Who is Patti Smith?
A book peaks my interest when I see it consistently pop up, over time, by various people with the same consensus that it is "SO good." The more diverse the people are with the "SO good" reviews, the better the book. This is how Just Kids landed on my list. I dived right into it without reading what the book was about or without knowing who Patti Smith is, and it was nice following along blindly as she shared her story and the path to her destiny.
A story that includes a cast of Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, William Burroughs, or Jimi Hendrix, will never be a normal story, but throughout Patti Smith's story, I found a sense of relief from the stories of struggle, insecurities, and sacrifice that are usually taken for granted and cast aside as implied footnotes in the stories behind cultural icons. For example, I never thought of Jimi Hendrix in terms of unrealized dreams or Janis Joplin despairing about whether or not a boy is into her. In other words, it’s encouraging to remember that the artistic struggle is a version of the human struggle that shapes all of us.
Throughout the book, I couldn't help but wonder if great art can come from anything but profound despair, which is probably why I found myself in tears as I finished this book. While Smith did not succumb to the heavy drug-use, disease, and overdose, which took the young lives of many of her peers, her story was rooted in and shaped by their ashes, a privilege she doesn’t take lightly. As Smith puts it so eloquently, "Amphetamine magnified their paranoia, robbed some of their innate powers, drained their confidence, and ravaged their beauty."
The meaning of friendship conveyed in this book overwhelmed me. We often idealize the romantic kind of love, but Smith makes a compelling case that romantic love is the kind of love that scratches the surface--it's the beginning of a great story, not the end. Real love is what is left of a relationship when the romance burns off, and the fire keeps roaring. The movies tell us that love is one-dimensional but this story suggests a love that is infinite, crosses boundaries, creates space, and inspires. A love with no break-ups and just paths that criss and cross.
When I started the book, I smiled at how the impression of New York transcends time even if our experience in the city is uniquely our own. Then another kind of smile replaced it—a smile of solidarity—as I sympathized with Smith’s struggle to understand and pacify her concern over her place in this world. Patti Smith, among the likes of Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison, found herself wondering if her life will amount to anything of worth and relevance. She tinkers and dabbles with what she is drawn to and amidst company who seem to have a singular focus, Smith’s path is no less difficult or easy.
This book inspired me to look at relationships and my creative journey with kinder eyes. It deepened my sense of sacrifice and emboldened my sense of agency. As with many things, becoming yourself is a slow yet all at once type of journey.