One Book Opens Another: Digging Patti Smith’s “Just Kids.”

“One book opens another” says an old proverb. I have just finished reading Patti Smith’s National Book Award winning memoir, Just Kids. It is both a love story as well as an elegy. It describes the ascent of two young artists, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith behind the backdrop of the tumultuous New York art world during the late sixties and seventies. Essentially, the book is about the plight of two young kids driven to the path of art, devotion, and initiation, and how they sustained and encouraged each other along the way.

I always read with a pen. This way I can underline, write notes in the margins and put asterisks beside important passages. I can’t help it. But, interestingly, I am completely against folding over corners of pages. The great thing about reading an autobiography of an artist is that it is almost always filled with the influences and overall inspiration that fueled their quest. The books of Henry Miller come to mind, especially The Books In My Life. His books are filled with what inspired him. He holds nothing back. Throughout his books, Miller drops artists like Hansel and Gretel dropped food crumbs in the forest in order to find their way back home. If life was a bone, Miller sucks everything out of it, right down to the marrow, and when he’s done, it falls on the plate with a thud. I collect the scraps that are left behind and try to make them my own. I guess that is why I deface my books. Miller’s energy and enthusiasm for what keeps him going is contagious. I found Patti Smith’s writing also contained this quality of vibrancy and life.

When I started reading Just Kids, I realized that music was going to take center stage. I started making notes of all the artists and song titles Patti mentions and I made a musical play-list out of it as I read along. I was familiar with many of the artists but there were some new discoveries, like the folk singer, Tim Hardin for example. After I finished the book I also decided to make a list of all the writers, books, painters, photographers, and films Patti Smith mentions.  For the most part I have listed them here in the order in which they appear. I’ve also added  a few links just for the fun of it.

“The artist seeks contact with his intuitive sense of the gods, but in order to create his work, he cannot stay in this seductive and incorporeal realm. He must return to the material world in order to do his work. It’s the artist’s responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation.
I left Mephistopheles, the angels, and the remnants of out handmade world, saying, I choose Earth.”

–Patti Smith Just Kids, p. 256

MUSIC

“By chance, Jimi Hendrix came up the stairs and found me sitting there like some hick wallflower and grinned. He had to catch a plane to London to do the Isle of Wight Festival. When I told him I was too chicken to go in, he laughed softly and said that contrary to what people might think, he was shy, and parties made him nervous. He spent a little time with me on the stairs and told me his vision of what he wanted to do with the studio. He dreamed of amassing musicians from all over the world in Woodstock and they would sit in a field in a circle and play and play. It didn’t matter what key or tempo or what melody, they would keep on playing through their discordance until they found a common language. Eventually they would record this abstract universal language of music in his new studio.
“The language of peace. You dig? I did.”

–Patti Smith Just Kids, p.169

Tosca “Vissi d’arte” (*), John Coltrane A Love Supreme (*), The Doors “The Crystal Ship,” L.A. Woman (*), Jimi Hendrix “Hey Joe” (*), Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde , Bringing it All Back Home & Nashville Skyline, “Lay Lady Lay,” “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,”  Tim Hardin “Black Sheep Boy,” &  “How Can You Hang On to a Dream?” (*), Lotte Lenya (*), Edith Piaf, John Lennon, Eleanor Steber Madame Butterfly (*), Rolling Stones Between the Buttons, “Sympathy for the Devil,” & Beggars Banquet (*), Joan Baez, Vanilla Fudge, Tim Buckley, The History of Motown, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman (*), Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin (*), The Byrds “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” (*), Nina Simone “Wild Is the Wind,” Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, Brian Jones (*), Country Joe and the Fish (*), Jefferson Airplane, The Excellents “Coney Island Baby” (*), The Velvet Underground (*), Lou Reed (*), Johnny Winter (*), Patty Waters (*), Clifton Chenier, Albert Ayler, Kurt Weill “Speak Low” (*), Hank Williams (*), Blind Willie McTell, Neil Young “Ohio” The Band Stage Fright, “Medicine Man,” Billy Swan, Tom Paxton, Eric Anderson, Roger McGuinn, Kris Kristofferson, The Marvelettes, Silhouettes “I Sold My Heart To The Junk Man” (*), Phil Spector (*), Todd Rundgren (*), Holy Modal Rounders (*), Lenny Kaye (*) Maureen Gray “Today’s the Day” (*), Dovells’ “Bristol Stomp,” Lee Crabtree, Blue Öyster Cult, Marvin Gaye Trouble Man (*), Jimmy Cliff The Harder They Come (*), Big Youth and the Roys Screaming Target (*), Hank Ballard “Annie had a Baby,” The Pipes of Pan at Joujouka (*), Television: Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Richard Hell, “Marquee Moon” (*), Jonathan Richman, Ivan Kral, Van Morrison “Gloria” (*).

