Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Just Kids - Patti Smith


Patti photographed by Robert Maplethorpe
for the cover of her first album, Horses
I read this last year and I'm not sure why it's taken me until now to write a little something about it. Perhaps because I reread it again this afternoon during a very long bath when I should have been doing something else. Something that I have already been paid to do but haven't quite got around to doing yet - we all know that feeling, right? Er...
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Anyway Just Kids. Patti Smith is born in Chicago and grows up in New Jersey. The family are blue collar Catholics and Patti is one of those skinny dreamy kids who runs wild outdoors and invents games and imaginary playmates. She's intensely creative and seems to inhabit her own world. Her primary interest is art and poetry. She gets pregnant as a teen and lives at home and then when the neighbours begin to talk moves in with her aunt. She carries the baby to term, has it adopted and moves to New York.
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She lives in squalor for many years and falls in love with another young misfit called Robert Maplethorpe who also dreams of becoming an artist. They move in together in Brooklyn and talk about getting married. She has a succession of low paying jobs to support his endeavours in painting and as time progresses they gradually drift apart. He flees to San Francisco and comes back announcing that he is gay. She accepts this and they decide to remain friends. She gets a job in a bookstore and starts going to poetry readings. They live together in the Chelsea Hotel and gradually get absorbed into Andy Warhol's scene at the Factory. She meets Alan Ginsberg and has an affair with Sam Shephard who initially conceals the fact that he's a famous playwright and married. Eventually of course she becomes a singer and a punk rock icon and he becomes a photographer and artist.
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Patti Smith has two huge things going for her in this book: she has a way with a words and she has an interesting story to tell. Her prose is spare, economical, beautiful and her narrative is full of compassion, wonderful details and humour. This was one of my favourite reads of 2010 and it holds up very well on a second go round. Highly recommended.