How the Godmother of Punk, Patti Smith, Saved Rock and Roll


 

To call anybody the ‘Godmother of Punk’ is a grandiose statement. To snatch a thread from the creative ether and champion it as the first is a game that deals with pithy epigrams that fall apart under the slightest bit of hard-hitting scrutiny. Punk, by definition, can’t be pinned on a single person; it crawled from the plashy depths that rock and roll landed in after the prelapsarian slip of the ‘60s and snarled up like a straggly dirge to that loss of innocence. It came clad in drainpipe trousers and copious leather, and it needed a nurturing hand. 

Patti Smith was that nurturing hand. And Patti Smith is nothing if not grandiose. The opening stanza to her memoir concludes, “men cannot judge it, for art sings of God and ultimately belongs to him,” and the first lyric she ever put forward to the world in the opening rap to her 1975 debut album, Horses, was “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” 

In her words she speaks to a higher level, one that both belongs to, and is of art. It is also one that transcends the punk boundaries of piss, spit and platitudes and relishes in the need for “freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are.”

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