CBR Bingo: Music (and my second Bingo!)
Just Kids (2010) by Patti Smith is another book I found and decided to read because of Cannonball Bingo. I’m sure I could have found a number of books that worked for the Music square, but I wanted to read something that made it worth it. I saw that Just Kids had won the National Book Award and I was intrigued. I don’t think I’m the target reader for this book. My knowledge of musicians and artists is limited at best, but it was an interesting glimpse into a place, time, and people that were very different from what I know.
I’d heard of Patti Smith before reading this, and I knew she was a musician. But I wasn’t even sure what songs she’s known for. After looking her up, I decided I was most familiar with Because the Night. Smith’s book is a memoir of her life as an artist. It doesn’t focus on music. It’s more about what drove her to artistry and her subsequent experiences. Although Smith does discuss a little of her childhood and what brought her to New York City, the focus is on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. I also had to look up Mapplethorpe because I was not familiar with him. He is a famous photographer who often pushed the limits with sex and nudity. He died of AIDS in 1989.
After going to college for a short time, working in a factory, getting pregnant and putting the baby up for adoption, Smith decides she needs more. In an act I find very brave, she spends the last of her money on a ticket to New York City. (It did bother me that Smith took money from a purse she found to help pay for her ticket. She took it as a sign that she should go, but I was worried about that poor woman who’d possibly just lost the last of her money.) She arrives in Manhattan with no money, no job, and no place to stay. After living on the streets for a while, Smith is able to get some work to help her survive.
Smith runs into Robert Mapplethorpe a couple of times before they begin to spend time together. They become roommates, artistic partners, and romantic partners. They work enough to survive and focus on whatever artistic pursuits come to them. These include collages, drawings, clothes, and poetry. Interestingly, neither Smith nor Mapplethorpe began with the pursuits that eventually gained them fame.
Mapplethorpe and Smith eventually move into the Hotel Chelsea (another famous landmark that sounded slightly familiar?). The hotel is full of artists. Smith would hang out in the lobby and see famous people constantly coming and going. In addition, the attached bar would often host Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and many others. Smith names a lot of famous artists throughout this book and especially during this section. Again, it would have been helpful if I were more knowledgeable about this artistic scene. However, I do know enough to recognize Dylan and Joplin–just know that there were many others as well.
Eventually, Mapplethorpe and Smith began to frequent Max’s Kansas City, a bar and nightclub that was famous for being a haunt of Andy Warhol and his crew. They quickly went from outsiders to constantly sitting at the central, round table of the more famous artists.
Smith goes a little into how Mapplethorpe began taking pictures and what got her into poetry and singing. Her relationship with Mapplethorpe would always have been difficult to label, but it changed as they grew older as well. They were undeniably connected, and Smith wrote this book for him.
I’m sure there are many kinds of artists, but having thought myself leaning towards the artistic side, I’ve discovered that I have nowhere near the dedication of Smith. Dealing with the extreme poverty and the constant diligence and zeal of creation is something I just don’t have. I like to create things–when I’m comfortable and have the time.
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