Patti Smith: An Alternate Route to Punk

robertmapplethorpepattismithpattismith_paris_1969If Patti Smith is the godmother to punk rock, then Robert Mapplethorpe is its eccentric, albeit distant, cousin. Patti’s romantic manifestation captures a more poetic rebellion; rather than smashing a typewriter with a sledgehammer, she seems to swallow youthful aggravation and spit it back out as a spoken (sung) art. Even if her sound isn’t quite punk, her spirit very much is. Her words aren’t sung to be liked, but rather to be heard: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” Robert impresses the same sentiments upon his works of art. His pornographic images are aggressive; they provoke a reaction. I trust that you will believe me, so that I have no need to insert one here. Even if his aesthetic isn’t to be appreciated, it won’t be ignored, and what’s more punk than that?

As the sixties and seventies converged, New York City was a bomb in the moments before it explodes. A Factory-produced sexual revolution ran rampant in Midtown, while a more romantic, gypsy-infused one stemmed from the apartment of Patti and Robert. Andy Warhol and his band of superstars were obsessed by the notion of celebrity, captivated by the mainstream. Artificiality was another pill to be popped. Andy immortalized pop culture, idolized the present; Patti kicked in the walls imposed by the now, forcing her way into the future, a foreshadowing of the impending punk movement. When punk is periodically proclaimed “dead,” it is really just reincarnated.

In my junior year research paper, I depicted punk as having largely evolved from glam. Groups like the Stooges, as well as outlandish individuals, such as David Bowie and Lou Reed, undeniably left their notch on the bedpost that is punk rock. However, a fundamental flaw in that endeavor was that I failed to acknowledge the role of Patti Smith. She hardly glittered; she was impervious to the pop art atmosphere, chiding that she “hated the soup and felt little for the can,” and yet she is a different means to achieve the same ends. Patti forgoes charisma, theatricality, and other embellishments. Instead, she settles on a raw defiance, a sort of call to arms before the impending war. — “Gloria” (Patti Smith)


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