This week’s featured book in The Travel List series is Patti Smith’s – Just Kids.
Smith chronicles her artistic diaspora from the Midwest to NYC in the late ’60s to seek out her self-definition as an artist, where she almost immediately has a chance meeting with Robert Mapplethorpe. The two go on to have an intense relationship, with a bond that endures until his death, while each forges their respective identities as artists, finding their respective practices that launches the two of them into the avant-garde of music and photography. For a close, exquisite and raw glimpse into NYC during the late ’60s and into the ’70s, this book takes you there. The details Smith gives of their time living in the eponymous Chelsea Hotel make it almost tangible and give life again to several characters now long gone who spent time there – Janis, Jimi and others.
Considering the contributions that Smith and Mapplethorpe have each made, and in her case, continue to make, in the worlds of art and music, to have such an intimate view into where this started for the two of them and how it came to be took my breath away. It felt like walking alongside two friends as they found themselves as artists, each working so desperately to find the medium that allowed them out of themselves – and almost not finding that medium altogether. Smith’s candid account of how they came to be where they are truly gives you some insight into the near misses of many artists and musicians that we have come to know today – if all it took was someone putting a Polaroid in Mapplethorpe’s hands.
This book rendered me speechless at times – and almost as fast, ensured that I could not talk about anything else for at least a month, buying copies for friends to pass along. The accolades that she received for Just Kids - the National Book Award amongst countless other nods and great reviews – could not surprise anyone given the poignancy of this book and its amazing prose. There are lines within it that just stun, leading you to read them over and truly understand that you are reading the prose of a poet – and poets, like Rainer Maria Rilke and others have proven to make excellent novelists and prose writers time and time again. Given the door that Patti Smith opens onto her relationship with Robert, if you can read this on a plane or a beach without some tears, it will be far more than just surprising.
This will definitely be coming with me to NYC in May for the inaugural Frieze NY…an appropriate re-read given the context. I may just have to make a few Patti-inspired pilgrimages to Coney Island and the Chelsea…
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