The latest nominee in the Faber series (following Why Solange Matters) is the mighty Patti Smith. Having greatly enjoyed Just Kids, M Train and Year of the Monkey in recent years we were front of the queue for this one. “This is not a biography and this is not hagiography,” we are told on the back cover – but it’s a little of both, if we are being honest.
Caryn Rose is a veteran rock journalist whose work has appeared in Pitchfork, Salon, the Village Voice, the Guardian, Vulture and elsewhere. She has been a fan of Patti Smith for a long time. She was a fan as a teenager; like others, she missed her when she entered her domestic bliss period alongside the late great Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith; she thrilled to her eventual return and has been a loyal fan ever since.
Which isn’t to say that Rose isn’t critical – she re-evaluates critically lambasted albums (like Radio Ethiopia) with a sensitive hand, wades into the debate around Smith’s ‘Rock’n’Roll N-‘ song (which for us has always been about Smith leaning into her Rimbaud more than anything else, although – of course – we can see the sensitivities and the tone deafness of it) and calls out the weaker stuff when it needs calling out.
Despite having read Victor Bokris’ biography some years back, I still learned some things here that I didn’t know before and the book served to boost my interest in Smith still further (since reading this I’ve purchased earlier Smith books, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea and Devotion: Why I Write). Rose does a terrific job of establishing why Smith matters.
We’ll leave you with her words:
“Patti Smith taught us how to kick the doors in, and she continues to teach us how to live with integrity, to keep our name clean, to take chances, to keep the memories of our loved ones alive, to continue after they’re gone, even when we think we cannot, and how to persevere through it all.”
Any Cop?: As the sales figures for Horses indicates, Patti Smith is still someone who isn’t as widely known as she should be. Books like this matter.