Recommendation for Patti Smith’s Memoirs: Just Kids, 2010, M Train, 2015, Year of the Monkey, 2019.
I've been an enormous fan of Patti Smith's music since I was a teenager. And let's be honest, part of being a fan of her music is being a fan of her whole persona: the mystique of the woman who was the muse of artists like Robert Mapplethorpe, Lynn Goldsmith, and Annie Liebovitz, as well as a blazing talent herself. As a result, her first, bestselling, and award-winning memoir, Just Kids, is an easy sell: who doesn't want to read about her days in the early 70s, hanging out in the Chelsea Hotel with legends like Mapplethorpe, Tom Verlaine, Janis Joplin, and Jim Carroll? But if you think this adds up to trashy rock star gossip, think again. Smith was a poet before she was a rock star, and that innate lyricism shows up here in spades.
Her second two memoirs are a little trickier to describe. If all you needed to know was "Patti Smith," I totally respect that. Me too. But for the rest of you: M Train and Year of the Monkey are both, in many ways, odes to the mundane. M Train opens with the line, “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” But honestly, there’s nothing she makes look easier. Whether chronicling her surreal dreams, her favorite books (Bolaño and Murakami make frequent appearances) or even TV shows (she is as addicted to British mystery programs as I am, and spends a long layover in London bingeing ITV in a hotel) she manages to inspire wonder in all she describes. These two memoirs are both elegies to her youth and lost loves, as well as homages to her surprisingly anonymous existence in a world that she chooses to see as beautiful. Being able to see through Patti Smith's eyes is an absolute gift.— From Rachel's Picks
WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
“Reading rocker Smith’s account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, it’s hard not to believe in fate. How else to explain the chance encounter that threw them together, allowing both to blossom? Quirky and spellbinding.” -- People
It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation.
Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography. Bound in innocence and enthusiasm, they traversed the city from Coney Island to Forty-Second Street, and eventually to the celebrated round table of Max’s Kansas City, where the Andy Warhol contingent held court. In 1969, the pair set up camp at the Hotel Chelsea and soon entered a community of the famous and infamous, the influential artists of the day and the colorful fringe. It was a time of heightened awareness, when the worlds of poetry, rock and roll, art, and sexual politics were colliding and exploding. In this milieu, two kids made a pact to take care of each other. Scrappy, romantic, committed to create, and fueled by their mutual dreams and drives, they would prod and provide for one another during the hungry years.
Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to New York City during the late sixties and seventies and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. A true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists’ ascent, a prelude to fame.
About the Author
Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary mergence of poetry and rock and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Her seminal album Horses, bearing Robert Mapplethorpe’s renowned photograph, hasbeen hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time. Her books include M Train, Witt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea, and Auguries of Innocence.
“[Just Kids] reminds us that innocence, utopian ideals, beauty and revolt are enlightenment’s guiding stars in the human journey. Her book recalls, without blinking or faltering, a collective memory — one that guides us through the present and into the future.”
— Michael Stipe, Time magazine
“Reading rocker Smith’s account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, it’s hard not to believe in fate. How else to explain the chance encounter that threw them together, allowing both to blossom? Quirky and spellbinding.”
— People, Top 10 Books of 2010
“The most enchantingly evocative memoir of funky-but-chic New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s that any alumnus has yet committed to print.”
— Janet Maslin's top 10 books of 2010, New York Times
“Composed of incandescent sentences more revelatory than anything from Patti Smith’s poems or songs, her romantic memoir also reveals what blunt narrative instruments the earlier career bios of her and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe have been.”
— Village Voice, Best Books of 2010 Round-Up
“Smith’s beautifully crafted love letter to her friend Robert Mapplethorpe functions as a memento mori of a relationship fueled by passion for art and writing. Her elegant eulogy lays bare the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe’s life and work.”
— Publishers Weekly, Top Ten Books of the Year
“Poetically written and vividly remembered. [Smith] reminded me of the idealism of art.”
— Matthew Weiner, creator of MAD MEN, in New York magazine
“A spellbinding portrait of bohemian New York in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.”
— New York Times Book Review, Paperback Row
“One of the best things I’ve ever read in my life.”
— Don Imus
“Sometimes there is justice in the world. That was my first thought when I heard that Patti Smith had won the National Book Award this fall for her glorious memoir, Just Kids.”
— Maureen Corrigan's favorite books of 2010, NPR's Fresh Air
“[JUST KIDS] offers a revealing account of the fears and insecurities harbored by even the most incendiary artists, as well as their capacity for reverence and tenderness.”
— USA Today