Patti Smith is often known as the “punk poet laureate” due to her incredible influence over the punk rock movement that took place in New York City in the 1970s. While one of her most popular songs is “Because the Night,” co-written by Bruce Springsteen and appearing on her third album, Easter, she actually became influential from the release of her very first album Horses in 1975. She instantly became known for her lyrics, which were generally politically-charged and brimming with intellect. She also had a notable style, with hair and dress that was atypical of the traditional gender roles ascribed to women at the time.
Smith had a number of interests outside of music. She was also a visual artist, as well as a poet. This latter interest was often shown in her work as a musician. Smith is also an activist, notable since the new millennium for her support of the Green Party and of Ralph Nader, as well as the release of protest songs in 2006 pertaining to Guantanamo Bay as well as Israeli airstrikes. Since the start of her career, she has never shied away from writing lyrics that might be considered outspoken.
As an artist, Patti Smith has always been known to write about whatever moves her at the time. This can be seen in her fourth album, Wave, released in 1979. She paid tribute to Pope John Paul I in the album’s title song, and she also wrote a song entitled “Frederick” in honor of her future husband Fred Smith. Other notable songs on the album include “Revenge,” as well as the singles “So You Want to Be (A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star)” and “Dancing Barefoot,” the latter of which is one of her most covered songs.
Wave also exemplified Smith’s social views on the back of the album cover, which quoted a poem by Jean Genet that contains such lines as “cover yourself with light” and “My sleepers will flee toward another America.” Patti Smith has always been notable for her views regarding individualism. She does not simply believe in bucking the mainstream conventions of America for the sake of sticking it to “the man,” but rather because she believes in the importance of individuals. She has demonstrated this belief in numerous songs such as “People Have the Power,” one of the most notable songs of her career.
A number of female rock musicians have been influenced by Patti Smith, such as Garbage’s Shirley Manson, Hole’s Courtney Love, and Madonna. Actress Ellen Page has also referred to Smith as an influence, and has even done photo shoots in which she shot replicas of some of Patti Smith’s most famous photographs. Male recording artists such as R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and Morrissey have also cited Smith as an influence, with Smith even performing background vocals on the R.E.M. songs “Blue” and “E-Bow the Letter.”
Rebellion was nothing new in the 1970s, but Patti Smith made it her own. Many other female recording artists have been described as “rebellious,” but there are none quite like Smith. She spurred traditional notions of female beauty while still appearing incredibly beautiful, and she wrote lyrics that would have seemed unique and outspoken when sung by just about anyone. Those who identify with her as an artist are often as drawn to her personality as they are to her music, for both were equally inspirational to her fans.
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