WRITERS & BOOKS

“Swan, my mother said, sensing my excitement. It pattered the bright water, flapping its great wings, and lifted into the sky.
The word alone hardly attested to its magnificence nor conveyed the emotion it produced. The sight of it generated an urge I had no words for, a desire to speak of the swan, to say something of its whiteness, the explosive nature of its movement, and the slow beating of its wings.” –Patti Smith Just Kids, p. 3

Arthur Rimbaud Illuminations, A Season in Hell (*), Frank O’Hara (*), Anaïs Nin Collages, Jean Genet Miracle of the Rose (*), Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Maxwell Perkins (*), Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie, Janet Hamill (*), Timothy Leary Psychedelic Prayers, James Joyce Poems a Penny Each “the signs that mock me as I go”, Jules Laforgue (*), Anne Frank The Diary, Allen Ginsberg, Friedrich Nietzche, Paul Verlaine, Yukio Mishima (*), William Burroughs Junky, Andre Gide, Maurice Maeterlinck (*), Sylvia Plath Ariel, Gérard de Nerval (*), Bertolt Brecht “Pirate Jenny”, Antonin Artaud, Vladimir Mayakovsky (*), Mari Sandoz Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas (*), The Golden Bough, Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Wolfe You Can’t Go Home Again, Aleister Crowley Diary of a Drug Fiend (*), Walt Whitman, Blaise Cendrars (*), Raymond Roussel Locus Solus (*), Théophile Gautier (*), Henri Michaux (*), Thomas de Quincey (*), John Keats, Shelley, Gregory Corso The Happy Birthday of Death, Gerard Malanga (*), Gertrude Stein, Andre Breton, Djuna Barnes, Jim Carroll, Oscar Brown Jr. (*), Vachel Lindsay (*), Jack Kerouac, Alexander Trocchi Cain’s Book (*), Homer,, Herodotus, Sam Shepard, Nancy Milford (*), Ray Bresmer (*), George Mandel “The Beckoning Sea” (*), Anne Waldman (*), Robert Creeley, Ted Berrigan (*), Albertine Sarrazin (*), Stéphane Mallarmé, Bob Dylan Tarantula, Dave Marsh (*), Tony Glover (*), Danny Goldberg (*), Sandy Pearlman (*), Enid Starkie’s biography of Rimbaud (*), Charles Baudelaire Paris Spleen, The Koran of Muhammad, Gerard De Nerval Women of Cairo (*), Paul Bowles, Mohamed Mrabet (*), Albert Cossery (*), Isabelle Eberhardt (*), Thomas Mann Death in Venice, Richard Hell, Arabian Nights, Peter Reich A Book of Dreams (*), James Joyce Finnegan’s Wake.

