Early Work: 1970-1979 Paperback – 12 Jul 1995
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"[Early Work] establishes Smith as a visionary belletrist who believed in rock as a spiritual outlet and haven for black sheep an outpost on a continuum connecting such heroes as poets Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, Amelia Earhart, Harry Houdini and film director Pier Paolo Pasolini to a sexy, androgynous future." Evelyn McDonnell, Rolling Stone
"A poet of distinction." John Rockwell, New York Times
"[Early Work] burns . . . with the galvanizing sense of faith and transcendence that made [Smith] the last of the great rock poets." Entertainment Weekly
A poet of distinction.--John Rockwell, <em>New York Times</em>
A poet of distinction.--John Rockwell, New York Times
[Early Work] burns . . . with the galvanizing sense of faith and transcendence that made [Smith] the last of the great rock poets. "
A poet of distinction. --John Rockwell, New York Times"
[Early Work] establishes Smith as a visionary belletrist who believed in rock as a spiritual outlet and haven for black sheep an outpost on a continuum connecting such heroes as poets Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, Amelia Earhart, Harry Houdini and film director Pier Paolo Pasolini to a sexy, androgynous future. --Evelyn McDonnell, Rolling Stone"
About the Author
Patti Smith is a poet, performer, visual artist, and author of the National Book Award-winning memoir Just Kids. She has twelve albums, has had numerous gallery shows, and continues to give concerts of her music and poetry. Her books include Early Work, The Coral Sea, Witt, Babel, Auguries of Innocence, Woolgathering, Land 250, Trois, and many others. She lives in New York.
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The first thing to note about this volume is that it is far from comprehensive. If you want to read her lyrics from the four albums she recorded in the 70s, then you should seek out her 1998 lyrics collection, Complete: Lyrics, Reflections & Notes for the Future. Most of the lyrics aren't included in Early Work. Likewise most of the "rock writing" (Smith's term) that she did for such publications as CREEM, Rock Scene and Rolling Stone does not feature here. Finally, the poetry and prose gathered for Early Work represents only a small subset of what she published during that decade. Only portions of the books Seventh Heaven, k.o.d.a.k., Witt and Babel are included, and nothing from The Night (her collaboration with Tom Verlaine) appears.
The book itself is divided into four chronological sections: 1970-72, 1973-74, 1975-76 and 1977-79. Of the four sections, I find the first and fourth to be of the most interest; albeit for different reasons. To my mind, the first section, 1970-72, works the best as actual written (as compared to performed) literature. For the beginning Patti Smith reader who wants to read her poetry but doesn't know where to start, this section would be the best starting place as it is the most accessible.
As the collection proceeds through the 70s, the pieces become denser and more inscrutable and enjoyment of them really depends on how much you know about Patti Smith and her life and work during the 70s. The last section, 1977-79, is the densest and most inscrutable of all but it is fascinating in its way. Pieces like "High on Rebellion" and "The Salvation of Rock" make for excellent companion pieces to the major statement she made on her 1978 album, Easter.
Furthermore, it's impossible to read the pieces contained in this section and not connect them to events in Smith's life at the time: The fall she took offstage in Tampa, FL during 1977 and her subsequent recovery, her return to live performing and the recording of Easter, her break-up with Blue Oyster Cult guitarist Allen Lanier and her subsequent relationship with MC5 guitarist Fred 'Sonic' Smith, and her increasing disillusionment with rock 'n' roll stardom (see the prose piece "Florence"). The pieces are by no means easy but they do provide an interesting glimpse into her thought processes around this time.
Until Smith herself or someone else produces the literary equivalent of a catalogue raisonne of all of her 70s work, Early Work: 1970-1979 will have to serve as the most thorough gathering of her work from that decade. The book's contents are uneven and I actually think she improved as a writer during her long hiatus in Detroit. But the book is worth owning for the glimpse it gives of Patti Smith during this formative decade.
Compiling material that appeared in earlier chapbooks and the BABEL collection from 1978, the selection of poems and prose-poems appearing here dive farther into the varied personas and philosophies suggested on her many engaging recordings. Here we have Patti the priestess, Patti the punk generalissimo, Patti the diva, Patti the provocateur...
Most provocatively, I will always love her splintering of sexual roles - ostensibly within the context of her rock world (posing like Keith Richards, the diva-as-cock-rocker), but with implicit greater applications as well. And her conflicted spirituality comes through quite eloquently.
EARLY WORK presents some of the key work of New York's grass-roots artistic comeback. Not to be missed.