Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography

Victor Bockris, Author, Patti Smith, Author, Roberta Bayley, Concept by
Victor Bockris, Author, Patti Smith, Author, Roberta Bayley, Concept by Simon & Schuster $25 (336p) ISBN 978-0-684-82363-8
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
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Sometimes called the godmother of punk, Patti Smith is one of rock 'n' roll's great stories of self-creation. Growing up as an androgynous misfit in Philadelphia and New Jersey, Smith developed a hero-worshipping fascination with the ""genius lifestyles"" of famous artists from Arthur Rimbaud to Mick Jagger. In the gritty ferment of 1970s New York, she turned her hero-worship into genuine artistic innovation, inventing a provocative and influential amalgam of incantatory poetry, performance art and rock, radically redefining roles open to women in the male-dominated rock scene. Bockris (Transformer: The Lou Reed Story) and Bayley's detailed, uneven biography decks Smith's life story with anecdotes and comments from both the famous and the lesser known among her many colorful acquaintances. William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and her quondam lover, Robert Mapplethorpe, turn up, as does Bockris's own 1972 interview with Smith (her first). In fact, Bockris seems to have taken this interview as the final word on her character and potential. It can be hard to get a clear picture of later developments in Smith's life: her constant concern with her image, her years as a housewife in Detroit after marrying ex-MC5 guitarist Fred ""Sonic"" Smith and her return to rock prominence following his death in 1994. The biography scrupulously cites negative as well as favorable reviews and comments on Smith and her work, covering (for example) the 1978 controversy over her use of the word ""nigger."" Like most writers on punk and performance poetry, Bockris and Bayley seem to prefer the young tough of Patti Smith in the 1970s. While informative and intelligent, this will hardly stand as the definitive account of one of rock's grande dames. (Sept.)
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