Another dimension to Punk: Patti Smith

‘Is it any wonder they’re spitting at the sun

God’s parasites in abandoned sites
and they never have much fun’

-Dead City

The most common popular perception of Punk music is that it is loud i.e. contains a lot of ear-straining screaming vocals and unsynchronized banging of instruments. While this may be true of a select few bands playing its numerous sub-genres, it can hardly be accounted for when it comes to the diverse and far-reaching spectrum that is Punk music.

Punk music has more to it than just The Sex Pistols, who are more or less considered to be the poster child of this genre. Or for that matter, The Ramones.

Patricia Lee “Patti” Smith (born December 30, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist, who became a highly influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut albumHorses. Called the “Godmother of Punk”, her work was a fusion of rock and poetry. She is perhaps the only prominent female face that recurs time and again to re-assert her place amidst the male dominion of the scene. Smith’s most widely known song is “Because the Night”, which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen and reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978.

After Horses, which contained her feminist take on the political scenario of the time, she went onto release an entire slew of albums.

Peace and Noise (1997), was counted among her comeback-albums, which again consisted of her social commentary as an activist. The song “1959”, which dealt with The Tibetan Uprising, was nominated for “Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance” in 1998.Another song, “Memento Mori” spoke of the futility of war.

Her cryptic poetry didn’t boast of genius, and yet was quietly laden with depth and understanding. “Spell”, is a fine example of this simple brilliance. With minimal instrumental back-up, this song relies heavily on Smith’s strong vocals to trap the listener into a moment of introspection as she chants away. This is Punk music too. This poetry that calls for rebellion.

Patti uses “Don’t Say Nothing” to express her frustration on people’s habit to remain helpless and unreactive in the face of adversity. She lashes out at the silence that is self-destructive to society.

Peace and Noise is an album that perhaps, hails the role of noise or uprising in order to bring about conditions that are peaceful and somewhat necessary.

Rolling Stone Magazine counted Patti Smith as #47 in their “The Immortals: 100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and rightly so.

If I had to pick my favourites from among her work, “Dancing Barefoot” a love ballad written with the help of Ivan Kral, and released as a second single from Patti Smith Group 1979 album Wave would undoubtedly find pride of place there somewhere. She is rumoured to have dedicated the song to women such as Jeanne Hébuterne, mistress of the artist Amedeo Modigliani who committed suicide when he died.

If you belong to that group of mindset, who think of Punk music as crass and unevolved. Patti Smith and Peace and Noise are definitely worth a listen. Maybe you’ll discover something more to your fancy.

Keep the muzik playing.

Leave a Reply