Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith (3/5)

27 Feb

Yet another book club selection! I feel that most of the books I read are book club selections and I’m 100% okay with this. This wasn’t one of my favorites, but I’m still glad I read it.

I don’t think I was the target audience for this one, having never heard of Patti Smith or her music before I cracked the spine. That’s probably the biggest reason for my rating; I really wasn’t engaged in the topic.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Patti never though she would be the famous one of her friends. When she moved to New York and met Robert Mapplethorpe, she saw genius in his work and felt lucky to be a part of his journey. By meeting the right people, Smith was able to move from an unknown poet, to an unknown lyricist, to a highly influential singer/songwriter through the 1970s.

Smith and Mapplethorpe met when they were both developing their place in the art world; Smith looking for a way to express herself in words and Mapplethorpe in images. Together they weathered financial and professional hardships. As Mapplethorpe explored his sexuality, Smith was a supportive friend despite their romantic past. Both were struggling to discover who they were and who they wanted to be.

The book did stick with me for it’s lyrical prose, something only a poet can do. Smith’s background writing poetry made for some beautiful turns of phrase that I really enjoyed. The topic didn’t interest me and because I didn’t know anything about Patti Smith, I was as surprised as her when she got lucky breaks and found her way to the world of rock and roll. From the Johnny Depp review on the back cover, I was expecting something very raw, most likely involving a little bit of sex and drugs, but also a deep passion. I got all of that. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone who wasn’t already a Patti Smith fan but if you are, I really think you must read her book.

Smith spoke a lot about family, but not in the traditional sense. Her family in New Jersey wasn’t what got her through her tough times. Yes, her sister did travel to Paris with her, but it was the people of the Hotel Chelsea and Robert who were there for her when she needed it and they were the ones she supported in their time of need. Smith’s adopted family was strong group and one would be lucky to find such a group of people to support one through the tough times in life. I think Smith was very fortunate to find the group she did when she did because it helped shape her and her art.

Friendship is another topic that Smith delves into deeply. Her friendship with Robert was atypical to say the least. They started out as lovers and when Robert discovered his sexuality, Smith never doubted that she still loved him, only in a different sense, more like family than a mate. The two relied on each other for company, love, support, and inspiration throughout the years they spent in New York, living together more often than not. Given the chance to show in a gallery, Smith chooses to do so only if allowed to show next to Robert. The pair work together naturally. When Robert is sick and Patti lives in Detroit, she doesn’t let the distance separate them and makes a great effort to visit and call him on a regular basis, supporting him through his illness.  That sort of friendship is rare and Smith treasured it like the gem that it is.

This memoir is unlike a lot of others I’ve read because it focuses on another person as much as the writer. Most memoir writers want to tell their own story, but Smith is concerned with telling her story only as far as it overlapped with Robert’s. More than anything, she wanted to have people remember him. In that sense, it almost reminds me of The Great Gatsby, where Nick tells Gatsby’s story instead of Gatsby telling his own. I really liked the medium.

Mapplethorpe ultimately died of AIDS in a time when the disease wasn’t fully understood and treatment was almost nonexistent. I loved the way that Smith portrayed the fall from grace her scene in New York took with the emergence of the disease and it’s destruction on Robert’s body. It made me think what Robert’s chances would have been today, with better knowledge about the spread and treatment of the disease. It’s sad that a pioneer like him had to succumb to something so cruel.

Writer’s Takeaway: Smith’s poetic prose was really moving. She was able to describe light and music in a way that I think many prose writers cannot and I think this is easily attributable to her being a poet and lyricist. I also liked the time of her life she chose to focus on and I think she did a good job of describing how she came to be in the position she found herself by the end.

Overall, a decent read, but not for me. Three out of five stars.

This book fulfilled the 1970-1989 time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge and New York for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Just Kids | EmilyBooks
Just Kids by Patti Smith | Friends of Atticus

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2 Responses to “Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith (3/5)”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. WWW Wednesday, 26-Feb-2014 | Taking on a World of Words - March 11, 2014

    […] finished: Just Kids by Patti Smith. Review will be up […]

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  2. Book Club Reflection: Just Kids by Patti Smith | Taking on a World of Words - March 18, 2014

    […] book club met last Monday to discuss our latest selection, Just Kids by Patti Smith. In my review I said that I felt removed from Smith because her fame was before my time. There were a few other […]

    Like

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