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[personal profile] rsadelle
I'm relatively sure I heard good things about Patti Smith's Just Kids from various sources, although the only one I remember is [ profile] siryn99, so when I saw it in my mom's stack of books, I asked to borrow it. It floated around with me on a vacation and in my living room for quite a while before I finally sat down and started reading it.

The book begins with a foreword where Smith talks about learning of Robert Mapplethorpe's death. Starting with his death lends the whole book a sense of melancholy. Even as Smith tells us about meeting Mapplethorpe and lays out the foundations of their relationship, we know how it's going to end.

I didn't know anything about either Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe when I started reading the book, so everything about their story was new to me. Smith drops a lot of names to establish the setting, and I didn't know who most of them were either. None of that detracts from the book. Even if I didn't know who they were specifically, I got the sense of who they were from Smith's placement of them in the story, and I got the sense of who Smith and Mapplethorpe were from her stories about them.

I know that it's the kind of memoir where Smith picked and chose the elements of the story she wanted to share, but what I really liked about the story she tells is how they push each other into what they end up doing: Smith keeps telling Mapplethorpe he should try photography and Mapplethorpe keeps telling Smith she should sing.

The pacing of the story is also interesting. Smith begins with a dreamy, emotional recounting of her growing up, which is intercut with a distant, factual account of Mapplethorpe's growing up. Since she's the author, we necessarily get more of Smith's story than Mapplethorpe's, even as time goes on. When they separate for short or long periods - there's a break of what seems to be something like a decade near the end of the book - the focus is still on Smith. As unbalanced as that might seem, it makes for a very focused emotional story.

The book ends as it began: with Mapplethorpe's death. I had to put the book down and cry my eyes out when I finished it. By that time, I'd gotten to know him, but more importantly, I'd gotten to know how Smith felt about him, and that feeling, that closeness and mutual artistic support, is what really makes the book.

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Date: 2011-10-03 01:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Have you heard of Please Kill Me, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, which is an oral history of the punk scene from 1960 to - I think - sometime in the eighties? It's not really focused on Patti Smith, but because she was such an important figure in the art scene and music scene of the time, there are a lot of interviews and information about her, including her relationship with Mapplethorpe. Just Kids was very much her story of her and Robert, but if you're interested in her work, Please Kill Me gives a little context to what she's talking about.


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Ruth Sadelle Alderson


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