Patti Smith is an icon of contemporary culture. Many have tried and failed to imitate the charm of the heroine we all know as the ‘Punk Poet Laureate’, which tells you a great deal about the grade of her art. Smith’s extensive back catalogue is an eclectic yet exhilarating collection that has set the standard for many subsequent artists.
Over the years, Smith has covered every topic conceivable, and she occupies the same realm as the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and other certified heroes of the industry. Informed, inspired and with many a saga to tell, there will never be anyone quite like her.
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 R.E.M. and The Smiths, but on the other hand, she is also – along with all of her beat poet friends – to blame for the existence of the very worst in western society. These are the ‘complex’, wannabe poet that gathers around our local independent brewery and micropubs.
Jokes aside, Smith’s career has been nothing short of remarkable. Inspired by the countercultural movement to leave her small New Jersey home and relocate to New York, Smith’s choice to move to the Big Apple in search of artistic enlightenment was a critical one.
The decision led to her enduring times of great poverty, often sleeping in subways and graveyards, a prospect that defied the social expectations of a young woman at the time. However, it ultimately proved to be a life-changing one, and without it, Smith would not be the icon we all love and respect today.
Seemingly aware of the benefits of both good and bad experiences, Smith told Uncut in 2020: “I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done. I wish I would have been more attentive to my mother sometimes. We all have private regrets, but as an artist, I always did the best I could.”
Smith is right, we all have personal regrets, but the fact that she backs herself as an artist is a telling reflection of her character. Driven and confident in her ability, she’s given us some of the most important moments in modern music. Her album Horses saved punk music, and her memoir Just Kids remains one of the most candid works ever written – not many people can boast such an illustrious CV. Why would she have any regrets?