Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Just Kids (2010)

(requested by reader B.R.)

I came to it late, but really loved Patti Smith's memoir. I learned about a lot of things I hadn't known before: her mysterious first child, a soul-bonding friendship with the great photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and all her fascinating adventures in New York in the late '60s and early '70s. It's an homage to her friend Robert more than anything, and often very tender. Smith remains a unique figure, a hippie chick with a punk attack, forever in love with poetry and words and art, and a Jersey girl under all of it. These themes are fleshed out more than ever here. She revered Rimbaud and Baudelaire, yet she also had shrewd instincts that served her well. She worked at Scribner's and later the Strand as a bookstore clerk for many years, and learned how to suss out good buys in collectors' editions. A move out of the Chelsea Hotel, where she and Robert lived for a year or two, and into a large studio space nearby, was financed by a 26-volume Henry James edition she found for cheap somewhere. Speaking of the Chelsea Hotel, that's the longest section in the book, with lots of interesting characters and obviously the period she remembers with the most fondness. She met Janis Joplin and William Burroughs there. She met Allen Ginsberg in an automat restaurant, where she was a dime short for what she wanted and he thought she was a boy he might be able to pick up. She had a kind of charmed existence for all its tribulations and difficulties then. Just Kids is perhaps most interesting of all for its story of the parallel developments of Smith and Mapplethorpe as artists. When they first met, thrown together two times by chance, he never intended to be a photographer and she never intended to be a rock star. They came to their places through one another, and not without their pains, because honestly, look how unlikely on the face of it that those two would end up together, given how far apart they went. Yet the bond was always there and always honored—that's the only thing to come away from this book with, and really it's a lot. It's the reason the book was written. It's very generous and in all the familiar ways Patti Smith is generous: acting the Earth Mother and the Holy Fool in the name of rock 'n' roll and art and poetry. It's a beautiful thing truly, and so is this book.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. Best case for why someone should read this book I've come across. Thanks.