Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Sunday Book: Just Kids - Patti Smith

Sexual confusion, drug abuse, Aids related death... you know, just a bit of light holiday reading. Not that those are really Patti Smith's focus in Just Kids although they are obviously present. Her extended elegy for Robert Mapplethorpe and their love and youth has received a lot of great press so I am sure a lot of you will have read it or will know about it. I have had it sitting mournfully on my bedside table waiting to be read for months. I was drawn to it partially by the good reviews but primarily by my affection for the protagonists. Not that I'm an expert on either but Horses is such a great album (and £3.99 on Amazon!) and Patti is so strong and beautiful and Robert's photos are so beautiful. The hardcore S&M stuff isn't so much my thing but I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of his at the Accademia in Florence where his work was displayed around the David and there was just so much perfect male beauty that I nearly swooned!

And it is a lovely book, if Patti's prose occasionally strains towards the purple there is at least the sense that it isn't strained or put on, that is simply how her brain works. It was interesting to find out that she had never intended to be a singer/rock star, she struggled for a long time to become a painter and poet. Rimbaud was one of her greatest influences and though I don't know enough (anything) about 19th century French literature I am sure it comes through in her style. The real pleasure of the book is its atmosphere - New York in the late 60s and early 70s. So exciting and new and fresh. Artists everywhere, sleeping in parks, beautiful struggle... And the people they come into contact with; Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, so many more. She makes living in squalor and suffering for your art as beautiful as any poet before her.

Because she is chronicling real life there isn't much of a plot but that doesn't seem to matter. From an outsider's perspective she seems to have done a great job of capturing a magical time and a gorgeous if sometimes difficult man. She isn't squeamish and Robert's death made me weep - I got mascara all over the hotel pillow. Also, as you can see above, loads of beautiful photos and drawings throughout. They have done a really nice job on the presentation of the book. And, seriously, two very attractive people!

A moving tribute to an age and an individual. Picturesque.

Chuck x


  1. I love love love Patti Smith and this book is on my to read list. I just keep buying so many books but alas I have so little time. :S

  2. i have been WANTING to read this book forever. you have no idea, i just bookmarked this post of yours to read what you gotta say about this one. i heard this book is a legend!