Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Patti Smith's Just Kids

I know that I'm very late to this party but sometimes I'm just so unreasonably ornery. Why did I delay in reading this memoir even after it was deemed a National Book Award winner? Who knows but, oh my, better late than never. You must listen to this book! It could be read by no other than the author herself.

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I've tried to think about where I was and what I was doing in the early '70's that would have kept me from knowing about Patti Smith. She's now being called "the grandmother of rock and roll." A Jersey girl, by way of Philly, while I was still in college she had set off for New York City and the opportunity to follow her dream of creating art. Not cut out for school and certainly not for the factory job she was escaping, Patti Smith had the courage of her convictions and a little bit of luck, a push from the Fates, a lost coin purse in a phone booth - remember those? - that enabled her to get on that train to the city.

Her memoir is a book for the ages. She manages to capture the zeitgeist of those crazy years; women were finally coming into their own, the sexual revolution was upon us without the specter of the horrific illness that would soon devastate our ranks, singers, songwriters, poets, and artists were pushing the boundaries, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Allen Ginsberg, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Woodstock, there was an explosion of creativity and Ms. Smith, though seemingly on the periphery, was influenced more than even she knew.

Her writing is gorgeously fluid, her voice is humble and unassuming. At the heart of this memoir is love with a capital L. Although Ms. Smith's life is inextricably entwined with that of the controversial artist/photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the lifelong love they shared, it is also a memoir of familial love, spiritual belief, and a complete and abiding faith in one's own talent and ability. It's a tale of resilience and staying power.

There is a kindness to Patti Smith that is evident throughout this remarkable book. She doesn't "dish" on folks, though she's seen plenty. She was dismissed by some but never judges those people. Rather, she profusely thanks those who helped her and Robert as they pursued their passions, during the many lean years, times when friends fed them, loaned them clothes, and gave them a spot to flop. Patti's supremely emotionally supportive family shines, Robert's, not so much, even though Patti graciously handles the anecdotes revolving around Robert's mother.

Reading this memoir sparked a curiosity in me. I had to go online and see what was going on while I was navigating the waters of a new marriage and instant motherhood. Through the wonders of the Internet I was able to see video of Patti Smith and her band performing, as they still do even though this remarkable woman is 66 years old. I also found an interview she did at the Smithsonian shortly after she received the National Book Award. http://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?p=patti+smith+at+the+Smithsonian

Just Kids is a joy to read and, for this librarian, an ode to the self-taught man. Patti Smith's prodigious reading and knowledge of poetry and the arts is profound. Her love of the written and spoken word is there on every page. I simply loved this book. Did you?


Linda said...

I too loved this book, as did my youngest daughter who told me I MUST read it. Although I didn't listen to it, I like the idea of hearing Patti read her own words. You'll want to see the actual book's illustrations though.

TooManyBooks said...

O.K. I guess as a fellow "Jersey Girl", I'll put this one on my ever growing list!

Sallyb said...

Oh Linda, great to hear from you. I was thinking that I should pop over to the library and take a look at the print copy for just that reason.