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We Can Be Heroes. A Patti Smith Reflection by Paarth Kansal


Musical artist Patti Smith gained prominence during the anti-establishment period of the 1970’s. Smith’s experiences are outlined in her article, “We Can Be Heroes” in which she relates her own process of identity-formation to her growing affinity for the counterculture of the time. Smith initially speaks from the perspective of a teenager who is struggling to develop her own identity. Teenagers are continually developing a sense of self in the context of social norms and social opposition, which is clearly illustrated in Smith’s article. She states that teenagers, “are trapped in [their] own teenage skins. [They] long for a way out but lack the right moves, verbs, and curves… Any means necessary to break out.” (Smith 1993). Smith also notes that the poet Rimbaud offered her solace through his work Illuminations, which outlined the “the pain, the rapture, all the indignities,” that she had experienced during this phase of her life. Smith’s desire for self-expression during her early life demonstrates the perspective of a formative teenager.

As Smith’s article continues, she focuses less on her teenage years and more on her adulthood. She notes that she had experienced, “a lifetime of growing pains. Integration, assassination, hallucination, Vietnam—all backed by great spurts of rock 'n' roll,” (Smith 1993). As the 1970’s progressed, the Western World experienced a growing distrust toward the establishment, which took the form of peace rallies, anti-war sentiment, and activist movements (Chepkemoi 2018). Thus, the confirming player of this countercultural period in history may be considered the United States government, with groups devoted to ending the war in Vietnam, furthering rights for various social groups, and promoting non-violence being the counter-cultural players of the period. Likewise, the emergence of Rock N’ Roll, a notably expressive form of music with anti-establishment undertones, may be considered a countercultural agent of the period as well.


Smith, P. (1993, July). We can be heroes. Details. Chepkemoi, J. (2016, November 30). What Was The Counterculture Of The 1960s and 1970s? Retrieved from


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