The Short Version: Patti Smith’s autobiographical look at the defining partnership of her life – the one between her and Robert Mapplethorpe. There’s some detail on their lives before they met but this is, entirely, a book about THEM.
The Review: My uncle will kill me, but I don’t really know Patti Smith. I mean, I know who she is – but I don’t know her like I know so many of her contemporaries. Yet here’s a woman who was so important to so many people’s lives and did so much (and continues to do so much) that I can’t imagine how I didn’t stumble into appreciating her far sooner.
The book is beautifully written. I mean absolutely gorgeous. It flows so sweetly, so poetically – which is not surprising, I guess, considering Patti’s history. The way she so accurately captures feelings as well as moments is really what does it. These are all real people and the book never feels like fiction but at the same time, there’s something heightened about it that doesn’t feel quite real. Something magic, something that did exist and that has since been lost. People talk about the sixties and seventies and how there was this feeling, this zeitgeist, in New York at the time and how there isn’t any overarching powerful urge like that anymore. Hasn’t been since, really. Art for art’s sake – for the sake of being artists and pushing boundaries and such – doesn’t really happen as often as it did then. My god, Patti had an affair with Sam Shepard – and appeared in/co-wrote a play with him! SAM FUCKING SHEPARD. She met Jimi, Janis, and hung out with The Factory girls. She went from homeless to the Chelsea Hotel – and my god, what a hotel that must’ve been in those days. It’s sad that they won’t allow extended residencies anymore. But anyway, I digress.
I think the most interesting aspect of the book for me is her single-minded dedication to this being a book about her and Robert. That’s it. This is not an autobiography. Nor is it a biography. Despite me having classified it as both. It is, instead, a story – the story of two kids who were (despite so many other people, other things, etc) the absolute once-in-a-generation love of each other’s lives. The story of the art that they created for, with, and because of each other. It is not a story about what happened after Patti left New York or anything like that. I was struck – pleasantly – by the fact that she had no problem suddenly dropping a name (for example: her late husband, Fred, suddenly appears in the story basically when they decide to move to Minnesota or wherever it was) who was a key player in her or Robert’s life… but didn’t actually impact the story of the two of them all that much. As a result, the early eighties? Glossed over, almost completely. Like an epilogue in a way. Yes, her youth gets a bit of focus before she meets Robert – but that’s only to set the stage, really. The fact that this book is, in many ways, a selfless love letter to Robert, is yet another thing that endeared it to me.
Rating: 5+ out of 5. Thank you (AGAIN) Sarah Lucie for saying that I should absolutely just fucking read a certain book. It is quite rare that a book makes me cry – even rarer that it should be non-fiction (strange, I know, but deal with it). The story of these two kids who just… completed each other in very real ways that you think only happen in stories….. well, it was magical. It was the seventies more clearly than I think I’ve ever seen it pictured. It was art, it was love, it was poetry in motion on a page. And I want to play Robert Mapplethorpe in a biopic now, by the way.