Down and Out in Brooklyn and New York with Patti Smith

13 Feb

Although the shop is in fact temporarily closed while we take care of some somewhat urgent repairs, the blog must go on! And on to my current read, Just Kids by Patti Smith. A book that I bought well over a year ago and has been on my ‘to read’ pile for yonks; I finally picked it up and said to myself: ‘Read the bloody thing woman!’ So I am and it’s really very good. I was expecting a certain degree of style over content for some reason. I don’t know why, because I do like Patti Smith and find her music very thought-provoking. I was pleasantly surprised however to find myself completely drawn into Smith’s early years and totally immersed in New York circa 1969. Central to the book is her relationship with the late Robert Mapplethorpe. As a student of postmodern art, I’m quite interested in Mapplethorpe’s work but most familiar with his photography so hearing about his earl forays into collage and drawing is particularly fascinating. Smith paints an extremely convincing portrait of the young artist, his developing career and emerging sexual identity.

I suppose I was expecting a certain kind of pretentiousness in Smith’s writing; don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of pretentiousness, I thrive on it. I am an contemporary art historian after all. But actually, Smith is an extremely likable narrator, and easy to relate to. When I’m not reading the book, I kind of miss her, and Robert, and the Chelsea Hotel. What comes across most is her dedication to her art and to art in general, a devotion that weathers the disillusionment she experiences as a result of Vietnam and deaths of her contemporaries and friends, including Edie Sedgewick, Janis Joplin , Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones. Her worship of poets like Rimbaut and Genet and her seemingly late arrival to music (for which she is best known) I find rather comforting. This is probably the closest I’ll get to experiencing the New York of Ginsberg and Warhol, John and Yoko, so this is one book I plan to take my time with. I’ll let you know how I get on.

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