Tuesday, October 04, 2011

be the photograph

Just Kids - Patti Smith

Anyone who has ever found themselves fascinated and awed by the creative process (as I frequently do) should read this book. As should music fans, art lovers, and those who study pop culture.

When Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe met in 1967, they were both young, poor, and adrift in New York City. The poet and the artist were drawn to one another by their mutual appreciation of personal talismans, by their drive for artistic expression. Lovers who transcended sexual drifting and artistic metamorphosis, they continued to support each other emotionally and creatively for twenty years. They remained one another's muse until Robert's death from AIDS in 1989.

Just Kids tells the story of the life that Patti Smith and Robert Mappelthorpe shared, but it is no mere autobiography. Rather, Just Kids is a deeply reverent gaze into the heart of the artist, a laying bare of the creative soul. I now understand why the friend who sent me his copy of Just Kids felt that it had impacted his life so greatly, had coloured the way in which he experienced the world.

This is not a book that I could read quickly, nor did I want to. I found myself stopped time and again, by a particular phrase, an observation, that struck me as so deeply truthful that I needed to process what I had just read before I could continue. Never before has anyone dissected the creative process in such a personal and profound manner as Patti Smith does in Just Kids. I was forced many times during the reading of this book to evaluate my own relationship with my creativity, such as it is. This is life-changing stuff.

Just Kids is a very simply written book. Using deceptively straightforward narrative, Smith relates her personal history as a given, tossing out names as she unravels the lives of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Many times I was driven to again stop, to google a name so familiar yet so unknown, with whom she had encounters, by whom she had been influenced.

And through all this simplicity runs the perfect phrasing of a true poet. Therein lies the difference (or rather, one of many) between Patti Smith and a mere scribe like me; where I keep writing, adding layer upon layer of words on top of each other until I have said what I need to say, a poet like Patti Smith finds the one perfect word that says it all.

So I will keep it simple. Read this book.


Sean Wraight said...

Perfect Barbara, just perfect!

It really is amazing when a book can communicate with a reader on so many levels and Just Kids does that so well. The book felt like a painting to me, her simple words and stories so very compelling and beautiful; drawing you in and inspiring you entirely.

I still think about this book in some way every day. I suspect its had exactly the same effect on you.

Great post my friend.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm not sure I would have read Just Kids were it not for you, Sean, so as usual, I have to thank you. Thank you! This really is a book that enriched my life, so fearless, so inspiring.

Everyone who considers themselves to have even a shred of creativity should read this.

mister anchovy said...

I really want to read this one. There's also a new biography out about Ian and Sylvia that I have my eye on. Curiously, I normally don't read a lot of biographies, but now I find myself more interested. I'm right now in the middle of that roller coaster ride called Life by Keith Richards, which is simply a must read.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think Just Kids would really appeal to the artist in you, Mr Anchovy. I'd be interested to hear your impressions of it.
I don't normally read a lot of biographies either, but those rock ones are hard to resist. I'll keep my eyes open for the Keith Richards book. I imagine it's craaaaazy!

Anonymous said...

Keith Richard's Life is crazy, Barbara. I concur with Mr. Anchovy, you will enjoy that one.

I saw a review on it somewhere and that sold me.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Now you have me even more curious, Leazwell. I may need to add to the groaning TBR pile on my bedside table.

Remi said...

I used an itunes store gift card someone gave me to buy the audiobook of the Keith Richards book. I pretty much never do audiobooks but I couldn't resist hearing Johnny Depp (in a voice somewhere between Hunter S. Thompson and Keith Richards) read the book.

I agree about Just Kids. It was great.