Just Kids, Patti Smith, HarperCollins Publishers, 2010, 279 pp
I loved, loved, loved this book! Patti Smith recreates the lives of so many people who only lived to create. Her love for Robert Mapplethorpe just throbs on every page. She promised Robert, before he died, that she would write their story and she fulfilled that promise with so much taste and passion and exuberance that it made me want to live and die for art.
I was never a Patti Smith fan. Anyone who reads my blog knows that among singer/songwriters Joni Mitchell is the one I revere. I did however once write a song in the style of "Because the Night." I've only ever played it for my husband and my most intimate songwriter friend, but there it is. As an artist and as a woman though, I have always had great respect for Patti Smith. When a friend whose reading tastes I admire pressed Just Kids on me (literally she put the book in my hands) I knew I would read it.
I took my time. For me, this was an intense reading experience. Patti and I are almost the same age and both grew up in New Jersey. Like me, she had to wend her way through the sexual mores and expectations for women that prevailed in the 1950s and early 1960s. Unlike me, she was much braver. She makes it clear that meeting and loving Robert was the most momentous event of her life. Together they gave each other the support and unconditional care that every artist needs. They also gave each other unlimited freedom. It could be argued that that much freedom is dangerous and indeed it is. But the danger versus the opportunity to achieve artistic goals was balanced perfectly in their lives.
A luxurious quantity of photos throughout the book bring the story to life better than any video ever could, though I did go to YouTube immediately on finishing the last page and watched almost every Patti Smith video I could find. Mapplethorpe's photography is stunning. Hard to believe that he took a huge proportion of them on Polaroid because he could not afford a better camera for many years. The Polaroid film was a larger budget item for him than food or rent.
Stories about nearly everyone who was anyone during their days at the Chelsea Hotel, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and many more, feel like affection more than anything else. She completely captures those magical years in New York City. I never knew, but of course loved it, that Patti's biggest songwriting hero was Bob Dylan. Her inside look at her poetry writing process was another eye opener.
The announcement that Patti Smith had won the National Book Award for Just Kids got me to finish the book. Truly I did not want it to end. I must give back the copy I read to my friend but I am going to buy one for myself. I want to read it again and again.
(Just Kids is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)