Here Comes The Punk

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Back in the heyday of punk, could you have imagined a concert by Patti Smith in Carmel?  Probably not, but such is the enduring appeal of the singer affectionately dubbed the “godmother of punk rock” that this Sunday she will be playing a special show at the Sunset Center in Carmel.  The show is a benefit to raise money for the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur and the Hospice of San Francisco and Monterey.

Patti Smith is probably best known for her 1978 hit “Because The Night,” a collaboration with Bruce Springsteen, but has released a total of nine albums during her 30-plus-year career.  Her latest release, “trampin’” is her first for Columbia Records and was released this April.

Born in Chicago, Smith grew up in Woodbury, NJ, close to the Philadelphia state line.  The eldest of four children, she found it difficult to fit in with her peers and sought refuge in music.  She dropped out of teacher training college to move to New York, where she worked in a bookstore.  As the 1960s moved into the 70s, Smith became involved in the world of the arts, writing poetry and appearing in underground theatre productions.  In 1971, she performed at a poetry reading with guitarist Lenny Kaye, who played chords behind her chanted words.

After a couple of years performing as a poet and actress, she reunited with Kaye for a “Rock ‘n’ Rimbaud” performance in a venue off Times Square.  Smith and Kaye formed a trio, which began to gain a following for its odd blend of rock, jazz and poetry.  The trio recorded an independently produced single, a cover of Hendrix’s “Hey, Joe,” in 1974.  That year, the band moved to Los Angeles, where they picked up drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and recorded “Horses,” which was produced by John Cale and released in 1975.  This album was followed by “Radio Ethiopia” in 1976 and “Easter” in 1978.

Around this time, another major turning point came in Smith’s life when she met guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith.  Following the release of the Patti Smith Band’s album “Wave” in 1979, she withdrew from the world of performing and touring, the two married and spent the next several years raising a family.  Smith continued to write, and released an album with her husband in 1988, “Dream of Life.”  The couple co-wrote a number of songs which were going to be recorded in the summer of 1995, a project which was, sadly, never completed owing to Fred Smith’s death from heart failure in November 1994.  Her brother also died one month later, and as part of dealing with her grief, Smith once more got her band together and began to perform and record once more.  Her 1996 album “Gone again” dealt, unsurprisingly, with themes of loss and mortality.

Since reforming her band, Patti Smith’s music and lyrics took a more complex and  political turn, as seen on her albums “Peace and Noise” (1997) and “Gung Ho (2000).  Her song “People Have the Power” became the signature song of Ralph Nader’s political campaign in 2000.  Her concert on Sunday will highlight songs from her most recent release, “trampin’,” which touch on many current issues.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, August 19, 2004

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