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Saturday, January 12, 2013

"Just Kids", the bipolar memories of Patti Smith

Just Kids- Patti Smith

I had really high expectation with this one. The spectacular reviews, (National Book Award included) and my appreciation for the author (she's Michael Stipe's muse and close friend, and although I'm just an occasional fan of her music, she's a legend that I would love to see live). Guess I was hoping for a memorable book, something in between Dylan's "Chronicles" and Mark Oliver Everett's "Things the Grandchildren Should Now". Unfortunately, all I can say is that "Just Kids" has been a disappointment.

There's a bipolarity on "Just Kids". As an autobiography of the beginnings of a rock icon might not be ground shaking, but it does has a lot of strength and points of interests. Mainly because it reveals a young, vulnerable Patti Smith coming to New York to fight for her dreams, but really looking to find herself, on a time when she didn't know what she wanted to be. That, together with the incredibly intense and really intimate depiction of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, would made the book a must read without a doubt. Friend, shelter, colleague, artist partner, lover... Patti Smith allows the reader to adventure into her most intimate feelings, not afraid of showing none of them were yet fully formed as individuals when they met, needing each other to grew up together, as artists and persons. That honesty goes beyond any labelling, its pure, like Smith and Mapplethorpe's relation. That's really rare to find.  Impossible to have a better title than "Just Kids".

Judging by the previous paragraph, I realise "Just Kids" had the potential of being one of the best music biographies I've ever read. But it is not. And sadly, the only responsible is Patti Smith alone. I'm afraid to write that, but I believe this is a case of... seriously flat, poor writing. Unending name dropping, with anecdotes that doesn't add much to the story except showing how many "important people" she met back then, and a constant self-laudatory "artistry" that becomes seriously annoying because is never connected with the real, flesh and bones world. She transforms her reality, a starving young, confused but ambitious couple in a cliche: the starving, tortured artists.

That's why I wrote before the book seems to be bipolar. All the insight, honesty and interest on the Mapplethorpe-Smith relation, with some other few moments (mostly when she recalls or goes back home) disappears or are seriously ruined by the cliches among which she builds her image (and Mapplethorpe) of unique artists. The fact I consider Patti Smith a genuine, remarkable artist only makes it more painful. To make it more clear: repeating endlessly how much you love Rimbaud doesn't make you an artist. Or describing with full detail every single piece of clothing you wore. That's superficial and, at least for me, irritating.

Intense and remarkable at times, but also frustrating and shallow. A two-sided, failed memories as a whole.

SCORE: 5,5/10

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