This post is about the recipient for the non-fiction category of the 2010 National Book Awards: Just Kids by Patti Smith, one of the most moving books I've ever had the pleasure of reading.
For those who aren't familiar with Patti Smith, here's a brief background: Smith is an American musician who is also known for her poetry, activism, and work as a visual artist. Furthermore, she is also known as one of punk rock's pioneers and is considered a style icon of the 70s. Aside from her recent win at the National Book Awards, Smith is recognized as Commander of the Order des Artes et des Letteres, a title bestowed on her by the French Minister of Culture in 2005. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, and is also a recipient of the 2011 Polar Music Prize.
|Patti Smith performing at Tivolis Koncertsal, Copenhagen, Denmark.--Wikipedia|
|Self Portrait, 1980-Wikipedia|
The book does not consist solely of poems though there are a few, but it felt like a string of beautiful verses, seamlessly overlapping. Patti Smith writes with a fluidity and grace that is close to lyrical. She speaks of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe with such profundity and reverence. They seemed destined for each other; I believe it was much more than coincidence the first time they laid eyes on each other, and how he would later on save her from an unpleasant experience.
I am awestruck that two people could have such a strong connection, and how their love transcended the physical, evolving into something so pure. (I am deliberately being vague as I don't want to deprive anyone of reading this wonderful story)
|Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe by Norman Seeff|
Just Kids also recalls an era so steeped in creativity, originality, and raw talent—New York in the 60s and 70s. In its pages are Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, members of the 27 Club (group of musicians who all died at age 27): Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and the famed Hotel Chelsea, where many staggering works of genius were created, not to mention the death of many famous personalities, including the tragic death of longtime girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, supposedly by his hand.
Patti Smith's writing is admirable. Smith manages to speak of how they (she and Robert) emerged as these larger-than-life creatures—respected and revered as two of the most gifted creative trailblazers of their generation—without an ounce of conceit or self-consciousness.
The book had many painful moments, but I couldn't put it down. I finished it in one evening, and when I finally closed it and set it down, it felt like I was saying goodbye to a person and not merely finishing a book.
Patti Smith promised Robert Mapplethorpe she would write their story. She has done so much more than that, and has revived his spirit and the spirit of a lost generation with the gift of her words.