Just Kids/Patti Smith: Reflections

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I couldn't stop reading Just Kids, Patti Smith's memoir.  I was supposed to be doing other things—was in the land of mouse ears and Grumpy, among writers and teachers, in a hotel nestled around this cloud-reflecting lagoon.  But Patti Smith writes poetry, she tells a story, she searches for truth, and Just Kids is so full of the surprising line, the arresting scene.  It's full of Patti Smith herself, a rock and roller with a vulnerable heart, a scorcher of a performer who nonetheless craves the sacred companionship of books.

Just Kids is advertised primarily as the story of Smith's relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, and that it is.  But it is also the story of Smith's ascension through art—the years she spent choosing between buying a cheap meal and an old imprint, between being an artist or a writer, between being Mapplethorpe's lover and his best friend.  She tells us about the conversations that generate ideas among artists and friends, about coincidences that set a life on its path, about the clothes she wore and the mis-impressions she couldn't correct, about a kind of love that is bigger than any definition the world might want to latch onto it.  She yields an entire era to us, and though her writing is all sinew, strength, and honesty, she does not once betray her friends, does not invite us to imagine privacies that should remain beyond the veil.

This is, then, a revelation of a book, an exemplar.  I could quote from every line.  I'll simply give you the beginning:

When I was very young, my mother took me for walks in Humboldt Park, along the edge of the Prairie River.  I have vague memories, like impressions on glass plates, of an old boathouse, a circular band shell, an arched stone bridge.  The narrows of the river emptied into a wide lagoon and I saw upon its surface a singular miracle.  A long curving neck rose from a dress of white plumage.

You don't assess writing like that.  You honor it. The National Book Award Nonfiction Panel got this one just right.


A Cuban In London said...

Hey, Beth, like you, I know I will be mesmerised by Patti's writing. I came to her fairly late in life (is there a 'before' or 'after' for good art? No! :-D) and was immediately sucked into her world. 'Horses' remains one of my favourite albums ever.

Thank you very much for that little mini-review.

Greetings from London.

Melissa Sarno said...

The New York Public Library is keeping this memoir from me (it's been in 'transition' for several weeks now) and your reflections are just making me more impatient. :-)

bermudaonion said...

Thanks for the review! I'll have to get my hands on this one now.

Lilian Nattel said...

That's a beautiful excerpt Beth. Thank you for the review. It goes on my list.

Becca said...

Now I really want to read this.

septembermom said...

Beth, thank you for sharing this excerpt with us. I enjoyed your review. I will check this one out. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family :)

Florinda said...

This one's on my Christmas wish list. I'm glad to know it made such a good impression on you!

Beth F said...

You pushed me over edge. I was so unsure about this. Now I'm solidly confident I should read it.

Webfloater said...

I am in the process of reading Patti Smith's book. It's giving me a completely different view of both Smith and Maplethorp, as well as New York during this very interesting period of time. I have not been her fan, but now will definitely be. She's not only an interesting person, but a good writer. READ THIS BOOK!

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