March 2018

Patti Smith: Just Kids

Patti Smith´s “Just Kids” is too beautiful to be reviewed in my eyes. There is no chance to do it justice writing about it. But, accepting my programmed failure, I´ll try it anyway. This book means a lot in my world.

When I read something I consider to be really good, I see the whole world through the words of it in the next few days or hours. It works like a filter, altering my usual view of things quite significantly, adding a whole different perspective to my own. It feels like thinking with the mind of another person, it feels like having become someone else.

While reading “Just Kids”, this impression struck me quite strongly. I remember that I postponed reading further, even if I wanted to because I didn’t crave to finish the book, fearing I would lose my view of the world caused by it if I did. Until today, I still have not looked at the last page intentionally. My technique worked, at least until now: I never fully left the universe of Patti Smith´s drawings of her own life and that of her long-term comrade, friend and lover Robert Mapplethorpe, she formed out of words, being sincere and thoughtful, ethereal and hauntingly beautiful at the same time:

Having been born in 1946 and grown up in Pennsylvania, young Patti developed an everlasting love for art and language, describing her first visit in an art museum as a life-changing experience. From this moment on, she secretly knew that she wanted to live for art. Eventually, after dropping out of teachers college and having born a child that she gave away due to her young age of 19, Patti Smith escaped to New York with no clear destination and no money in her pockets. Only accompanied by a small suitcase containing “Illuminations” by Arthur Rimbaud, whom she still loves and cherishes, and few pieces of clothes, living in the streets and having no idea where to sleep in the next night, she tried to gain ground in the new space, always wearing a - in those times ever-present - grey raincoat. In this situation in abeyance, her path crossed that of Robert Mapplethorpe, a curly-haired boy in dungarees and a sheepskin vest who had made jewelry for his mother as a kid and always liked to shock his siblings by coloring his pictures in uncommon ways – an artist by nature.

Becoming lovers, Patti and Robert now were able to create their own world, shaping their apartment with religious artifacts and things they found in the streets, but most importantly to work as artists. As time went by, both struggled with poverty, art and life in general, but celebrated their first achievements, too. They moved to the smallest room in the famous Chelsea Hotel, meeting people like Janis Joplin, mostly spending their time drawing, writing and paying one´s way pursuing side jobs. In the following, they both independently aspired as artists, continuing to be friends. Patti got famous as a punk-poet and singer, whereas Robert is nowadays widely known for his photographic art. Writing about how he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 and died of the disease at the following time, Patti Smith turns her story to an elegy.

Maybe my fascination for this book results from the explicit description of Patti´s and Robert´s fascination for art and their compulsion to tirelessly create, live for art and change themselves and their environment constantly. These are things I deeply admire. Despite being an (auto-) biography, “Just Kids” always rather appeared to me as more of a fairytale. Seeing in everyday news what kind of animal the human is, it restored my faith in mankind a bit to read how some people were pushing far beyond the usual necessities of life, creating against all odds, basically for no logical reason but for art itself, and travelling to higher realms of being by doing that.

Since a book or a story only exists being read, there is no way of objectively recommending this book or evaluating it as “good”. In this manner, all I can do is speaking from my own subjective perspective, saying that I was deeply moved by “Just Kids” and, even though it sounds pathetic, it changed my life in a way. So, all you can do, dear reader, is to trust me on this one. Maybe you`ll happen to have a similar experience, maybe not. But what have you got to lose?



F. Ott, Year 12


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