Thursday, November 8, 2012

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids

This spare, elegiac memoir about Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith has something of the Christian iconography about it: if words were installations, one can imagine an altarpiece with the Virgin Mary and perhaps a crucifix surrounded by velvet, feathers, bits of lace, and little skull beads…not kitschy, but strong, puzzling, edgy. Patti Smith is a force, though perhaps one might say she is the negative to Mapplethorpe's positive in the first part of the book: the black negative to Mapplethorpe’s clear clean photograph. In the last half of the book, Smith herself is the positive and lighter image, and entirely clear. And what an unforgettable picture it is.

Smith and Mapplethorpe were soulmates, and she accepted him unconditionally. That closeness and lack of criticism gave them both room to develop in a environment of mutual trust. Even if Smith didn’t agree with, nor completely understand, the impulses that ruled Mapplethorpe she was his first proponent. She grew into her own art even as it grew in her. She was often unsure of the work, but not of the path. By now she might be considered a swami for the equilibrium she exhibits in writing this book. Amerigo is the first song on her new album, Banga, out in 2012, and in it she says “they called us Caribe, which means men of great wisdom…” Perhaps only now can she say that, but she has earned it.

I loved reading of those moments when one change (in appearance, friends, or piece of art) made an enormous difference in how Smith or Mapplethorpe were perceived. She makes it sounds like a chemical reaction–that moment a salt solution becomes crystal.

Her sound is even better for my knowing her history. A life in the pursuit of art is something extraordinary, and this telling of it is breathtakingly lovely and clear and spare. Not the life, especially, but the telling of it. Perhaps Mapplethorpe and Smith were destined to meet, but imagine for a moment they did not. Smith was perhaps the less fragile. We can’t help but wonder at the path they took and how, necessarily influenced by externals as we all are, things would have been for them in a different constellation. Great read.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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