I didn’t know much about Patti Smith before reading Just Kids — only that I loved her song *Because the Night *as a kid (which I kind of wrote off / misattributed to it being a Bruce Springsteen song when I later found out he wrote it).
Anyway, I think Just Kids was on Nam’s reading list for awhile, and I picked it up because I thought it might have some cool stories about NYC in the seventies.
It did, but also the story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe is totally sweet and tragic in its own right.
I tend to love autobiographies of musicians — they tend to be far more interesting than say politicians or business people. Some of my favorites from the past few years are Herbie Hancock’s Possibilities and Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run (both of these, like Patti Smith’s, btw, are read by the authors).
A few choice bits from Just Kids…
“I preferred an artist who transformed his time, not mirrored it.” [the latter a reference to Andy Warhol]
I looked at myself in the mirror over the sink. I realized that I hadn’t cut my hair any different since I was a teenager. I sat on the floor and spread out the few rock magazines I had. I usually bought them to get any new pictures of Bob Dylan, but it wasn’t Bob I was looking for. I cut out all the pictures I could find of Keith Richards. I studied them for a while and took up the scissors, machete-ing my way out of the folk era. I washed my hair in the hallway bathroom and shook it dry. It was a liberating experience.
When Robert came home, he was surprised but pleased. “What possessed you?” he asked. I just shrugged. But when we went to Max’s, my haircut caused quite a stir. I couldn’t believe all the fuss over it. Though I was still the same person, my social status suddenly elevated. My Keith Richards haircut was a real discourse magnet. I thought of the girls I knew back in high school. They dreamed of being singers but wound up hairdressers. I desired neither vocation, but in weeks to come I would be cutting a lot of people’s hair, and singing at La MaMa.
Someone at Max’s asked me if I was androgynous. I asked what that meant. “You know, like Mick Jagger.” I figured that must be cool. I thought the word meant both beautiful and ugly at the same time. Whatever it meant, with just a haircut, I miraculously turned androgynous overnight.
Opportunities suddenly arose. Jackie Curtis asked me to be in her play Femme Fatale. I had no problem replacing a boy who played the male counterpart of Penny Arcade, shotgunning lines like: He could take her or leave her / And he took her and then he left her.