Just Kids - Patti Smith
"I didn't mind the misery of a vocation but I dreaded not being called."
Patti Smith knew early on that she wanted to be an artist. This is the story of how she discovered her vocation and her fellow traveller on that early journey, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she met soon after arriving in New York. "I was superstitious. Today was a Monday; I was born on a Monday. It was a good day to arrive in New York City. No one expected me. Everything awaited me."
The book uses Smith's diaries and has a very immediate feel. You can sense her finding her feet in the city, and confidence in her various artistic enterprises: painter, poet, muse...
Her childhood is beautifully drawn in poetic images: Smith a tomboy general wearing the orange or green of her Irish grandfather's world; gradually growing like the swan of the first paragraph, shedding her grey signet feathers as she dances to rock'n'roll and looks to the horizon beyond the piecework factories and onto the train to New York City, the world of early b-side Piss Factory.
One of her early memories of New York is the death of John Coltrane, and the whole book is interwoven with meetings with other artists who she treats almost as druids, powerful figures doing holy work, but often consumed in the process. Here she is on Coltrane: "It was as if a saint had died, one who had offered u healing music yet was not permitted to heal himself." Or fauning (sic) over beat poet Greg Corso: "He would always spell trouble and might even wreak havoc, yet he gave us a body of work as pure as a newborn fawn."
Smith and Mapplethorpe move from itinerants to tenants:"I dragged my plaid suitcase from stoop to stoop, trying not to wear out my own unwelcome." - "We combined our belongings. My few records were filed in an orange crate with his. My winter coat hung next to his sheepskin vest." Gradually they begin to shape their own spaces: "My room reflected the bright mess of my interior world, part boxcar and part fairyland."
Whatever about missing "moments", Patti and Robert successfully focussed on creating their own moments and their growing confidence and the process of creation is palpable from these pages. Their influence on each other , whether as lovers, friends and co-muses; their use of the opportunities and input they receive: "As Robert concentrated on technical aspects, I focussed on Georgia O'Keefe as she related to Stieglitz, without artiface. Robert was concerned with how to take the photograph, and I with how to be the photograph."
|Robert & Patti|
"Lenny would put on our favourite singles, and we'd dance to the Dovells' "Bristol Stomp" or do the 81 to Maureen Gray singing "Today's the Day.""