Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review--Just Kids

A colleague here at work, a fellow a good thirty years my junior, suggested this book.  I'm glad he did. I'd not heard of it which might indicate how much of a reader  I am since I've had several people comment about how they'd read it when they've seen me with it the past few weeks.

Patti Smith, the author of this memoir, was not famous when I was in college.  It was several years after that she became well known and, at that point. I was not paying that much attention to rock and roll that came after say,  Abbey Road.  I knew of Robert Mapplethorpe only because sometime in the 80s he had an exhibit in Boston which was, as was many of his exhibits, controversial. Even for a so called liberal city, there were those protesting the displaying of his photographs in the Institute of Contemporary Art.  So, I recall the brouhaha about his work.

This book is about the early years of Smith and Mapplethorpe who were unlikely lovers in the late 60s and early 70s.  Even after Mapplethorpe came out as gay, he lived with Smith and shared an emotional bond with her that is evident in nearly every page of the book.

I was in school during the heady days of the social and anti war movements.  The so called hippies were more prevalent than those called "straights" on my campus from 1969-71.  Of course the hippies were often no more hip than an investment banker, it just was cool to wear bell bottoms and speak the language of revolution at the time.

Even those on the extreme left that I knew were not in the same arena as Smith and Mapplethorpe.  Their life experiences on the streets, in Brooklyn, and at the hotel Chelsea, with a variety of truly far out characters was something to read about.  Smith is matter of fact about the events in their lives that were not in the realm of the conceivable to most people I knew, even those politically and artistically in the vanguard.  Let's see, Smith and Mapplethorpe were lovers and nearly penniless. She had a part time job. He had none so he felt bad and decided to become a hustler to make money. She was not keen on it, but did not put the kibosh on their relationship because of it.   While living with Mapplethorpe, Mapplethorpe takes on a male lover and yet Smith and he remain attached in their art and as cohabitants.  She has an affair with Sam Shepard and then another with Jim Carroll (Basketball Diaries) who is also a hustler.

None of this is presented in the book to titillate, just a matter of fact description of their lives together when they were Just Kids.

I liked the book. It is not a page turner, or was not for me, but I liked that Smith now in her mid 60s presents her life and lifestyle without regrets.  There is very little, "oh what were we thinking" It is more this is who we are.  I admire people who have the courage to live alternative lifestyles and who stayed true to who they are/were without succumbing to the comfort of convention..  There are photos and poems throughout the nearly 300 page book, and the last dozen or so pages are filled with them.  The poems are not my cup of tea and the photographs do not seem to me to be, as my grandfather was wont to say, "so extra".   Still, the book seemed true--and it was an interesting depiction of a segment of the far left in the late 60s and 70s.

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