Monday, 4 April 2011

Just Kids by Patti Smith

I was not originally going to buy this book. I had read Ian Penman’s scathing review of it in The Wire (Issue 315 if you are interested) and finding Smith’s musical output usually rather staid and insipid had not bothered to look it up. However a sunny full day in Taunton with absolutely nothing to do after look in Black Cat Records led me to HMV where the book was on some sort of discount (all books in HMV are generally less than RRP. The Taunton one has a wide selection of choice. I also recommend the Plymouth branch for books).

My previous knowledge of Patti Smith’s writings extends to a few of her poems and her epic ‘The Coral Sea’. ‘Just Kids’ follows ‘The Coral Sea’ in subject matter. It is an autobiography of Smith and her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith is an excellent writer and I cannot but help feel that Music’s gain (loss possibly) the literary world has lost a great, especially if she is as fond of crime fiction as she states she is in the book. She could have been a more poetic Elmore Leonard. There are issues with the book. I have to echo Penman’s criticism about Smith filtering everything through art. You are not Lee Krasner because you stole something. You are either poor or a wrong ‘un.

Patti Smith has written an excellent recollection of her time with Robert Mapplethorpe and just because she quickly glazes her musical work is not a reason not to buy or Lee Krasner the book. It is an excellent piece of work that Penman wrongly criticised as Smith’s art filter and naivety hardly spoil the flow and interest of the book whatsoever. My biggest criticism would be the tacked on chapter at the end of the paperback version, which tends to be a regular occasion for autobiographies, which serves no purpose except to show some photos and some small poems.

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