Patti Smith won the National Book Award for her memoir, the New York Times bestseller Just Kids, which means there are a lot of new people milling about her work wondering what they should know.
Her record label just released Outside Society this week to help get new fans up to speed. So I thought I would offer up some truth from my end and answer your questions regarding this rock legend.
10) Why Is Patti Smith Important?: Well, I don't usually care for a word like "important," since it lacks the passion that music should evoke and it's often overused, but in Patti's case, I'll let it fly. She has proven to be a great inspiration to musicians and writers everywhere. She was unconventional at a time when being so could get you shot in many places outside New York City.
9) Why Should I Read Her Book Just Kids?: Ha ha. Yes. Don't let the National Book Award or "best-seller" status scare you away. Fact is, the book is a great read. She gets a little over-excited in spots, but it's like she's hugging you too hard because she loves you so much. Just don't think you can move to New York City and do the same thing. You can't. Not without a trust fund.
8) What Patti Smith Albums Do I Need?: Hmmn, this is tricky. If you want to get started, I would advise you pick up Horses, Radio Ethopia and find the first single, "Hey Joe / Piss Factory." Outside Society does include her personal notes on the tracks but doesn't go as deep as Land, her other anthology, but both are decent overviews, though since she lacked hits, what people consider to be her "best" work is up to the individual. To be really arcane about this stuff, try finding early bootlegs of the band when she did a lot of poetry and she was young and hungry. She captures NYC in the early 1970s quite nicely.
7) Can I Trust Reviewers?: No. You never should. These days with so many ways of hearing things for yourself, you should go into it with an open mind. Decide for yourself. For example, that paragraph above this one, it's only meant as a general starting point. If you end up liking Peace and Noise more than Horses, well, that's odd, but it isn't wrong. The problem with people with reviewing Patti Smith records is they either like her so much that she can do little wrong or they don't like her and are annoyed at all the glowing reviews and are out to make a point in the other direction.
6) Is She A Good Poet?: I'm going to say yes here. But it's important to hear her read it. Her delivery is every bit a part of it as the words on the page. She makes the words dance. Chances are, if you read it yourself, without her guidance, you'll read it wrong. I do.
5) Is She A Good Singer?: Yes and no. People like her. She gets her point across. When she sings solo, her voice is quite affecting. But getting her voice over a rock 'n' roll band causes it to shred. However, this is fine. It's rock 'n' roll. Anyone can sing it. Anyone should.
4) Was She Punk?: No. She was an early part of the scene that gave us New York City punk rock. But the beauty of all the "punk rockers" of that era was that none of them fit the straitjacket that punk soon became. That includes the Ramones, who were doing something new when they debuted. Patti wore a leather jacket, sometimes. Labels are for clothes.
3) Is It OK If I Don't Always Like Her Stuff?: Sure. You don't have to like any of it. There is no mandatory anything here. If you're a music fan, you should check her out. Chances are, you'll like something and maybe even love some of it. But you might not. You might prefer Supertramp. Or Metallica. Or Lionel Richie. Or Madonna. You might like it better when it rains out! I'm not the boss of you.
2) Why Is She A Woman?: Not sure what you're asking here! But it is completely ridiculous that there were so few rockers of the female persuasion for so many years. (I also used to wonder if record stores had some sort of "Men Only" sign on them that I couldn't see.) Otherwise, I think you need to talk to your biology teacher and chat about chromosomes.
1) What Lesson Should I Take Away From Patti Smith?: I think Patti said it best back in 1975 when she told her audience at the Bottom Line that rock 'n' roll always went through rough patches, but that it was ok, since we made it up, and therefore we can always make it cool again.
Now, get crackin', youngsters! We're waiting!