The biographies of the literary greats tells us many things about these authors and the times in which they wrote.
Patti Smith at the Nobel Gala
Patti Smith performed a Bob Dylan song at the Nobel Prize Gala, which was held in Stockholm on December 10, 2016. The song was an old 60s classic called A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall. At the same time, Patti accepted the literature award which the Nobel Prize committee decided to bestow on the American troubadour and folksinger.
The Poetry of Patti Smith
Long before Patti became the "Godmother of Punk," she wrote, published, and read her poetry in public. Like thousands of other writers who had gone down this same road, these literary activities, though high-minded in nature, did not garnish her much critical acclaim or financial success.
In 1972 and 1973, Patti Smith published five chapbooks of poetry, with her first titled Seventh Heaven. Then Smith had an inspiration: At a poetry reading held at the St. Marks Church in Greenwich Village, she brought along a guitarist who accompanied her during her performance. Right away, her poems took off as songs, and soon thereafter she became a successful recording artist.
Many successful musicians have published books of poetry after their initial success, but few have first published written poetry before turning to song and music. The only other that I can think of is Leonard Cohen, who wrote poetry and two novels before becoming a recording artist.
More Than Just a Rock-and-Roll Singer
In 2010, Patti Smith won a National Book Award for her nonfictional recollection of her early years with avant-garde photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. Titled Just Kids, the memoir details Greenwich Village in the late sixties, as seen by Patti and her friend, lover, and muse, Robert Mapplethorpe. Since its release, the book has received mostly good reviews, as the story journeys back forty years, to a time when music was king.
Patti is definitely not a one-hit wonder in the literary world, for she has several other publications out. Another memoir, M Train, was released in 2015. The book is not as linear as Just Kids, for though it contains some details about Patti's life with Robert Maplethorpe, the crust of the story is about Patti's life after the famed photographer died. As one reviewer put it, M Train is not so much about achieving fame, but how to survive it.
With several published manuscripts, Smith has a literary career equaled by few (if any?) rock musicians. It is not at all surprising that she was invited to perform at the 2016 Nobel Prize gala. Not bad for a college dropout.
A Mainstay of the 70s Punk Scene
The Punk Wave was not exclusively a New York City movement, but the city definitely became one of the major hubs for the driving, raucous new sound. Besides the Patti Smith Group, the New York scene was defined by the likes of such bands as the New York Dolls, the Dictators, the Ramones, and the Talking Heads, who actually got their act together in Rhode Island.
Punk had a raw rock drive that was often accompanied by poetic lyrics and a highly visually-oriented stage performance. During this time Patti Smith distinguished herself with a strong lyrical force that not only expressed itself onstage and in her recordings, but also in the written word as well. In fact, her first album, Horses, included some material that can best be described as pure poetry.
During this highly creative period (1974-1979), the Patti Smith group released four albums.
A Return to Writing
In the mid-nineties, before she started to write her memoirs and after the death of Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith did some things that she had always done. Beginning in 1992, she wrote two very short books and then in 1996 went on tour with a newly formed band. The books, Woolgathering (1992) and The Coral Sea (1996) are noteworthy because they are both about the size of a pack of cards and consist of autobiographical material. In a way, they could be seen as forerunners to her two widely-read memoirs that were put out more recently.
Harry Nielsen (author) from Durango, Colorado on April 23, 2017:
I'm impressed by her writing (literary) ability.
Robb Hoff from Cincinnati, Ohio on April 23, 2017:
Her Dancing Barefoot is one of the most truly magical songs ever.