Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Just Kids - Review

Just KidsI read Patti Smith's widely acclaimed memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe Just Kids over the winter and felt ambivalent about it. On one hand, Smith is clearly deft with words - she's a poet after all - so the book was eminently readable. On the other, I'm just about ten years too young to get all the cultural references. I was familiar with many of the major players (Andy Warhol, the musicians and actors), but pretty much none of the secondary ones, which left me feeling lost every now and then.

Smith does an enviable job of transporting the reader back to the New York City of the 1970s, and she documents the entire course of her tumultuous relationship with Mapplethorpe vividly. But the book left me wishing she had filled in more of the details about herself and her life, instead of just her life as it intersected with Robert's. I was particularly frustrated by this passage:
One late afternoon, we were walking down Eighth Street when we heard "Because the Night" blasting from one storefront after another. It was my collaboration with Bruce Springsteen, the single from the album Easter. Robert was our first listener after we had recorded the song. I had a reason for that. It was what he always wanted for me. In the summer of 1978, it rose to number 13 on the Top 40 chart, fulfilling Robert's dream that I would one day have a hit record.
I just really wanted it to be more about her! And I would have loved to hear about the songwriting collaboration, independently of the fact that I've always loved that song.

Balancing out the frustrating parts are the poignant ones where she captures what being young is like:
I sat on the floor as Kris Kristofferson sang her "Me and Bobby McGee," Janis (Joplin) joining in the chorus. I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied with my own thought that I hardly recognized them as moments.
Despite my ambivalence, I'd recommend this book, particularly if you're interested in the artistic process and lifestyle.

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