 

ART & ARTISTS

Richard Poussette-Dart (*), Henri Michaux (*), Michelangelo’s slaves (*), Dada, Surrealism, Tantric Art, Willem de Kooning Woman I, Jean Dubuffet (*), Diego Rivera (*), Jackson Pollack, John Graham (*), Arshile Gorky (*), Maxfield Parrish, Joseph Cornell (*), Ronald Brooks Kitaj (*), William Blake Songs of Innocence and of Experience & Milton, Edward Gorey, Lee Krasner (*), Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol Index Book, Harvey Parks, Louise Delsarte, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Camille Claudel, Picasso Guernica, Hans Hofmann, Frida Kahlo, Sandy Daley, Edward Hopper, Salvador Dalí, Brice Marden (*), Larry Poons (*), Georgia O’Keefe, Alice Neel (*), Gio Ponti (*), Constantin Brancusi (*).

 

PHOTOGRAPHERS

“Being allowed to lift the tissues from these photographs, actually touch them and get a sense of the paper and the hand of the artist, made an enormous impact on Robert. He studied then intently–the paper, the process, the composition, and the intensity of the blacks. “It’s really all about light,” he said.”

–Patti Smith Just Kids, page 190.

Jacques-Henri Lartigue (*), Billy Name (*), Cecil Beaton, Félix Nadar (*), Helmut Newton (*), Judy Linn (*), Diane Arbus, Man Ray, Ed van der Elsken Love on the Left Bank (*), Fox Talbot (*), Alfred Stieglitz “Georgia O’Keefe Nudes” (*), Paul Strand (*), Thomas Eakins (*), Lewis Carroll (*), Julia Margaret Cameron (*), Edward Curtis (*), Irving Penn, Lynn Goldsmith (*).

 

FILM

Richard Lester How I Won the War, Splendor in the Grass, Bonnie and Clyde, Jean Luc Godard Bande à part, One Plus One, Midnight Cowboy, Psycho, Paul Muni, John Garfield, Robert Bresson, Paul Joseph Schrader, East of Eden, Wages of Fear, Funny Face, Butterfield 8 (*), Films of Jeanne Moreau, Of Human Bondage, Howard Hawks Scarface (*), Andy Warhol, Don’t Look Back, Donald Cammel, Anna Magnani Films, Easy Rider, Beau Geste, Michelangelo Antonioni Blowup, Jean Cocteau Les Enfants Terribles, The Harder They Come, One Touch of Venus (*), Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones (*), The Night of the Hunter, Roger Vadim Barbarella.

“Yet you could feel the vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. Perhaps it was an awareness of time passing, the last summer of a decade. Sometimes I just wanted to raise my hands and stop. But stop what? Maybe just growing up.”

Patti Smith Just Kids, p. 104

22 responses

  1. This is so beautiful, Luke. My brother-in-law is just about to lend me this and you’ve sufficiently fed the desire to read it! It must have been so wonderful to live in those years and be surrounded by all sorts of geniuses! :) Thanks for posting!

  2. Thank you, Toynbeeconvector. It’s a beautiful book and I hope you enjoy it. There’s a lot to explore and discover.

    warm regards,

    Luke

  3. Whoops! Sorry, Luke. I forgot to leave my name. :) Your blogs are like mini-retreats. Hope you realize how much light you’re pouring into the world. -Nash

  4. Luke I just found this post as I started reading Just Kids. It was perfect. You are exhaustive–that’s so impressive–and this piece is a perfect companion for anyone reading the book. Great service as well as a thoughtful frame with which to approach her extraordinary story. Thanks so much.

  5. Pingback: Choosing Earth « Slow Muse

  6. This is a GREAT post! Exactly why I keep coming back to the net, even when life in meat-space gets crazy as hell and I’m busier than a one-armed paperhanger. Appreciate you putting so much time and energy into sharing your passionate and thorough-as-hell response to this terrific book. It will be one of those pages that stays open in the icon tray of my lap top for ages… so I can keep following up on all the amazing material. Might even have to replicate the playlist :) Thanks Luke.

