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‘I hold the key to the sea of possibilities’: Patti Smith Group and the occult

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Patti Smith Group’s (PSG) music occupies a puzzling spot in punk history, given their oscillation between stylistic elements common to rock and roll and a range of ideas inherited from literature and avant-gardism. This article suggests that Smith’s work can be understood in light of her interest in the occult, part of a broader project to render rock and roll as a form of ritualistic practice. I begin by examining the way in which Smith and her commentators engaged with mystical themes, looking not only at her direct relationship to the spiritual world, but also her peculiar interpretation of rock. From there, I argue that Smith extended occult aesthetics, seeking the magical impart hidden within the milieu of midcentury US mass culture. Concluding with an analysis of ‘Land’, one of the group’s most iconic songs, I claim that the singer ultimately attempted to transform punk into an act of musical palingenesis, a form of sonic rebirth.
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Keywords: Patti Smith; Patti Smith Group; music and magic; palingenesis; punk; the occult

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Temple University

Publication date: October 1, 2019

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  • Punk & Post-Punk is a journal for academics, artists, journalists and the wider cultural industries. Placing punk and its progeny at the heart of inter-disciplinary investigation, it is the first forum of its kind to explore this rich and influential topic in both historical and critical theoretical terms.
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