Patti is the kind of artist I always longed to be: cool and free. My fear of rejection kept me from stepping off my comfort stone of middle-class sensibilities. Patti’s fearless venture into the big city alone and penniless to pursue her art inspires me to follow my muse, although I think I’ll stay right here in my comfortable shelter.
She writes Just Kids from a forty-year distance, so the looking glass is perhaps a bit sepia-toned. Whose memories aren’t?
What struck me is her honesty and clarity. Judging her by the time, her appearance, and peers, I assumed she also followed the path of drug-entrenched hippie beatnik. That’s how wrong judgments can be. Patti Smith rarely drank alcohol and stayed away from the drugs that took down so many of her peers. In her memoir, she maintains her purity, and I believe her. Why would she lie when she freely admits to shoplifting and other less than proud moments? She’s an anomaly of the period. People of that time now wear the badge of former drug habits as a talisman of their coolness.
Critics have said Patti’s portrayal of her youthful and complicated relationship with Robert is unrealistic and naïve and told through worn-out rose-colored glasses.
I applaud her if she’s able to sift through her past and find the very best of it. It does not diminish her stature as an artist nor does it denigrate Robert. Besides, all memory is fiction of our own making.
I met Patti Smith at the Del Rio bar in Ann Arbor in the early 1980s. My first husband was waiting tables when Patti and her husband Fred Sonic Smith came in and sat in his section. He’d met them both before so he brought me over to their booth where they sat side by side. Patti quietly said hello. Her diminutive personage and shyness stunned me. I don’t remember a thing about Fred.
A year later, when our daughter was born, my ex sent them a birth announcement. A few weeks later, we received a handwritten note of congratulations from Patti.
That’s why I believe everything she wrote in Just Kids. She really is that nice.
I applaud her stylized prose, her historical depiction of the era, and her ability to find the good in it all.