Saturday, February 26, 2011

Patti Smith, "Just Kids" : My Reaction

Where to begin...when love, art, fame direct a life forward. Ironically, Patti Smith appeared to be in the background, a source of strength for Robert Mapplethorpe, yet all the while drawing and writing and developing the diverse facets that would lead finally to a synthesis of her talents to create a unique art form and ultimately fame. And now, gracious as she has always been, she elevates Robert through her tribute, explaining the man, his motivation, his charm and draw for her, the rationale and vision of his work.

We are ultimately the path we chose to walk. Patti chose the path that was not in any way easy; she couldn't help herself. It seemed destined that she and Robert's paths would converge. Easy at first: the newness, the youth, the electricity of New York in the 60's; there were many art icons to aspire to and breakouts to fame and fortune were all around. It was strangely fashionable to live the life of the beatnik artist, literally starving in the name of art! But no mistake, starving is pitiful stuff; scrounging for food in the back of restaurants does not make for glamour. Still, Patti writes with love in her heart, caressing those years because they were tinged with the excitement of love and of possibilities and the discovery of the self.

Such a gracious memoir, filled with giving and praising and tribute! That is what would bond two people together, people who both were searching for their own way to fulfill what each knew was inside of them. It is not really an unconventional love, but a true one, that allows each person their own space to grow into what they are capable of being...what they want to be...what they feel their nature is telling them.

Patti Smith has been following her heart and for her thankfully, it has lead to family and the appreciation of the talent that was developed through an uninhibited search. Drawing lead to poetry lead to song, and the envelope of performance was always there. Joy and ease in performing is such a gift, adding that immediacy of art and the audience's part in the process.

Later in life, it may seem that all roads pointed to the result, but the growing up and in to it is foggy and often filled with obstacles that, funny, you don't always think you remember, once you reach a desired goal. But people do remember...you can hear the edge in their voice, sense it in their visual art, the struggle, hunger, desire, love, the desperate need to create in order to be whole.

Robert's humanity and yearning to be remembered and achieve fame like his beloved Andy Warhol, grew stronger with Patti, who was his source of strength in life. She is a window to his motivation, and while his impulses eventually overtook him and robbed him of life, his work speaks of a stronger power and innovation that is groundbreaking. "Did Art get us?," he asks on his deathbed.

Thankfully, one of this symbiotic pair is here to tell the story, and make art of the story, which is the gift of this book to all. It is amazing how Patti Smith succeeded, without succumbing to the vices that dragged down so many of her contemporaries. In a loving and informative way, "Just Kids" gives a powerful portrait
of the struggle of artists to live the life, while trying to earn a living, break into museums and galleries, be recognized and gain appreciation from others for what they do - which is to speak of what is happening in their 'now' in the language of art.

Patti always seems to be going forward. On her own, her belief in herself seems to elevate her to the level of one who will eventually make her way to a place of grace...where she can look back and say that her life was hard but uncompromised and therefore well lived. To receive a National Book Award for this book that she wrote out of love is an achievement of a lifetime in itself.

During Patti's National Public Radio interview on "Fresh Air" - Patti said this about initially 'performing' her poetry:

"I figured if I had fifteen, twenty minutes on that little stage, it was my stage and I'm gonna fight for it." She noted that her performance was about how she and the audience "could both serve the night together."

1 comment:

debbie.m said...

Louise--This is a GREAT review. You truly captured Robert and Patti's spirit and vividly reminded me why I loved this book. Thank you for such a wonderful article.