JUST KIDS by Patti Smith

Well folks, I am finally back from a long December hiatus. Working retail during the holidays is no joke! I’m sorry I didn’t have as much time to devote to this blog. Hopefully I will be back on track as my schedule settles back down. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

One of the reasons why I love the holiday season so much is that it gives me a chance to reflect on the people in my life that are important to me. In that spirit, it seems fitting to have read Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids. “Memoir” is the best name for this book, but it also acts as tribute and elegy to Smith’s lifelong friend, artist Robert Mapplethorpe. As someone who hopes to make a professional creative career, I also felt like I was reading a bit of a guidebook, though that doesn’t seem to be its intention. Rather, it seems that Smith cannot adequately write about her life with Robert without writing about her life as an artist, poet, and musician; the two are inseparably linked. In this way, the book feels as intimate as it does grand, demonstrating the effect that one friendship can have on a life and, in turn, on a culture. It’s a beautiful, moving, and important book.

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Smith’s prose is, of course, beautiful, and it’s also so smart. She is able to write about abstract concepts, philosophy, and spirituality in a way that feels accessible and grounded, but not too easy. This is the sort of book that feels as though it’s being told to you by the writer; it feels like an intimate look into her memories and thoughts, as though you are in conversation. I particularly admired the presence of religion, and even God, woven throughout this book. Both concepts are difficult to tackle, but Smith’s approach feels so genuine. They are a part of the book in a direct and organic way, as they seem to be a part of her work and life. (Because of this theme, I also learned that Smith is, like me, a Joan of Arc fan. As if I didn’t think she was cool enough.)

Of course, it was also wonderful to witness the world that Smith inhabited. An almost overwhelming number of rock stars, artists, and poets make appearances in this book. While these relationships help to show the climate that fostered Smith, her relationship to Robert never gets lost. Through it all, it remains clear that this relationship was essential to Smith’s growth as an artist and a person, making this book a touching tribute to Robert as well as a meditation on the value of deep friendships.

One thing I will say about this book is that it took me a while to read. It is not a “page-turner” as classically understood, and I think that’s because it’s, well, a life. It doesn’t feel right to rush through it. This is a book about ordinary beauty, the everyday pieces of our lives that, ultimately, are what define our lives. There is not a rush to a grand epiphany in this story, but rather a slow, compassionate building of a life in tandem with someone else. It made me want to take the book more slowly, and it was well worth the time.

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