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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

Patti Smith saves my snarky soul

Just Kids - Patti Smith

There are not a lot of winks in Just Kids, no nods or quips, it is not self-deprecating or apologetic at all. Patti Smith writes one of the most outlandish coming-of-age stories I could imagine, from teaching college to the streets of New York to the Hotel Chelsea in about two years, then rising in the worlds of art, poetry and music. She has cool artistic friends who actually go on to change the world. Janis Joplin, Bob Neuwirth, Sam Shepard, these are the people she encounters at parties, concerts, or while sketching in the lobby of the Chelsea--real encounters, not the "Hey it's you!" "Yeah, I know" variety--but she plays it all straight, with heartfelt appreciation for the part each played in her life.


There is name-dropping, but how could there not be? She doesn't have to mention her brief conversation with Jimi Hendrix, but that is as much part of the scenery as anything else, as much as St. Marks or the Gotham Book Mart, every city has a cast of characters but hers have names we recognize. The story of her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, the two of them finding a place in the world and finding a voice and doing all this at such an exciting moment cannot be told without acknowledging that the people whose work they and everyone else bought and adored and discussed were just downstairs at El Quixote.


Smith captures beautifully that moment in life when friendships mean so much because the world has suddenly gotten so big and they don't know what to make of it. They are sure they can make an impression on it even as they struggle to make rent. I like also that she hasn't tried to place herself in that world but tried to show us how she saw the world then. They're around her, the Manson killings, Woodstock, but she's not reporting she's telling her story. 


I didn't have to tell you how good this book was. A National Book Award winner and strong recommendations from your cooler friends were probably enough, but if you--like me--for some reason have not picked it up, this is your chance.