Punk poet Patti Smith has been making up for a lot of lost time recently. Having spent
much of the '80s raising a family in Michigan, Smith has toured frequently during the last
two years and has reacquainted herself with the fans she began attracting as a
punk-rock innovator beginning with her 1974 indie single, "Hey Joe/Piss Factory."
In addition to concerts, Smith has done a few in-store appearances at record stores. A
few months ago, when the punk doyenne signed copies of her albums at New York
City's Tower Records, longtime fan Craig Leibner was there to meet her.
Leibner, clutching a huge, black, limited-edition box set labeled Patti Smith: The
Collective Works, said:
"I saw [Smith] at the Bottom Line in December 1975 when I was a freshman in college.
[Smith's debut LP,] Horses, just came out. [I've seen her] a number of times since
... [Patti is] the best performer in the world and I've seen major superstars."
Smith has more famous fans too, such as R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, who told Q
Magazine: "[Horses] was the real one for me. I was too young to experience
the Stooges, Dolls or Velvets. I was listening to what was on the radio -- Ted Nugent,
Tommy Bolin, mid-dreck period Rolling Stones. Suddenly Patti Smith comes along and it
was like a f---ing piano landed on my head. I was a teen-ager, and I was so moved I
couldn't sleep, I was sick to my stomach from the impact. It was unbelievable -- my life
was completely changed by rock 'n' roll."
Smith was born 52 New Year's Eves ago in Chicago, Ill. She was raised in Pittman, N.J.,
and tried her hand at being a painter, a poet and a rock critic. Smith also wrote the play
"Cowboy Mouth" with Sam Shepard. In the early '70s, Smith began to set her poems to
music with the help of guitarist/rock journalist Lenny Kaye and pianist Richard Sohl.
Smith and her band, along with the group Television, were among the first acts to pack
'em in at New York City's punk-rock landmark, CBGB's. The first record written and sung
by Smith was her poem "Piss Factory," backed with Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe." Many
consider this single to be one of punk rock's first releases.
Horses (1975) was hailed as an innovation by many critics. Featuring such tracks
as "Land" and "Kimberly," the LP effectively combined Smith's passionate poetry, punk
and '60s-inspired rock into a blistering, original whole. Though 1976's Radio
Ethiopia was less successful, Smith hooked up with producer Jimmy Iovine for
1978's Easter, a top-20 LP that yielded the hit single "Because the Night," which
she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen.
After the release of the following year's Wave, Smith broke up the Patti Smith
Group and moved to Detroit with her husband, the MC5's Fred "Sonic" Smith. The pair
had two children and spent most of the '80s at home, though they collaborated on
Smith's underrated Dream of Life (1988).
After Fred Smith died of a heart attack in 1994, Patti Smith slowly began to re-emerge.
She issued the well-received Gone Again (1996), which dealt with the deaths of
her husband, her brother and Robert Mapplethorpe, her best friend.
Smith also opened for Bob Dylan, one of her heroes, on a short tour and issued 1997's
Peace and Noise, featuring rockers such as
(RealAudio excerpt) and "Don't Say Nothing." Smith backed the LP with some shows,
including a return stint at CBGB's.
Earlier this year, Smith gigged again with Dylan and collaborated with Stipe on the art
exhibit "Two Times Intro: Photographs by Michael Stipe, with Drawings by Patti Smith
and Polaroid Prints by Oliver Ray [a member of Smith's band]." Stipe's photos
documented Smith on her first tour with Dylan.
In October, Smith issued the book "Patti Smith Complete: Lyrics, Reflections & Notes for
the Future," which included writings and reminiscences from throughout her career.
Smith continues to stage mini-tours and play various benefit shows. She remains one of
rock's most influential and important artists.
Other birthdays: Andy Summers (Police), 56; Burton Cummings (Guess Who), 51; Donna
Summer, 50; Tom Hamilton (Aerosmith), 47; George Thorogood, 46; Paul Westerberg
(ex-Replacements), 38; Joe McIntyre (New Kids On The Block), 26; and John Denver,