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Monday, February 22, 2010

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith

I was so happy to see that Patti Smith's memoir "Just Kids" has made it into the top ten on the New York Times bestseller list. In Patti's words...

Before his untimely death on March 9, 1989 I promised my great friend Robert Mapplethorpe that I would write our story that began when we were both twenty. It was the summer of 1967. The summer of love. It took a long time to write. Sometimes it gave me great pleasure but often it would produce such a sense of loss that I had to set it aside. Now it is finished. I have kept my promise and told our table. It is not a story of fame and fortune. It is the unfolding of life and art, our youthful struggles and our hopes and dreams."

I just finished reading my autographed (ahem) copy and was struck by how unremarkable Smith and Mapplethorpe's lives really were before they struck it "big." Luckily Patti's writing makes "unremarkable" interesting as do the photos, many of which I hadn't seen before. It's hard to believe there was a time when someone could arrive in New York City with under $40 in hand, not have a job, nor anywhere to stay, and not only come out unscathed, but eventually emerge victorious.

From the moment I heard the first note then Patti sing that first line of "Gloria"..."Jesus died for some body's sins, but not mine..." looking out onto the audience with "the stare", I was hooked. She was/is my favorite female performer. When I was young punk I followed her throughout New York City. I've seen her too many times to count, and not enough to be satisfied. The very last time I was supposed to see her was at the Paladium in the late seventies. I never made it there as I had gotten beaten and robbed by a gang on the train on my way there. I never saw her live again, although I make sure to always listen to her live New Year's Eve show from the Diplomat Hotel on Sirius Satellite Radio.

Although I probably could have become one, I was too cool to consider myself a groupie. I do regret my indifferent attitude the time I entered an elevator at Arista Records and came face-to-face with Patti in a neck brace and Lenny Kaye holding tins of tracks which probably were "Radio Ethiopia." All I did was nod. I felt out of my skin dressed in a creme colored skirt with ruffled shirt on my way to a dead-end job interview. Having a line from "Ain't it Strange" ring through my head, I wanted to fall on the floor, tell her this wasn't the real me, proclaim my undying devotion, and beg her to put a good word for me with human resources. All I did was nod. She said hi, he said hello. All I did was nod. That remains one of my biggest regrets, and I don't have many regrets. I didn't get the job either.

My heart felt broken after she got married, left NYC and headed to Detroit to raise her two children. I felt sad, empty, and I was angry at her for abandoning me, then disappointed. After all I thought she was, all she really was, was normal. I looked for her faults, and sneered when I found out she couldn't even drive a car. How did I ever look up to such a woman? But then I became pregnant. Suddenly I understood exactly why she did what she did.

When I heard she was writing the memoir about her past with Mapplethorpe I was intrigued at the possibilities. The book heads in a direction different than I imagined it would. Patti paints a vivid portrait of the past, that turns out actually was innocent. I almost get the feeling she is holding back at points. She's a more respectful memoirist than I am. No stranger to the loss of friends and family, I'm sure it must have been retching to remember at some stages. I could feel her pain. I know there are times I have to walk away from my memoir because it just hurts too much. This book couldn't have come out at a more perfect time. It was like seeing "the stare" for the first time...I needed the inspiration to push myself through to the end of my book. After all these years, she's still my muse.

"Just Kids" is the natural progression of her talent, and the beginning of something else...I can't wait to see what comes next.


  1. Wow! what a great article! i didn't realize you were this familiar with Patti Smith. that must have been quite an environment, growing up in NYC around that time, being a punk kid.

  2. Best time of my life...I miss those days, sigh...