Happy Birthday, Patti Smith: The Rock Icon Turns 73

The poet and singer-songwriter's legacy already makes her one of the greats.

In 1967, a young poet named Patti Smith moved from New Jersey to Manhattan, New York.

With no money to her name, the aspiring artist worked at various bookstores around the city, including a brief stint at the famed Strand Bookstore near Union Square. Through these jobs, she met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who, a few years later, would snap the cover shot for Smith's debut album Horses, a record that would help define New York City punk for decades to come. Even today, on Smith's 73rd birthday, her story and music remain crucial components of New York's expansive rock scene.

Smith documented her intense—and at times tumultuous—romantic relationship with Mapplethorpe in her 2010 memoir, Just Kids. During their many years living together, they juggled their respective art forms while struggling to dig themselves out of poverty. For a period of time, they lived at the iconic Chelsea Hotel, a historic landmark referenced in songs by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and Bon Jovi. Smith was a longtime fan of jazz and classic rock artists like the Rolling Stones, though it took some coaxing for her to realize her potential in making music of her own. She befriended Bob Neuwirth, a singer-songwriter and associate of Dylan's, who encouraged Smith to put her poetry to melodies. She gave her first public reading in 1971; from there, her career gradually inclined.

Though Smith and Mapplethorpe's romance eventually ended—he came out to her as gay after a trip to San Francisco to explore his sexuality—they remained lifelong friends. Smith dated Blue Öyster Cult keyboardist Allen Lanier, and she was once even considered for the role of lead vocalist in the band. In the early '70s, Smith began writing album reviews for publications like Creem. She didn't keep up the gig for long, however, deciding she wanted to make her own records instead of critiquing the work of others. During these years, Smith also contributed a few lyrics to Blue Öyster Cult songs and released a handful of poetry books.

Smith began performing rock music in the mid-'70s, recruiting bassist Lenny Kaye, guitarist Ivan Kral, drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, and pianist Richard Sohl to comprise the full Patti Smith Band. They released their first single in 1974, "Hey Joe / Piss Factory," featuring a spoken-word introduction that references Patty Hearst, an American heiress who was infamously kidnapped. Smith's rhythmic, conversational delivery on the songs emblemized her transition from poet to full-fledged rock star.

Patti Smith : Hey Joe - Piss Factory 7"

Horses, featuring arguably one of the most iconic album covers of all time, arrived the following year. In Just Kids, Smith wrote about the black-and-white photo's spontaneous nature and Mapplethorpe's use of natural light in his apartment. "The only rule we had was, Robert told me if I wore a white shirt, not to wear a dirty one," Smith told NPR. "I got my favorite ribbon and my favorite jacket, and he took about 12 pictures. By the eighth one he said, 'I got it.'" On her reaction to the photo now, she wrote: "I never see me. I see us."

Smith married former MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith in 1980, and then took a break from music during the following years to spend time with her family in Michigan and raise her two children, Jesse and Jackson, with Fred. Fred died in 1994 of a heart attack, followed shortly by the unexpected death of Patti's brother, Todd. The impact of these losses inspired her to revive her career: She moved back to New York and began touring again.

During the course of her career, Smith has released 11 solo studio albums, and her writing can be read in over 20 books. She's been nominated for four Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. At 73, her legacy is stronger than ever, being cited as an influence by the likes of R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, Madonna, U2, Courtney Love, and Florence and the Machine. Comedian John Mulaney recreated the Horses album cover in a promotional photo shoot for "Saturday Night Live."

To those who have felt a connection to Smith's music, poetry, and memoirs, she speaks to struggling artists, young New Yorkers, and broken lovers alike: Those who are passionate enough about their art will always find their own success.

Music Features

On This Day: Shakira Liberated Everyone's “She Wolf”

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

By Fabio Alexx

11 years ago, on July 10th, 2009, Colombian singer Shakira released the first single off her third studio album.

"She Wolf" is a synth-pop banger built on a B minor progression. It was, in many ways, an insane song, born out of the singer's own frustration and ennui.

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

Though the music was composed by John Hill and Sam Endicott, lead singer of post-punk band The Bravery, the lyrics were all Shakira's own. "[Shakira] contacted him (Hill), asking if he had any stuff," said Endicott. "We never had her in mind. We just made the thing independently of her, and then she liked it a lot, and she sang over it. She used some of the melodies we put in there and then wrote these crazy lyrics about being a werewolf. And that's how it happened."

Shakira - She Wolf

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Olivia Castriota Shoots New Video 'What Do You Stand For' on the US-Mexico Border

The R&B-soul diva has been a contender in the past, but her latest video reveals she has political edge.

In the political climate we find ourselves in at the end of 2019, it feels like we spend every day being asked the same question: What do you stand for?

With various media reporting every day about all the new excruciating facets of the various humanitarian crises both at our doorsteps and further afield, we either other ourselves from atrocity or retreat into a virtual world where we can ignore it. Olivia Castriota brings this to light in her latest music video, taking her usual output of pop music almost to a place of performance art, directly and loudly asking us: "What Do You Stand For"?

The song, an anthemic piece that at first appears to be about self-empowerment, takes on a satirical bite when contrasted with the visuals of the video. Collaborating with AZURxVIBES Productions, Castriota and her team headed south and shot some remarkable footage along the US-Mexico border in Arizona. The music video shows guerilla-documentary style visuals of illegal circle-fights, the border wall, and actual undocumented immigrants crossing into the US spliced with more commercial angles of Castriota performing and appearing in glamorous locales, producing a distressing juxtaposition. Recontextualized, her lyrics now alternate between self-reflective criticism and downright self-parody; the chorus' call-and-response becomes a conflict rather than an affirmation. The joyously anarchic result: "What do you stand for? / I stand up for me":

"Our goal as directors was to bring out an emotion of uncomfortable self-reflection from the viewer. We wanted the viewer to feel the dry parched desert from the comfort of their sofa, while watching children in cages on their smartphone. Not guilt... but a slap" - AZURxVIBES

An unconventional video project needs an unconventional debut. To that end, Castriota premiered the video by projecting it onto a giant empty wall on New York's Houston street, adding to the video's punk-rock street cred. Passers-by were charged with the task of looking up and taking notice of what was going on around them. Both literally and figuratively.

Olivia Castriota has already shown herself to be a talented singer and songwriter, producing pieces like " Weekend Lover" and "Kills Me," but "What Do You Stand For" takes things to another level. Her willingness to position herself in the video as a fatuous figure, taking selfies whilst surrounded by humanitarian neglect shows an uncommon degree of self-awareness. In the face of the sheer human agony of the border crisis, answering "What do you stand for?" with "I stand up for me" is blatant satire on the petty, selfish short-sightedness of Instagram-based empowerment. Castriota once again stands out from her contemporaries by challenging the status quo, telling us loud and proud what she stands for.

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