Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Just Kids, by Patti Smith

I knew Patti Smith as a performer but nothing more, and that's why I thought reading Just Kids would shed some light into her public and personal life and I would get to appreciate her.  I was not aware of Robert Mapplethorpe, but I regarded that as an added bonus.

Smith narrates her days as a young woman, and her struggles when she couldn't even afford to eat - unfortunately, all this in manner that shows no emotion at all.  When she becomes pregnant and she gives her baby up for adoption, I was astonished to read how calm she was throughout her pregnancy.  Everything organised, everything taken care of -- I may belong to a different era, but her attitude made me think of cold-heartedness.  As she barely earns enough money to eat and have a place to sleep, she is lucky enough to always have people around her to help out.  But still, she is reluctant to return to an otherwise respectable job because 

being on my own in Paris had given me a taste of mobility and I had a difficult time readjusting

Smith goes on to describe her relationship with Mapplethorpe, how he becomes homosexual, how she reacts to this (here I have to admit her reaction made me think she was utterly naive, in an era when people were not...).  She starts her art, she meets all the celebrities of the time (again, her narration is pretty much detached - as if these were happening to someone else, not herself).  She cannot come to terms with Mapplethorpe's homosexuality, and yet accepts everything about him... There is not much material on their couple, even though this book is supposed to be about them.

And then there is Rimbaud.  An obsession I still cannot understand, Smith wakes up at some point with a revelation to go to Ethiopia and find the secret papers of Rimbaud (like everyone does?).  When this does not materialise (because she cannot find a sponsor), she is content to go to Charleville, France, where Rimbaud was born and buried.  I admire and respect plenty of public figures, and I would have the financial capacity to do such travels, yet I cannot see myself doing any of this - people are just people...

I was not impressed with the book: for my taste, it was too repetitive, boring and fairly detached.  If this is supposed to be an autobiography, it really did not warm me up to Patti Smith - on the contrary, I believe I lost some of the admiration I might have had for her.

For the die-hard fans of Patti Smith, this book may bring back memories of a long lost carefree era.  I'm not sure what it brings to the general public...


  1. Interesting. We're reading "M Train" for our biography/autobiography/memoir theme book group this year. I'm already not excited about it and this makes me less so. at least it'll be something I've not read before so that's a plus right?!

  2. This was also a book club read for me, which is why I read it to the end...good luck with yours!




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