The 64-year-old ‘godmother of punk’, American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist Patricia Lee “Patti” Smith is a true icon of our time. With ten albums, five books and numerous art exhibitions worldwide, Smith also recently received the U.S. National Book Award for her 2010 memoir Just Kids, which recounts her chance encounter and subsequent lifelong relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and their bohemian days in New York. With a colourful and highly eventful life, full of trials and tribulations pursuing her continual obsession for music and art, Smith’s early years were set in the Chelsea Hotel, Andy Warhol’s Factory days and Max’s Kansas City. Mixing amongst friends that included the musicians and artists Allen Ginsberg, Sam Shepherd, Bobby Neuwirth and William Burroughs, Smith was a prominent member of the City’s counterculture scene.
Showing no signs of slowing down, this year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Smith plans to release her 11th album – 37 years after her 1975 debut album Horses which both propelled her into fame as a major influence in the New York Punk scene, and featured the renowned cover portrait of her, shot by Mapplethorpe. Continuing to influence generations that follow, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., Shirley Manson of Garbage, Scottish singer KT Tunstall, Canadian actress Ellen Page and American actor Johnny Depp have all cited Smith as a great inspiration, with the latter appearing alongside her in the January 2011 issue of Vanity Fair.
Next week, Patti Smith will appear in London at the Royal Geographical Society in conversation with Geoff Dyer. Talking about her life, work and passions with the award-winning author, this not to be missed event will form part of IQ² Legends Live series.
Text by Lucia Davies