I used to be in a lesbian chorus
that had a gay male director. One evening before rehearsal, this incredibly
talented Doctor of Music excitedly reported that he’d discovered a female
singer that he thought we’d love: Patti Smith. I hope our collective inner "duhs"
didn’t register on our faces. How could a person whose life work is
music not know one of its pioneers?
Granted, Smith took a hiatus
through most of the ’80s to be a mom. But a new documentary,
Patti Smith: Dream of Life, that premiered at Sundance earlier this year, at least will give
people who don’t know her a chance to catch up. The intimate, 16mm documentary,
shot mostly in black and white, was made over the past 12 years. Even
the trailer reflects Smith’s intense and personal approach to her music.
In the film, Smith pays tribute
to the artists who influenced her life and work over the years, from
William Burroughs to Bob Dylan to Jim Morrison. She
had a close friendship — maybe more — with Robert Mapplethorpe and
credits him with encouraging her at the beginning of her career.
Here’s Smith performing “Horses,” from her debut album of the same name, in a January 2008
performance. Times Online recently named Horses one of the most
of all time.
Songs like that defy labels,
even though Smith is often credited as one of punk rock’s founding mothers.
Smith doesn’t care for the moniker.
"I have, since my first
record, said right on the record that I was beyond labels, beyond gender,
independent, and I don’t like to be called any label. Every time you
see a journalist that calls me a punk rocker, it’s because they don’t
have the imagination of the professional intelligence or the curiosity
or see the full breadth of what I’ve done."
Don’t you wish she had an opinion?
The director of Dream of
Life, Steven Sebring, managed to capture who Smith is without
using labels, according to reviews. And, naturally, Smith has plenty
to say about the process.
Patti Smith: Dream of Life
will be released in theaters later this year. But don’t wait until then
to get to know her
music. Trust me, the lady rocks.