The only thing I knew about Patti Smith before reading Just Kids was from one of my favorite songs, Midnight Radio. In the song, he sings, “here’s to Patti, and Tina and Yoko… ” I just thought, hey, if Hedwig is including Patti here, she must be pretty cool. And that was it, until Helena recommended the book – and then I finally read it.
Kicks ass. It left me breathless. It left me crying. It took art and poetry; friendship, love and life to a whole ‘nother level. It was the song of a soul, it was the journey of what it takes, the making and breaking of the business and craft of being an artist, a friend.
The story is something like this: she had a baby as a teenager, gave the child up for adoption. Then she left her small town for New York City, determined to “make something” of herself, completely set on being an artist.
She ended up hooking up with Robert Mapplethorpe – chance pulled them together but as cheesy as it sounds, love kept them together. And together they were, for a very long time. They were lovers and friends. Friends first, then lovers, then as Mapplethorpe discovered his homosexuality, they were back to being friends. But it seemed to me that theirs was a true love; a love that saw them through more than the needs of their flesh. It saw them through the needs of their hearts, the yearnings of their souls to create.
They worked hard – and constantly – to figure out what art form would be the best fit for each. Patti Smith started off as a poet, and then worked her way around to drawing, and a smattering of other things. She started singing almost as an afterthought. It took off; she let it take her.
Now, I didn’t know much of anything about Patti Smith before reading this book, but I knew about Robert Mapplethorpe! I’ve always loved his stuff, and I used to cut out his pictures and make collages with them. So, it was pretty cool for me to read in Just Kids that he used to make collages of pictures before he became a photographer himself.
Patti and Robert made art their absolute priority in life. They’d get side jobs to pay the rent (- and it was mostly Patti supporting the both of them) and focused their attention on creating.
I went right on over to Spotify mid-way through this book and downloaded some music of hers. Horses. Easter. I was blown away, feeling this same kind of intensity from her that I felt from Frida Kahlo’s work. It’s just, full-on, WITH YOU. This… I don’t know, what do you call it? Energy. This powerful energy.
Her writing is beautiful. She is truly a poet, a wordsmith. Her words are light years different from her music. In writing, she crafts gorgeous sentences, and is a master at tempering the flow. In music, she has an intense strength, a raw might, a force that wasn’t present in her writing. Both are lovely and I marveled at her ability to create these different ways of expression.
She is bold. Powerful. Real. Inspirational. Inspirational because of her dedication to the craft of art, and also because she is only now re-emerging from the retirement that she placed herself in for the past 30 years. She’s recently released an album (Banga) and another book, M Train, which I can’t wait to get my hands on.
So: would I recommend this book to everyone? Nope. I only recommend it to people that savor fine words, love great stories, strong women and their coffee on the well-side of black.