Monday, August 22, 2011

Reading Patti Smith's "Just Kids"

I distinctly remember that the audiences seemed divided between those who thought Patti Smith was a goddess and Allen Ginsberg an afterthought, and those (like me) who hadn't really heard of Patti Smith, but thought Allen Ginsberg was an American legend. I'd never seen her before, but had seen him at events in Berkeley or San Francisco in the 1960s, most notably the Human Be-In, a memorable Happening in 1967. His readings in 1995 and 1996 made a lasting impression on me -- hers, not so much.

Just Kids -- which won the National Book Award, by the way -- seems to me to echo this divide, between the slightly younger punk musicians and the older Beat and Hippie generations. The New York Times reviewer said that Just Kids was "the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s that any alumnus has committed to print. The tone is at once flinty and hilarious, which figures: she’s always been both tough and funny, two real saving graces in an artist this prone to excess. What’s sure to make her account a cornucopia for cultural historians, however, is that the atmosphere, personalities and mores of the time are so astutely observed."

Right. But I really think her little life was eclipsed by a lot of the other things that were going on then, and I'm not at all sure her poetry has really lasted. Not like Ginsberg's! And though her main topic, the relationship she had with Robert Mapplethorpe, is compelling, it leaves me a little unconvinced. But I don't think I'll try to expand that topic now.

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

I confess I am much like you, knowing little of Patti and more of Allan and probably not enough about either. Sometimes poetry is hard for me to wrap my head around, but I always like learning more about it.