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Did punk rock icon Patti Smith sell out for Disney?

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."


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


Comments () | Archives (33)

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Who cares? I don't think less of Patti. She still rocks. Why does it matter? She's still an awesome artist.

Someone could argue that you sold out since you write for the L.A. Times.


Oh, leave Patti Smith alone! She can do no wrong!


no way, she's exactly who she is , as always , a great artist, writer, poet, and human being.


Did you sell out to write this article? Is this the great American Novel?

trey  s

60 year old women are not punk, period.

Now please do a piece on band Nick 13 or Lolita No. 18, some relevant young punks!


I was hit with an avalanche of vitriol when I gave her novel "Just Kids" a "just so-so" review on Amazon. To have all of these idiot 30 year old's tell me that I just didn't 'get' Patti was hilarious. These little morons were not even born when i saw her at the Roxy all five nights that she performed in '76.

Just reading the stilted language in the book as well as her ridiculous ability to place herself smack in the middle of some of pop and rocks most historical moments was a bit much. Then the insipid interview with Johnny Depp in Vanity Fair? Clearly, old punks don't die...they just become sell-outs.


We get older and we change. If you remain that same person you were in your early twenties then you obviously haven't learned much from your life. I can remember when I was in my early twenties being grilled by some 16 year old about how I wasn't "punk enough" because I hadn't heard of some of the obscure bands he was listening to. I was what? five years older than him? I learned then that the whole pop/hip/culture thing is just a never-ending carousel you go round and round on until you finally decide to jump off and walk away. There's always somebody younger who is going to jump on in your place and try to catch that ever elusive hipster brass ring. It is what it is, let them have their day.
Patti Smith, on the other hand has been there done that. I think it's cool she dressed up as a pirate and posed for Disney, because ultimately it says, "I really don't care what you think about me."
That kind of confidence never goes out of style.

Paleta Fresca

Heck of a job on the headline Brownie... er, whoever...

elvis anonymous

Even well-known punks have bills to pay and insurance to buy. Maybe she and Mr Richard have a thing going, (or an album in the works).

Judi Edwards

wasn't Patti Smith married to Springsteen?


Punk Icon.? Patti is great, but I'm pretty sure the author doesn't know the difference between punk and rock and roll...


Mellow out people....I've seen the Clash a dozen times and used to rail against "the Man". Now I'm 55 and am a management consultant.


Why would they be on the set of "Salt?"


Oh gawd. Here we go. The LA Times calling foul, yes, the same LA Times featuring Patti Smith this Saturday at their Festival of Books. Please, enough of this selling out crap. Patti Smith is no more of a sellout than her hero Bob Dylan, who's been accused of selling out numerous time including recently by Maureen Dowd. Sean Wilentz cleared up that one.


She can smell a buck a mile away. This is all about $.


There's an irony missed here:
Disney is giving her money because she is Patti Smith.
She isn't Patti Smith because Disney pays her.

Obvious oversight:
Maybe the event is meaningless other than three people who respect each others' work got together for a laugh. At a corporation's expense. That is kinda punk, idnit?

Further thought:
Depp & Leibovitz aren't being called sellouts although they are feeding well from the Disney teat. Not to say they are; they are getting paid to do what they want to do. Punk or not punk: win.

Sudden realization:
It (the photo, this article) is all hype.
About a series of movies based on an amusement park ride.

Hush yr judgement:
It's entertainment, not political policy.


Oh come on, she and Johnny probably smoked it up after the shoot. Sell out to Disney, my Aunt Fanny.


So that's what punk's come to, Michelle -- a bunch of middle-aged gits playing punker-than-thou?


Johnny Depp was in "Salt"?


Why do people think that people have "sold out" when they do something for Disney? Sheesh, both Depp & Smith have come a LONG way, and I'm glad to see them both do what they want & the heck what anyone thinks. Kudos to both of them---people do evolve over the years; why should celebs be any different?

Mitchell Young

I've always wondered how Patti Smith became 'a punk icon'. Google tells me I'm not the only one that thinks her one semi-famous song, "Because the Night", is gay anthem material. Nothing wrong with that... but it isn't punk rock musically or in attitude.

As for the Monkeys, their "Not Your Stepping Stone", with its three chords and radical tempo changes, has long been a slamming (that's "moshing" to you whipper snappers) favorite. The early Sex Pistols used to open sets with it, and the punkish mod/ska band the Untouchables covered it on their first release.


Patti's sense of personal fashion really hasn't changed a lot over the years and I love that she doesn't feel the need to conform to what the mainstream considers beautiful. Still, it was kind of nice to see Patti dressed up.... She makes a great pirate!

Ed Duboce

Was This the Most Trite Article You Have Read All Day?


Then I read Michelle's comment.


Who cares really. ?


Patti Smith is truly amazing. However, it pains me to see her in anything related to Disney. There has been a long struggle with Disney trying to take away affordable health care from its low paid service workers (who make about $9-$10 an hour). If she knew what Disney ($4 billion in profit last year) was doing to the working poor, I'm certain it would disgust her.


Gee, it seems to me the most punk thing to do in this situation would be to stop whining about who has or hasn't sold out, who is or isn't punk, this article, these comments and go have some damn fun. That is if punks can still remember what fun is.


Rockergirl, do you work for Local 11?. I agree Disney sucks but one can't always be consistent. I boycott Disney and a variety other companies who mistreat workers and work for Local 11's sister org, but sometimes I think we should just enjoy art for art. Frankly, Patti probably doesn't even know about the boycott. A good question to ask her on Saturday along with equally cool and socially just Dave Eggers.


who the hell is Patti Smith. And I love anything Disney so there!!!


Ms. Smith never raked in the kind of money mainstream artists made. When she left the scene she lived in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, for god sakes! It is NOT Grosse Pointe, but a blue collar/mid-manager kind of suburb. And, since everyone seems to rail against pensions/the rich these days: she's making money the old-fashioned way...she's working! If she was a 60-year old hooker the LA times would say 'poor Patti, look how hard it is for her'. Since she makes a chunk from Disney, she's vilified.

David Ehrenstein

She also appears in Jean-Luc Godard's wildly avant-garde "Film Socialisme" so it's safe to say that Patti is still Patti.


The writer couldn't tell the difference between "salt" and " the tourist" (see correction). Need I say more? Patti rocks!

andi o

your article is rather misled. yes, patti smith has been called the godmother of punk, and has inspired countless musicians, artists, writers, photographers and evolved thinkers. that was a title given to her over 35 years ago by the press. patti was, and always will be, an artist just doing her work.

in regards to the disney park ad campaign,the fact that patti is friends with johnny depp, and annie leibovitz, has to do with the fact that they are kindred spirits with a path to just do their work. if this wonderful photograph and experience of making the photograph was an opportunity for artists who appreciate each other to work together, then so be it.

the world is a canvas with many opportunities, sometimes from the least expected places. those that take advantage of that exploration are navigators. nothing more.


Y'know, I was shocked to see that as well. I am a bit over the whole 'selling out' thing but I don't like Disney as a company and I have never seen the Pirates films but She's a friend of Johnny's and maybe she has mellowed a little, I dunno - I wouldn't have done it but I'm not Patti so who knows what her reasons were... I still love that woman



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