M. Sarki's Reviews > Just Kids

Just Kids by Patti Smith
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's review
Feb 09, 2012

really liked it
Read from February 23 to 24, 2012


Detailing her storied relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, and their collaboration as artists and friends, Patti Smith reveals how she evolved into the artist we know today. No one is capable of complete honesty, but the text rings true and her frankness persists throughout.

Just Kids is definitely a page burner.  One’s personal and courageous journey to the center of an awfully scary world.  Pimps and scum and rot and rock.  Poetry with a beat.  Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe.  William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.  Bob Dylan and Bobby Neuwirth.  Andy Warhol and Candy Darling.  The list goes on and on.  But what is even more striking for me is her persistent determination to move forward with her dream of being a famous artist when others weren't as fortunate to be blessed with the same resolve. And they quit, or got lost, taking the easier path to their own destruction. 

For the record, I do love the photographs Mapplethorpe and Smith created together.  I also like some of the songs of Smith, though not too many.  Her poetry is nowhere as good as she might think it is, nor were the poets she reveres and elevated to god-like stature except those she speaks of like Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Van Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix. Of course Arthur Rimbaud must also be included simply for his The Drunken Boat written at sixteen years of age.  But The Beat poets were not the great writers Patti Smith claims they were and they did not leave anything for history but a popular story.  That is, except for Ginsberg's Howl which most respected critics say is a fine poem.  But for the most part these Beat characters dressed the part more than actually producing anything worthy of making history.  They loved to "make the scene".  Jack Gilbert wrote a poem in the early sixties about these people titled, Malvolio In San Francisco, in which he cautioned them from going from playing piano with a hammer and blowtorch to next week reading poetry to saxophones.  Gilbert said he himself played the clown badly and would not turn himself upside down so his ass would stick out as the others did in that city.

Gilbert also got into it with Gregory Corso, the last remnant of The Beats and a miner character who Patti adored for some odd reason.  Years earlier Corso had taken great offense to Gilbert rejecting his poems for inclusion in Gordon Lish's Genesis West magazine.  Gilbert, for a brief time, was the poetry editor and it wasn't enough for Gilbert to just reject the poems as being inferior but he would write notes back to the so-called poets telling them why their poems were rejected and basically explaining to these "beat performance artists" that poetry was more important than just showing your ass.  Lish had to relieve Gilbert of his duties and publish an apology to the wronged for Gilbert's obvious harshness and insensitivity.

One of my favorite segments of Just Kids was toward the end when Smith visits Paris again, this time on her own without her sister, a gift to her from Robert's lover and benefactor Sam.  Her mission was to spiritually get in touch with the poet Arthur Rimbaud.  Her plan was to visit the little town of Charleville, the museum dedicated to him there, and his grave site.  She made the trip by train, but the museum was closed.  She did find the neglected grave site of Arthur Rimbaud.  In Paris she visited Montparnasse Cemetery and the graves of Brancusi and Baudelaire.  She also made it to Père Lachaise Cemetery to visit the unmarked grave of Jim Morrison.  The reason I loved this segment so much was it brought myself back to fond old memories when I traveled in France, my train trip to Auvers-sur-Oise to see the final resting place of the two Van Gogh brothers, my own visit to Montparnasse to visit the graves of Beckett and Baudelaire, and Père Lachaise to see the graves of Morrison and Marcel Proust among countless others.  Patti never mentioned how beautiful these cemeteries are, but it must be noted that they look nothing like most cemeteries in the USA.  These are beautiful places and not enough can be said for what beauty and aesthetic adds to any individual spiritual experience.    

Her many admitted petty thefts in the book are shameless however, and I really never have gotten the logic of some people's thinking about how money is somehow made available to you especially when you need it the most, how it can be something or other divinely planted even though you opened the person’s purse and snatched out of it what wasn't yours to begin with.  A skewed and convenient logic I don't get and never will.   

But Patti Smith can still dance. We have seen her live at the beautiful old Brown Theater in Louisville, Kentucky. And Just Kids is a book worth reading, and is even more delightful if one is familiar with the city of New York and settings such as MacDougal Street and Tompkins Square Park.  Patti Smith made the journey of her life with some interesting characters.  And she made good on her promise to Robert Mapplethorpe to tell the world their story.
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