Inside The Friendship Between Bob Dylan And Patti Smith

Throughout music history, both folk rock and punk have had surprisingly similar development and stylistic trends. As Britannica explains, folk rock is a hybrid genre consisting of both folk and rock, which was fundamentally developed around the 1960s, primarily in the United States and Britain. The goals of folk rock were artistic purity and anti-commercialism, which weren't always met by individual artists, but remained the driving spirit, nonetheless. As folk rock often carried the political traditions of folk from musicians like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, the genre often evoked injustices and inequality going on in the world.

Punk also carried these political inclinations throughout its own development. Punk rock formed into a global movement in the mid-1970s and was categorized by its anti-establishment sentiments and biting rebuke of fascism, misogyny, classism, and more. Notable bands of the movement include the Ramones, Sex Pistols, and the Clash. However, two artists of both respective genres might have stood head and shoulders above many of their contemporaries: Patti Smith and Bob Dylan. And it turns out that both of them are actually friends.

Who is Bob Dylan?

Bob Dylan's impact on folk music is so tremendous that it wouldn't be misleading to divide the genre into two halves: before Bob Dylan and after Bob Dylan. As Britannica says, he received somewhat of a mixed reception from audiences until his 1963 album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." This record transformed his image completely and signaled Dylan's transition from a mere folk musician imitating the greats before him to an enormous creative force. The musician was born in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24, 1941, as Robert Allen Zimmerman, and took in the sounds of musicians like Elvis Presley and Hank Williams for influence. He took up guitar from an early age and would play at various venues and coffee shops, wherever poets and like-minded musicians roamed.

As Biography explains, Dylan followed his hit album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" with a series of successful albums such as "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "Highway 61 Revisited," "Blonde on Blonde," "Blood on the Tracks," and more. Throughout Dylan's career, he was firmly established as a modern Shakespeare and one of the greatest musicians of all time. Dylan eventually won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2016 for his contributions to songwriting. 

Who is Patti Smith?

It's no overstatement to say that Patti Smith changed punk music. Often dubbed as punk's poet laureate, Patti Smith helped define the signature soundscapes and attitude of a whole movement. As Britannica says, Smith was born on December 30, 1946, in Chicago, Illinois. Much of her early influence was rooted in the poetry and arts scene of Manhattan, New York, along with artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, a photographer, and Lenny Kaye, a guitarist. Smith eventually signed with Arista Records and put out her 1975 debut album "Horses," which is now considered to be one of the most beloved albums of all time. 

As Far Out Magazine explains, Smith is one of the most important musicians of all time, especially as a feminine force in rock. Her rebellious, in-your-face attitude won the hearts of many fellow musicians, such as Johnny Marr and Martha Wainwright (via The Guardian). Some of her most popular albums include "Radio Ethiopia," "Easter," "Dream of Life," and so on. Today, Smith commands the respect of the entire music world and has a devoted following that stretches over decades. 

How Patti Smith and Bob Dylan met

Given the monumental status of both Bob Dylan and Patti Smith in music history, it's only natural to expect that the two would eventually rub shoulders. As El Pais explains, it all started in 1975, when the two happened to meet each other after a concert. Smith and Dylan had led similar life trajectories up until that point — both took a risk in uprooting their whole lives and moving to Greenwich Village, New York, for the chance at success. Smith had also admired Dylan greatly before they had met.

As the story goes, Dylan met with Smith backstage after her concert in her dressing room. He first said to her (via El Pais), "Are there any poets around here?" Patti's response was, "I hate poetry!" They eventually met again at a party and even had a photo taken together. As The Irish Times says, Smith related a lot to Dylan, even touring with him on a few occasions. The two also shared a love of lyricism and poetry with similarities in their styles. 

Smith was worried that she ruined her friendship with Dylan

It can be difficult meeting one's idol. For Patti Smith, meeting Bob Dylan almost made her freak out to the point of worrying that she had ruined things. As Far Out Magazine says, after Dylan and Smith's impromptu meeting at the concert, Smith was worried that she had been too dismissive to him. Though Smith's response of "I hate poetry" was only in jest, she wasn't sure if Dylan would see it that way. It turns out, however, that Dylan actually didn't mind at all. The next time the two met, they cleared things up and had a laugh over the whole thing. 

This budding friendship materialized into performing a series of concert tours across the country together. As El Pais explains, Dylan first approached Smith about the idea, and she eventually agreed to it. Smith's husband, Fred Sonic Smith, had died the year prior, sending her into a depression. Dylan helped her return to the stage and cope with her mental health issues.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Patti Smith accepted Bob Dylan's nobel prize on his behalf

One of the most prestigious awards any individual could ever receive is the Nobel Prize. It was founded by inventor Alfred Nobel in 1895 and has since gone on to award 975 people for outstanding contributions in their given field. In 2016, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in literature. As reported by The New York Times, Dylan was the first musician in history to ever receive the award for this category. As the Nobel committee does not have an award for music itself, a musician winning a Nobel Prize turned many heads and sparked some debate. Some people argued that Dylan's work shouldn't have been counted as literature, while others argued that his songwriting is poetry, thus qualifying. 

Dylan himself didn't show up to receive the award, sending Patti Smith in his place. Smith and Dylan had known each other for decades, so the decision came naturally. Smith accepted the award on Dylan's behalf and even performed Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" at the ceremony, according to The New Yorker. Dylan cited prior commitments as a reason for not showing up to the ceremony, which is humorous yet in character all at once.