  7. Dear Deborah and Walt,

    Thank you both for the encouraging remarks. I’m glad you find this resonate and useful. It’s certainly easier to write about a subject your passionate about, or teetering on borderline obsession. This was certainly one of the best books I have read in a long time. A real kick in the pants to get going and do whatever it is you have been called to do in this little life. My new obsession is Lewis Hyde’s works: “The Gift” and “Trickster Makes the World,” and I owe the discovery to you, Deborah, from some posts on Slow Muse a while back. Thank you. You never know these days through blogs, Twitter, and social networking, who your reaching or influencing. It’s like dropping a stone in a quiet pool that just goes a-rippling on and on.

  8. Pingback: Like Rimbaud, in Manhattan. « The Hieroglyphic Streets

  9. As I lived in NY in the late 60’s went to Woodstock and later admired both Smith for her poetry and Mapplethorpe for his photography, I experienced reading this touching love story and recollection of life as it was then, an exhilarating and intense moment of living for the first time some of my own memories anew. Internet, social networks, blogs and the like were not existing. You had to forge your own network with “body and mind” and “Just Kids” is also all about that. An intimate and fascinating book, superbly and affectionately written, with intimacy and loving-care. One can understand why Patti Smith as Punk rocker received in 2005, one of France’s top cultural honors. She was presented with the insignia of Commander of the Order of the Arts and Letters by the French Culture Minister who noted Smith’s appreciation for 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud, often referred to in “Just Kids”, and why she was praised as “one of the most influential artists in women’s rock ‘n’ roll”. And I would add a compassionate and touching biographer as well. Do read it if you’re curious about New York artists life then.

  10. Thank you very much for your comments John. I really enjoyed this book as well. It did give me a taste of what life was like during the turbulent 60s and early 70s, even though I wasn’t even born yet.

    warm regards,

    Luke

  11. Thank you so very much for taking note about her constant references to music, films, books, etc. Tell you why this means a lot: I had planned to do that as I read it (since I usually do that with other books) but I got caught up in the book so much, that I read it in 3 days and couldnt barely take down some notes. I dont know about you, but when I finnished it I found it hard to go back so soon to look for the references, I felt like I needed time to distance myself from the world I “shared” with them for those days.

  12. Luke, this is fantastic! I first came across Patti when I bought Horses in 78, to my shame I dismissed it as not ‘punk’ enough for my young and inexperienced taste! 34 years later aged 50 I stumbled across Just Kids in the library and instantly fell in love with her work. Her style of writting is infectious and generated an immense thirst for knowledge, so I read the book in front of my computer and must have googled something from every page. I am planning to read it again for the 3rd time after my wife finishes it and will use your excellent blog for the research I need to do. Good work! Thank you for taking the time and for devoting your energies to gathering this information…..

  13. Just finished the spanish translation of just kids.I am a long time admirer of Patti Smith and really enjoyed the true love tale she depicts in the book. Great beggining, “providential” guide through the Tosca`s aria Vissi d´arte guiding her rememberings of inconditional love for RM. I enjoy your blog very much. Greetings from Argentina. Duln.

  14. Hi Luke.Vacation time here in southern hemisphere, more reading and family time and less internet( at least for me). I agree, a great book. I finished “Threads of time” by Peter Brook, a long time follower of Gurdjieff´s teaching and the director of meetings with remarkable men. Interesting.
    And yours really a great journey.Enjoyed the photos.

  15. wow thank you so much for doing this!
    i finished just kids and loved it so much, sadly im not in the habit of ‘reading with a pen’ and it occured to me after i was finished that patti included so many references i wanted to check out. i was going to go through the book and write everything down, but as the internet would have it you have already done just that. so thank you, truly!

  16. Would just like to echo all the grateful comments above – Cheers Luke, I too was going to go back through the whole book to note down all the references… nw I just keep coming back to your page instead : )

    Enjoy the rest of the summer mate.

    Best, Nick

  17. Pingback: Why complacency is creative death.. | The Happiness Project

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s