Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith

There are very few instances when I have no idea where to begin. This would be one of them. Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids is absolutely phenomenal. Though she’s not a lesbian, she writes just as much about herself as she does about Robert Mapplethorpe, first her lover and later her other half.

In writing about her relationship with Robert, she brings up the idea of the Kinsey Scale a few times, (possibly without noticing it). Her relationship with Robert throughout her life was complex to say the least. They were madly in love but broke up because he was actually gay. They stayed together throughout their lives as roommates and best friends still, and Robert would sometimes proposition Patti for casual sex after that point. Smith talks about getting her inspiration for her art at points by observing many beautiful women; and though she points out that she had a strange attraction to them, she also says that she was not a homosexual. I see both as examples of the way certain people lean on the Kinsey Scale, something I believe in.

I just have to mention point-blank that Patti Smith is an incredible storyteller. Being a poet, she makes sure to pack each word with enough electricity to power an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. What I mean to say is, the language she uses is simply beautiful. I found myself looking at every sentence a little longer than I normally would, as if each one was a piece of art in a gallery. Not to mention, she lived the perfect rock and roll lifestyle in the 60’s and 70’s. She ran around New York dressed like a beatnik and almost homeless, lived at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, and even had conversations with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. The amazing part is that she accomplished all of this while completely sober, save for a few dances with marijuana and an accidental acid trip. I can honestly say that I would kill to have lived that life for even a week.

One of my favorite things about her memoir though, is the lack of didacticism. She doesn’t preach any sort of spirituality or mindset; she just talks about how she lived her life. She leaves the message of her life and art up to the reader. I could interpret her stories any way I wanted to, to draw out some personal meaning for my own life. I believe that’s what makes the book so universal. So often in life, we have to figure things out for ourselves, which is often really difficult. Finding meaning in a book that doesn’t explicitly spell it out is great practice.

Just Kids has a lot of mature subject matter like S&M and hard drugs, so I would say that a very mature high school student could read it. The story flows nicely and the words themselves are artfully selected.

Patti Smith is one of those authors that I’m going to keep thinking about. There are certain books that I’ve read where I haven’t understood the meaning right as I read it, but I could feel the change they brought to me. I feel so much more enlightened by her novel, even though I’m not sure how. As I continue to grow and mature, the things she’s experienced will have more relevance to my life and I can draw upon her memoir to navigate through my own life at that point. Hers is one of those books that I know I won’t forget about. The optimism I feel after having read it is too important to forget about.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Just Kids" in comments!


Joanna said...

An impassioned review, thanks Lee. My summer reading list is getting long, but definitely adding this one.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Thanks Joanna, but we both need to thank Soraya, my rockin' it summer intern. And over at Facebook, it's getting some great reviews as well! Definitely on my to-read pile!!! Namaste, Lee

Soraya said...

Well thank you both! I'm probably going to read this book again in the future actually. Honestly, it was that good.

Daniel Teeter said...

As a loyal high school reader of Creem magazine (a pub that often hagiographized rhapsodic about Ms Smith) I was well aware of Patti Smith from early on. I saw her first performance in LA (@ the Fleetwood in Redondo Beach, just her and guitarist Lenny Kaye — her first LP would have a song entitled "Redondo Beach"). I bought her records and followed her career for many years. The fact that she would eventually fall into gooey love (she wrote love songs to her husband, incl "Frederick") and have kids would've seemed unexpected from the iconoclast, boho rebel she was earlier in life.

If you remember, Mapplethorpe, besides being a photog of beautiful pictures — among other things — was at the heart of an art world storm (ca. 1990) when Jesse Helms and others took issue with Mapplethorpe's work (and others) in an exhibition at a publicly funded institution. (I was living in NY at the time and the press couldn't get enough of the story.)

Both would go on to make their marks. I'm glad to see Ms Smith is still making hers. It's also wonderful to see her getting mainstreamed (she was even on Jon Stewart!). I can't wait to read this book.

Thanks for highlighting it, Lee.

Soraya said...

Thank you both so much! I'm actually considering reading the book again- something I never usually do. It was really that good.