Got This Covered, Patti!