Sometime in the seventies, when I was asleep, Patti Smith made history with her punk rock and Robert Maplethorpe captured the world with his raw, controversial art. I missed it, and so I read Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, hoping to find out why her winning the National Book Award should be so strange.
In a quiet poetic voice Patti Smith, the “godmother of punk,” recalls her childhood – a quiet sickly girl who loved to read…
“I reflected on the fact that no matter how good I aspired to be, I was never going to achieve perfection.”
And her life with Robert who “contained, even at an early age, a stirring and the desire to stir…” – before they were both famous.
As I read Smith’s thoughts, it was not always easy to be there with her in New York City, and I could not help thinking how choices make a life. It was amazing she survived those early years; Robert did not. How she remembers so much – more than enough for a memoir – may be due to the constant trauma in her life, sprinkled with the “greats” she met – Allen Ginsberg, Janis Joplin, Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, her relationship with Sam Shephard…
Just Kids is cathartic for the writer; voyeuristic for the reader – and a eulogy to Robert Maplethorpe.
Robert and I had explored the frontier of our work and created space for each other.
I couldn’t always look too closely, sometimes skimming over the hustling and hedonism, but now I know why the National Book Foundation committee awarded Patti Smith.