9780684823638 / 0684823632

Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography


Publisher:Simon & Schuster



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About the book:

If anyone in rock & roll has lived a life that divides neatly into chapters, it's godmother of punk Patti Smith. In her own words, a "gawky and homely... real nervous and sickly" little girl, she nevertheless grew up with a commanding sense of destiny. A bout with scarlet fever when she was 7 years old brought on hallucinations, which fired her already varicolored imagination. Raised a Jehovah's Witness, she broke with the faith in part because it didn't accommodate an aesthetic that embraced everyone from John Coltrane to Maria Callas, from Louisa May Alcott to Jean-Paul Sartre. Venturing to New York, she found acceptance first as a poet and then as a rock singer, drawing upon rock icons (Bob Dylan, Brian Jones, and Jim Morrison among them) to create a riveting unisexual persona all her own.

From there, we witness Smith's inevitable rise and fall (in her case it's literal--she was nearly killed when she tumbled offstage during a 1977 performance). Victor Bockris and Roberta Bayley do an admirable job of tying the disparate phases of Smith's life into a cohesive whole, contrasting the '70s punk priestess in full flower with the curiously subservient suburban Detroit housewife she became following her 1980 marriage to hard-drinking former MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith and the middle-aged survivor who returned to the studio and stage in the 1990s. Smith kept company with some of the pillars of late-20th-century pop culture--Robert Mapplethorpe was her roommate, Sam Shepard was her lover, and William Burroughs was one of her many champions. But what's most striking is how she's been able to simultaneously borrow and build upon the work of the artists in her universe, growing in stature while elevating all that stirred her passion. --Steven Stolder

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