Patti Smith never wanted to form a movement, she just wanted to be heard. With her amazing debut album, Horses, though, she changed music whether that was her intent or not. She became pigeonholed as punk, not because of the volume of the music but because of the sensibilities in her words.
Smith was more poet than singer. In comparison, Leonard Cohen was basically the male Patti Smith. She wanted to convey themes than most in suit-and-ties might have found frightening only because she spoke of a different existence than the one they knew. Still, she was more artist than punk.
Maybe because of her alternative takes on life, and the language she used, her record company tried to censor her. The B-side to her first single, "Gloria," was a cover of the Who's "My Generation." During the song, Smith screamed, "I don't need your f*****g s**t!" The record label want to bleep the words to which Smith responded, "Tell the kids that I say not to buy it. It’s against my wishes. They bleeped it, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s two American slang terms. It’s just words."
More Patti Smith in your life would be a very good thing
That was the key with Smith: Her words had meaning. Her music was not nearly as bombastic as you have come to know from punk. Her records had clangy guitars, but none that overpowered her voice. She was more poet than frontperson. That ended up making her more important and unique.
Her uniqueness can also be found in a fantastic new tome called A Book of Days. The work is a series of photographs that trace a year of Smith's life. The photographs are amazingly perfect with depth of feeling.
Heck, maybe on your holiday gift list, you should ask for all the works of Patti Smith, from albums to books. I promise, your life will be enriched by having more Patti Smith around.