I hate Patti Smith. Really I do.
I’m not saying she’s not talented. I’m just saying she makes me weep for my own sorry life in comparison with hers.
It’s not enough for her to have written some classics albums. No, now she has to write an excellent memoir as well.
‘Just Kids’ chronicles her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in New York in the late sixties and seventies.
It was clearly a magic time. Or rather it was if you were Patti Smith. Anything that was happening in that era seems to have involved her. Whether it’s CBGB’s, Warhol’s Factory or the scene at the Chelsea Hotel, turn around and there’s Patti, befriending every one from Allen Ginsberg to Tom Verlaine to genius archivist Harry Smith.
We can’t even use the excuse that she came from money. She didn’t. She came from a poor, blue-collar family in Pennsylvania that struggled to make ends meet.
One moment she’s working in a factory, the next she’s on a bus to New York with nothing but a few dollars to tide her over. Within a decade she’d turned herself into an artist and feminist icon.
Even more annoyingly she writes about all this in a clear, concise, almost matter-of-fact prose style.
I’m happy to report that occasionally it does get a little pretentious. Very happy, because that means it’s not perfect. I don’t think I could have coped with her having a perfect book on top of everything else.
Of course there is tragedy at the heart of the book, namely the death of her friend Mapplethorpe from HIV. She handles this exceptionally well, showing her devastation at his death but turning the book into a celebration of their lives together.
It’s the sort of book that if I were a young teen bohemian I would want to read in a single sitting and treasure forever. Who knows? Maybe there’s someone out there reading this book before they set on an adventure that turns them into someone else I’ll be very jealous of.