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Did punk rock icon Patti Smith sell out for Disney?

April 25, 2011 |  1:14 pm

Disney Ad_Patti Smith and Johnny Depp

There was a wave of hubbub last week when Patti Smith appeared in the newest "Disney Dream" ad campaign. The eight-page spread features a cast of Hollywood actors as Disney characters photographed by Annie Leibovitz. But then, as if out of nowhere, there's Smith as a co-pirate to Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow. Sure, she's friends with Depp and must have respected his subversive interpretation of Sparrow; it's true that she's worked with Leibovitz since the '70s; and it's no surprise to learn that as a child she liked to dress up as a pirate. Still, it does seem odd that those factors were persuasive enough to get the punk rock icon to hang up her anti-establishment cloak to shill for Disney. The reaction, online at least, has been a blitz of posts and tweets expressing confusion.  

But maybe it's not so surprising. In a 1996 episode of “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, Smith seemed to distance herself from her 1975 persona. Explaining her motivation for her debut record "Horses," she drove the point home that she'd been young.

"['Horses'] encompasses a lot of the anarchistic, adolescent energy of a, y'know, sort of a late-blooming 22-year-old. […] Land of a Thousand Dances, became really like a, a battleground for all kinds of adolescent excursions."

Then in the January issue of Vanity Fair, she revealed her mainstream leanings in a Q&A she conducted with Depp.

Smith: We have another dirty little secret. A Monkees song.

Depp: Oh, “Daydream Believer.” It's a great song. I don't care what anyone says.

Smith: “Daydream Believer” came on the radio when we were driving to the set. It was a moment of total happiness. It's a pure, happy little song. What bad thing can you say about it?

Depp: I know, I know. It's OK to like “Daydream Believer.” There's nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure from time to time. Know what I mean? It's “Daydream Believer.” I'm justifying my own flag.

Smith: A Monkee and I have the same birthday …

Depp: Is it Micky Dolenz?

Smith: No, it's actually two Monkees. Mike and Davy. I used to be horrified by that fact, but now I don't care anymore. I have the same birthday as Bo Diddley, Rudyard Kipling and Paul Bowles … and two Monkees.

Depp: That's pretty good. That's a good balance.

So is it that she grew up and evolved? Or is this simply the godmother of punk's latest act? Smith has never walked an entirely straight line when it comes to her personal manifesto. In one interview, she shrugs off religion as not for her; in another, she embraces the Bible. She was once partnered with one of the most controversial artists of our time, and now she visits Depp on the set of movies like "The Tourist." Shilling for Disney? Maybe it's not so surprising.

UPDATE: A previous version of this post mistakenly referred to the movie "The Tourist" as "Salt."

ALSO:

Photo essay: Christ comes to Los Angeles via mural

How L.A.'s mysterious side inspires Rodarte's subversive couture

The conversation: Protecting L.A.'s artistic identity

-- Alexandra Le Tellier  

Photo: Disney Parks ad. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz. Credit: Disney Parks

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