Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  

Just Kids

Recommended Posts

Just Kids, Patti Smith's memoir is at the top of the list of books getting read, passed around and discussed by a large group of my friends.

A facebook post and a couple of pint fueled conversations about Patti, her work and her significance has lead to my friend Claire and I, DJing a set based on the book.


I have had fun with this. It is slightly hilarious to read copy lifted from a barroom anecdote suddenly showing up on bulletin boards, electronic or otherwise.

I was a kid living in Saudi Arabia in 1975, my family returned to the States, for the Christmas holidays. Patti was on Saturday Night Live, if I remember correctly it was a short film of stills, largely made up of Mapplethorpe photo's. The soundtrack was Gloria. The intro was the most shocking thing I had ever heard. It has taking me years, sorting through to realize what I found so compelling.

"Jesus died for somebodies sins, but not mine".

I had never heard anything thing so self possessed and honest. A simple statement of fact, backed with piano chords that provided no place to hide. Expect no quarter and none will be given.There is no discussion about the nature of God, the relevance of theology, the personhood of Christ. It was a bold refusal to accept forgiveness. To allow another to suffer for one's transgressions. It was shocking to me, it remains so to this day.

Four years later I was a freshman in college, I had signed up for a writing class taught by Miller Williams. I was in over my head. The class was on Thursday evening, it was the beginning of the Spring semester, late January. It was really cold and I decided I would drive across campus to class. I set out from my house, the cassette in the deck was Horses on one side, Wave on the other. I was listening to Horses. Two blocks from my house a guy ran a stop sign and totaled my car.

...."boy was in the hallway having a cup of tea, from the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating"........."Angel looks down at him and says, “oh, pretty boy,

Can't you show me nothing but surrender ? ”.....

When the time has come for me to wrestle my demons and my angels, Patti has provided the soundtrack. I have been saved from my own nihilism more than once. Patti Smith, more than any other artist has provided a fire under my ass. She has done this for three and a half decades. I remain grateful. Tonight I get to spin some music to express my gratitude.

If you need me, I'll be in the bar.

Edited by draper

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

This thread about Patti Smith's memoir is in the Music area rather than the Lit area. Because Draper interacts with Patti's music, I guess we should keep it here, but I wanted to say that I listened to the first of 9 discs of this audiobook and am blown away. I don't know where Patti's story is going; I imagine it'll get pretty dark, and that her life and her reflections on lessons learned might disappoint me.

No matter. Not for now. What leaps out early in the book is Patti's engagement with religion, and her use of religious language in Just Kids. I've come to realize that I'm so hungry for cultural engagement with true Christianity that anytime an author or songwriter grapples with faith in a way that shows that he or she understands it -- whether or not they still believe in Christ, or ever did believe in him -- it's electric for me. I can't get enough of it. I probably overpraise books that do this (The Marriage Plot is the last one the comes to mind) because, in the moment, I'm so overwhelmed with gratitude that someone gets it, that someone uses religious language the way I use it and actually seems to understand what terms like "providence" mean, that I can't contain myself.

I'm at that stage right now, one disc into Just Kids. I have no idea how Patti Smith knows these concepts, if she accepts orthodox Christianity or once did. I'm just glad to hear her read her work, to raise the issue of faith from the perspective of what she went through earlier in life, to note how she thought about God, how she prayed, how she felt peace in crucial moments.

So often authors will mention Christianity in passing, quickly dismissing it as part of a character's journey (or the author's own journey), without ever seriously grappling with faith, which is inevitably dismissed. Smith's book, like Eugenides' and a few select others, speaks a language about faith that I can understand. And that's ... thrilling.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Just Kids is the Atlantic's January selection for its Twitter book club. I've not tried to follow one of these before, or, I should say, I tried once and failed. I'm going to try again.

I think this is the hashtag for the first week's discussion, with separate hashtags here for subsequent weeks.

Edited by Christian

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Create New...