I wanted to like this book. In particular, I was hoping to learn more about the music scene in downtown New York in the early 70s. I was disappointed on both counts. Think of this book instead, as a hagiography of Robert Mapplethorpe. This is a world viewed through rose-colored glasses, one largely sanitized of the gritty reality that surely existed. Full of name dropping and hero worship (if I have to hear of Arthur Rimbaud one more time.....), apparently all was done in the name of art. Unfortunately, this work achieves little either in terms of art or as an honest account of an interesting time.
This was a sad book. I had expected a Rock & Roll memoir from the queen of 1970s New York alt rock scene. I had read the book description, but still. This was the story of Patti’s life with Robert Mapplethorpe as they grew up together, young Bohemians, in New York. While they cross paths with many of the icons of the day, Patti’s music career is a footnote. I have a new appreciation for Mapplethorpe. Art can be disagreeable to me and yet I can understand the artist and appreciate the creativity. Patti’s portrait of him is so tender and her love for him so sincere, it’s hard not to feel for both of them as they struggled to eat as friends and neighbors in the Hotel Chelsea committed suicide, overdosed and succumbed to disease. It’s easy to imagine rock stars and artists crafting personas. Patti and Robert were the real deal and their story very moving. I’d like to mark the topic as music, but this was the memoir of artists one of whose medium happened to be music in popular culture.
The narration was very drone like and tedious to listen too. I won't be finishing the book. I think if you grew up in some States and that era (I'm Canada) and new a lot about art and literature it would be interesting. A lot of name dropping and I didn't know most of them.
Patti Smith is such an interesting and admirable person, independent, intelligent and very much her own person but the memoir turned into a litany of "people who became someone" in the second section and, as such, dated it. Her life would have been so much more interesting as the center rather than appended to others - at least it felt that way - that I wish she had told her non-Robert Mapplethorpe story rather than constantly revolving about his art/obsession/confusion. Hers is a lot more interesting.
Anybody but her
I found this account narcissistic, self-serving and solipsistic. I too lived through this era, and while I enjoyed the references to the events and people of the 60's and 70's I couldn't wait for this book to end. Her performance was great for insomniacs who want to be lulled to sleep, but it made for an incredibly long listen. I can't imagine how this was awarded the National Book Award. Maybe the committee was impressed by all her references to the great artists and her never ending name dropping of the great performers of this era.
I really wanted to like this book and enjoyed it for awhile, but by the end I was like, OK Robert, die, so that we can turn this thing off.
Who or what constitutes an artist? Now, there's a a topic for hours of passionate discussion amongst yourselves. Picasso said that “every child is an artist;” Maslow talked about the need for self-actualisation as being the most elusive and enduring human needs; and we've all heard the claim that creativity is our birthright. Patti Smith without question believes herself an "artist" as well as a "Punk Rock's poet laureate, a singer, songwriter, actress and playwright."
I don't deny Patti Smith's raw creativity, or her commitment, but I feel more than any other reason for her *fame* she was lucky enough to meet Robert Mapplethorpe and benefit from the slipstream of his artistic vision and drive. Through him she gained entrance into the world that accepted her type of creativity and propelled her into the limelight she so craved. She herself always seemed to be this underground personality associated with the punk scene and those *stars,* a free-spirit looking for her niche through performance experimentation -- and sometimes it felt very amateurish and uncontrolled. Other than "Because the Night" and an eloquent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech on behalf of Lou Reed, I wasn't too aware of Smith's specific works, though I was aware of her icon status.
The book is well written and at times truly poetic, this upped my impression of Smith's talents. It was interesting to read about the turbulent period of time in NYC, and the luminaries that gave color to the decadent and creative period, more so for me at least, than the scavenging through thrift stores and living off the kindness of others. Unfortunately, I didn't find the magic others claim to have found; I didn't see a beautiful love story or an artist's struggle, the flicker of youth captured. I had my own young love; my own beautiful Polaroid moments of youth I can satisfactorily reflect on. For some reason, I experienced in Smith's memoir an egotistical justification for an irresponsible life-style that excluded any responsibility or consequences. Smith came across as arrogant and entitled, a girl with no more talent than anyone else -- just more drive, more luck, more connections, more bravado, and less self consciousness and fewer standards. On the positive side, her love for Mapplethorpe was genuine and unwavering through their journey to the *in-crowd.* The devotion was admirable, and I enjoyed this candid part of her story.
I just kept wondering to myself..."So?! Haven't most of us had times when we've felt compelled to say the hell with what we have to do, what needs to be done, and just go full-throttle Bohemian?!" How many of us would like to call ourselves an artist following our muse? I felt the book sprang from the sincere heart of a devoted friend and an interesting, avant-garde woman. I think this is a great read for those interested in the NYC scene during this period of time...you won't be disappointed. This wasn't my favorite bio, and I don't see the overwhelming appeal it has had for readers (and to deserve the National Book Award), but like art, it's mostly a matter of taste.
I couldn't decide whether to buy the book or listen to the audio version. When I saw Patti Smith read her book, herself, I opted for the Audible edition. I'm very glad I did. This is a powerful and inspiring work. Smith puts a lot of emotion into her reading, which would come as no surprise to anyone interested to read the book in the first place. Patti Smith brings the same intensity to her reading and writing as she does to her music and poetry.
Any artist who believes they are held back by family connections, wealth or education, should read this book even if you've never heard of Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe. Not everything they had to do to survive in 1970s New York was pretty, but they did it with style and courage, and they achieved what they planned to achieve. This book is a candid and beautiful memoir.
Absolutely stunning. Patti Smith writes beautifully and poetically in a way that is all her own. This book will break your heart and renew your faith in creative struggle.
I thought I knew so much about these two, and this era. It was interesting to bring more clarity to the times they lived in. But the greater gift here is Patti Smiths' clear, poetic telling of this deep intimate, artistic relationship. It's wonderful to hear it in her voice. It's just beautiful.
I'd heard many kudos for this book and am adding mine to the long list. An eloquent, hypnotic and insightful read into a unique relationship between artists who knew their gifts long before they were discovered. A loving tribute by Ms. Smith to her lover, friend and co-conspirator, Mr. Mapplethorpe. Her voice, while calm and somewhat droll, enhances the poetry of her words.