Just Kids

Patti Smith, Bloomsbury, $22.99

Just kids? Well, the famed rock star Patti Smith and renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe were just kids once … weren’t they?

In this very grown up memoir Patti writes that she and Robert used to laugh at their small selves: Patti was a bad girl trying to be good and Robert was a good boy trying to be bad. The roles reversed time and again over the years and they came to accept their dual natures.

Just Kids is the work of a writer of great potency and poetic sensibility and the book fittingly won the National Book Award for non-fiction in the US in 2010.

Like most good rock memoirs it weaves the personal with the personalities, the personal dramas with the broader history — and here the scene is New York in the ’60s and ’70s — a context from which people like Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, William Burroughs and Jimi Hendrix were redefining art and what being an artist might mean.

Patti, herself, thought of the artist’s life as “sacred mystery”. And she reminded Robert in a letter that he had talked of his artistic process as “holding hands with God”.

As he is dying she urges him to grip hard to God’s hand and not let go.

Just Kids doesn’t steer away from life’s muck or perverse realities so, if you’re squeamish, give it a miss.

Take a chance though (as art surely adjures us to do) and you might be glad that there are people like Patti Smith in the world; an artist who conveys her thoughts so perfectly it can make you smile and weep.

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

 

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