Patti Smith Charles M. Young - Essay

Charles M. Young

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Patti Smith has set about creating a movement to free the world through rock & roll. Her personal charm, when she wants it to be, is enormous. Her followers are increasing every day, and they are among the most ardent anywhere…. She is a poet for the people….

Patti Smith's detractors think Radio Ethiopia, a loosely defined organization of her supporters, amounts to a Kiss Army for intellectuals who like to be mystified by poetry without capital letters. They think she is a fool. Because she cultivates the look of a possessed poet, she can say things like "the word art must be redefined" and get away with it. Her fans, in fact, eat it off a stick. And she is happy to feed them, so long as they don't question the menu too closely.

With her goal of creating a Sixties-style social movement out of the music, she is reminiscent of a charismatic sect leader who has convinced her followers that she alone has the secret of life. The secret is so heavy, of course, that it can only be revealed through the leader's interpretation of Das Kapital / visions of the Scripture / mumbo jumbo about the creative process. And like the best of the sect leaders, Smith believes her own line and has constructed an imposing edifice of egomania to protect her mediocre ideas from doubt. (p. 52)

Charles M. Young, "Visions of Patti," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1978; reprinted by permission). Issue 270, July 27, 1978, pp. 51-4.