Patti Smith, pioneering punk diva, has always worshipped at the altar of the word, and she opens this book with a quote from her mentor and friend, the late Allen Ginsberg: "The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy." If that is true, then this volume serves as Smith's Book of Common Prayer, containing all the lyrics from her past seven albums, and spanning two-and-a-half decades. She picks out both salient and arcane compositions and annotates them with an unstinting eye for detail and history, allowing us to stand a moment in her flat-heeled karate shoes and see what inspired her to pen these songs. Who among us suspected that 1971's "Redondo Beach," with its grizzly images of loss and suicide, was written about an argument Smith had with her sister?
In addition to the thumbnail sketches and the unexpurgated journal entries, Smith has collected more than 150 photographs (some never before published) by the likes of Annie Liebovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, Michael Stipe, and Linda McCartney. There is one particularly disturbing image of the singer during her painful recovery from a broken back, which she suffered as a result of a stage fall in 1977, proving that there is little that Smith has held back in her effort to communicate who she is to her fans. Why did she go to all the trouble? According to Smith, her fans had been clamouring for her to publish her lyrics for years, but until recently she didn't feel she had a substantial enough body of work. Besides, she claims that she was tired of everyone else deconstructing her songs and publishing what they thought she meant. "And they were always inaccurate," she writes. So, now, Patti Smith is finally able to set the record straight. --Jaan Uhelszki