With a career that spans more than 40 decades, Patti Smith still continues to surprise. Did you see her Steven Sebring X Reed Krakoff video? Perfection. And with Patti Smith: Camera Solo, a collection of photographs and personal objects on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario until May 19th, we break down why she’s still number one.
1/ Her eclectic career path. From working on the assembly line at a toy factory and fronting a legendary punk band to writing a New York Times bestseller
and becoming a showcased visual artist—no single career has defined Patti Smith.
2/ Her unique star quality. A self-professed wall-flower who says she was never very attractive, smart, or outspoken—“I wasn’t anything that showed the world I was very special.” Regardless, the world knew that Patti Smith was something special.
3/ Her signature fashion style. There is no question that she will forever be associated with a crisp white collared shirt, black pants and a black boyfriend blazer—always paired with a black bowler and tie. All of which, still feels so right.
4/ Her way with words. Lyrics like, “Here I go and I don’t know why, I spin so ceaselessly, ‘till I lose my sense of gravity,” from Dancing Barefoot (which was released in 1979) have stood the test of time and continue to be referenced again and again by a myriad of today’s artists.
5/ Her voice alone made her infamous. No one reads poetry quite like Patti Smith, so it should come as no surprise that she was the first performer to sell out a poetry recital at CGBG, the legendary rock club in NYC.
6/ Her sense of gratitude. Starting off as iconographer, she spent years studying her idols closely; some of which included, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. To demonstrate her gratitude she would attribute finding her own voice to them, once even thanking Hendrix in song in her debut single; a cover of “Hey Joe.” A number of the photographs currently being showcased at the AGO pay homage to her idols.
7/ Her non-conformist attitude. Subject to a lot of controversy surrounding her ‘gender-bending’ style and tomboy allure, Patti Smith never wavered or backed down, continuing to do her own thing and do it well, because as she has quipped, that’s what makes her feel comfortable.
8/ Her inventiveness. Considered the “grandmother of punk music,” it is agreed among many critics that her 1975 album, Horses is one of the most influenfial records in rock music history and played a key part in the creation of New York’s punk scene.
9/ Her sense of humor. Smith graduated in 1964 from Deptford Township highschool and was voted class clown by her senior class.
10/ She creates for herself. During her exhibition opening at the AGO she let it slip that 80 per cent of her writing has never been published and 80 per cent of her photographs have never been seen; needless to say Smith does it all for herself—while we wait patiently for a peek inside her magnificent worlds.
To hear that legendary voice, her 1978 poetry reading: