Monday, April 14, 2014

Just Kids by Patti Smith

I kept wanting to do something special to mark the milestone of my one-thousandth blog post. Instead, I've written nothing for two weeks. So this is just another review.

The Harper Audio edition of Patti Smith's Just Kids [10 hr] is great. With memoirs, I like hearing the author narrate their own work, and this production is no exception. Hearing the way Smith pronounces certain words makes it feel even more personal. Examples: window, piano (windah, pianah); entered, filtered (en'ered, fillered); shelter (shelder); and drawing (drawling).

There's a part where Smith recites five lines from "Fire of Unknown Origin," which was the first of her poems that she turned into songs. I replayed it three times because I loved it so much. Then I searched for it in YouTube and listened to versions by Blue Oyster Cult (dimly familiar from my teen years) and sung by Smith herself. I like it best spoken.

Patti Smith's self portrait, Brooklyn, 1968
Since I listened to the audiobook some time ago, I had to use the print book to refresh my memory. Bonus! A lot of artwork is included there; drawings and photos.

Robert Mapplethorpe was Smith's close companion for years. They were lovers before he started sleeping with men. They created art in their shared living spaces when they were young and poor, in the 1960s and 70s. Their social circles included people like Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg, and filmmaker Sandy Daley. Daley lived in the room next door to Smith and Mapplethorpe at the Hotel Chelsea. Mapplethorpe started out taking photos with a camera he had borrowed from Daley.

In "Fire of Unknown Origin," the line Death comes sweeping down the hallway in a lady's dress was inspired by Daley's dresses. "Sandy didn't have a diverse wardrobe but was meticulous in her appearance. She had a few identical black dresses designed by Ossie Clark, the king of King's Road. They were like elegant floor-length T-shirts, unconstructed yet lightly clinging, with long sleeves and a scooped neck." This passage had me googling fashion designer Clark as well as Daley. Books that send me off on tangents are the best!

I was friends with kd lang when we were in our 20s. She used to cut her own hair, and that inspired me to do the same. I thought of kd when Smith described this:

"I realized that I hadn't cut my hair any different since I was a teenager. I sat on the floor and spread out the few rock magazines I had. I usually bought them to get any new pictures of Bob Dylan, but it wasn't Bob I was looking for. I cut out all the pictures I could find of Keith Richards. I studied them for a while and took up the scissors, machete-ing my way out of the folk era. I washed my hair in the hallway bathroom and shook it dry. It was a liberating experience."

From a young age, Smith was a bookworm with literary tastes. It's a pleasure to read (or listen) to her prose. She has lots of interesting anecdotes, many of them featuring interactions with cultural icons. What I liked most about Just Kids is gaining a greater appreciation and understanding of the artistic works of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe.

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