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Music

How a surreal dream featuring Jim Morrison inspired a classic Patti Smith song

Patti Smith is a bonafide icon and one of the most influential musical artists of all time. Many have tried and failed to imitate the mystique of the heroine we all know as the ‘Punk Poet Laureate’, which tells you a great deal about the quality of her artistry. Unique to her lived experience, Smith’s extensive back catalogue is a varied yet thrilling journey. 

Over the years, Smith has covered every human subject imaginable, and in many ways, you could argue that she exits in the same realm as the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and other certified icons of the industry. Informed, inspired and with many a tale to tell, there will never be anyone quite like Patti Smith.

In a sense, Smith’s artistry is also a slightly jarring one. Not only can her work be partially credited with giving us the works of Florence & The Machine, The Smiths and Orville Peck, but on the other hand, she is also – along with all of her beat poet friends – partially to blame for the existence of the very worst in western society. The overtly pained and ‘complex’ wannabe poet-type, the one that plagues our campuses worldwide, that many would label a ‘softboi’.

Jokes aside, Smith’s career is nothing short of incredible. Inspired by the countercultural movement to leave her small New Jersey hometown and relocate to New York, seemingly following the “orgastic” green light that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby did, Smith’s choice to move to the Big Apple in search of some artistic enlightenment was a critical one.

The interesting thing about her career is that since the release of her 2010 memoir Just Kids, Smith has spoken widely about the influence of Jim Morrison of The Doors on her artistic development.

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Of the inspiring effect of Morrison and The Doors, she told a CBS during a Q&A: “I went to see Jim Morrison in 1967 and I was sitting there thinking ‘I could do that,'” Smith said, before adding: “I also was a little embarrassed that I thought that. It’s not that I wasn’t inspired, I just felt this strange kinship.”

When you think about it deeply, there are many parallels that can be drawn between Morrison and Smith. Poetic, well versed in literature and driven by some unknown karmic force, perhaps these days it’s easier to view their works as a sort of musical yin and yang. 

In that same discussion, Smith explained: “I was just a girl from South Jersey working in a bookstore,” Smith continues. “I don’t why I thought that. It was a mystery to me. Of course, I admired him and still do. Jim Morrison was one of our great poets and unique performers, his body of work will always endure.”

She was so inspired by Morrison that ‘Break It Up’, a song that she wrote with Television frontman Tom Verlaine for her 1975 debut album Horses, was written with The Doors man in mind. The lyrics of the classic song are based on Smith’s recollection of her visit to Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. 

It didn’t stop there, either. As well as recalling a visit to Morrison’s grave, the main driving force behind the song’s lyrics was actually a dream Smith had about the late Doors frontman. In the dream, Smith witnessed a winged Morrison stuck to a marble slab, trying and eventually succeeding to break away from the stone: “Snow started falling / I could hear the angel calling. / We rolled on the ground, he stretched out his wings. / The boy flew away and he started to sing.”

This strange, Promethean image of Morrison that Smith creates shows just how indebted to him she was. She creates an angelic, demi-god-like character of him, and in doing so, confirms to us that, in many ways, she is Jim Morrison’s artistic and spiritual successor. 

Although he wasn’t alive to witness Smith blossom, I’m sure Morrison would have admired Smith’s work. ‘Break It Up’ is an anthemic highlight of Smith’s career and a marvellous ode to the hero that was Jim Morrison.

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