I just finished reading Just Kids by Patti Smith. Who would have thought that a girl from the East Village who looked like a junkie and sang “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine…” would win the National Book Award?
Her book deserves it. She tells a wonderful story of love and friendship (with the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe), even if it is slightly bent. Patti was a poet before she started singing with a band, but there’s no purple prose here. It’s told from the heart, simply and with a touch of lyricism. All told, a wonderful memoir (even though we know that in memoirs, all is never told).
I bought the album Horses when it came out (you knew there had to be some kind of connection to equines here, right?). I still have it by my turntable (I still have one of those, too).
People who know me in the horse business probably don’t know that I’m such a dedicated Patti Smith fan that I went to Toad’s Place in New Haven a few years ago to see her — it was a great dance concert with no seating — and I jumped up and down and screamed as if I were still 18. I still remember every word of every song.
What is there of horses in Just Kids? Very little actually, and only a suggestion of why the theme appealed to Patti. She talks about getting a tattoo of a lightning bolt, inspired by the lightning bolt that Crazy Horse tattooed on the ears of his horses. As Patti tells us in half-way through the book, Crazy Horse believed that he would be defeated in battle if he stopped to take spoils from the battlefield, and Patti was also “careful not to take spoils that were not rightfully mine.”
There’s another reference to horses in her book. She says, “…it was I who got one of the best horses.” That’s Patti’s poetry at work.
Reading Patti’s book has inspired me to read the biography of Mapplethorpe by Patricia Morrisroe, which has been sitting on my bookshelf since I bought it when it came out in 1997. The chaos that was Mapplethorpe’s life was the last thing I needed to read about at the time, but now it will make an interesting counterpoint to Patti Smith’s telling of the story of artist-and-muse, two soul mates who found their truest selves in each other’s presence.
Kind of like the way we feel with a horse, if we’re very lucky.