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National Book Award Winner Patti Smith
November 18, 2010 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Patti Smith, best known as a singer-songwriter (whose lyrics have occasionally been collected into books of poetry) has won the National Book Award in Nonfiction for Just Kids, her memoir of the years she spent living with the late artist Robert Mapplethorpe.
posted by aught (54 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes.

I have the book right here actually. Enjoyed it muchly. Good on Smith.
posted by The Whelk at 8:40 AM on November 18, 2010


Well, I'll be damned, it is that Patti Smith.

Was listening to NPR's piece on the NBAs this morning, which gave a lot of time and attention to her, and I figured it had to be some other Patti Smith (or even Patty Smyth) because what are the odds, right?

Good for her.
posted by Naberius at 8:45 AM on November 18, 2010


I love what she says about him: "He wasn’t possessive about his confidence and was generous in investing it in others."

God I think that's awesome.
posted by kingbenny at 8:48 AM on November 18, 2010


I love love love Patti Smith. Also I have tickets to go watch her get interviewed at Columbia College (in Chicago) on Nov 30. Also, squee.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:50 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


no Would either of you two bright sparks care to elucidate; or is your vocabulary impared?
I mean you do have reason(s) don't you?


I'm fine without the elucidation, actually.
posted by uraniumwilly at 8:51 AM on November 18, 2010


A 70's oldies act, goes like this - Morrisson, Rimbaud, lower east side, heroin, have some kids. She has told this story a million times.

I guess I just don't get it.
posted by pianomover at 8:55 AM on November 18, 2010


A 70's oldies act, goes like this - Morrisson, Rimbaud, lower east side, heroin, have some kids. She has told this story a million times. I guess I just don't get it.

Does that mean you've read the book?
posted by uraniumwilly at 8:57 AM on November 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


[A few comments removed. Do not throw pointless one-word chaff into new threads. Either use your words or go elsewhere.]
posted by cortex at 8:58 AM on November 18, 2010


Patti Smith is amazing and the book is actually quite sweet and moving as she writes about her journey trying to figure out how to be a poet/artist while being a pretty provinical small-town kid in NYC.

Early on in the book, people are trying to figure out who/what she is, and someone at a party asks her: “You don't shoot up and you're not a lesbian. What do you do?
posted by jasper411 at 8:58 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


A 70's oldies act, goes like this - Morrisson, Rimbaud, lower east side, heroin, have some kids. She has told this story a million times.

So what's the last good book you read then?
posted by blucevalo at 9:01 AM on November 18, 2010


I was so happy to hear about this this morning!
posted by rtha at 9:05 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember being taken by her descriptions of the artwork and her eye for evocative detail.
posted by The Whelk at 9:09 AM on November 18, 2010


You know, I really don't like much about her music and I too thought the whole Morrison/Rimbaud/LES thing, but I then I heard her interviewed on NPR. She was really smart, humble, engaging and told her story very well. I had no idea about so much of her life - I read my Wm S Burroughs so I knew a bit, but my impression overall was that she was some faded punk figure who latched onto WSB. So it was fun to be wrong about that and all in all it made me really want to pick up the book.

Tho I did think I would wait for the paperback....
posted by nevercalm at 9:17 AM on November 18, 2010


Apologies for the pimp-pimp-pimp, but if you're interested in her and in her book, hearing her read from her book is also fairly great. And I can say that, because I had almost nothing to do with this post.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2010/11/17/131384730/hear-patti-smith-read-from-just-kids
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:21 AM on November 18, 2010


Shoot. My bad. Link.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:22 AM on November 18, 2010


Patti Smith is amazing and the book is actually quite sweet and moving as she writes about her journey trying to figure out how to be a poet/artist while being a pretty provinical small-town kid in NYC.

But there is something galling about the whole NPR mawkishly sentimental treatment of the Patti Smith/Robert Mapplethorpe relationship. Personally, i don't really care; i'm not interested in either artist but when I heard her being interviewed on the radio I had to turn it off within about 5 minutes. I mean, I guess i'm inclined to think of artistic rebellion as a adolescent pose, art and artists are too caught up in being "valuable" or "improtant' to really tear things down. But at the same time, I want to hear Patti Smith tell someone on NPR to "fuck off," not retread the tear-soaked memory trail blazed by so many boomer memoirs. I mean, in the end Mapplethorpe was a guy who did a high quality artistic b&w photo of hiwithmself a bullwhip up his ass. Even if I don't think it counts much as rebellion i'd still like someone to pay lip service to the idea (of it being rebellious) Do you really want the whole business to be 'sweet' in the end?

Basically, elderly boomer mawkish sentimentality, yuck.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:22 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


How many people have both a Top 40 hit and a national book award? Not many, I'd wager.
posted by LSK at 9:26 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even if I don't think it counts much as rebellion i'd still like someone to pay lip service to the idea

I'd rather a heartfelt memoir than poseur bullshit. Lip service to the idea of rebellion? That is yuck.
posted by rtha at 9:31 AM on November 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


But at the same time, I want to hear Patti Smith tell someone on NPR to "fuck off," not retread the tear-soaked memory trail blazed by so many boomer memoirs... Do you really want the whole business to be 'sweet' in the end?

Well, artists are people, too, and this includes Patti Smith. She has experienced a lot of joy in her life, as well as grief, emotions that are common to both artists and NPR hosts.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:35 AM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Basically, elderly boomer mawkish sentimentality, yuck.

Yeah, I hate all that too, and I'm about as cynical as they come, but I got none of that from the NPR interview.

I've met some of Mapplethorpe's assistants from around that time. i think much of the "fuck you" stuff was in response to the xtian fundies calling a jihad down on him for "Piss Christ." Don't forget, he also spent years making amazing images of flowers, too.
posted by nevercalm at 9:35 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I mean, in the end Mapplethorpe was a guy who did a high quality artistic b&w photo of hiwithmself a bullwhip up his ass.

He also shot the fantastic photograph for the cover of Coral Sea. What's your point?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:37 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


How many people have both a Top 40 hit and a national book award? Not many, I'd wager.

You may be forgetting William Gaddis's cover of "The Locomotion" - which reached #38 back in 1979.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:38 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Don't forget, he also spent years making amazing images of flowers, too.

An example.
posted by blucevalo at 9:39 AM on November 18, 2010


Anyone who listens to NPR not expecting mawkish sentimentality at least once an hour is kind of ..... well, I don't know. Missing the point? Being willfully obtuse? Wanting NPR to be something it's not been in 25 years?
posted by blucevalo at 9:41 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


i think much of the "fuck you" stuff was in response to the xtian fundies calling a jihad down on him for "Piss Christ."

Yeah, I'd get pretty annoyed if people were calling a jihad down on me for something I didn't even make.
posted by Snyder at 9:42 AM on November 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Alright, haters to the left, please.

It never ceases to shock me just how irritating Smith's unflagging conviction in the power and necessity of art isn't. I found both Just Kids and the documentary, Dream of Life to be near-perfect antidotes for arts-related cynicism and fatigue, to the extent that I'd recommend anyone trying to make her or his way as an artist keep copies of both at the ready.

And I really don't know how she pulls it off. While I like much of her work enough to forgive quite a bit, I don't know that I should like anything enough to not feel a bit queasy to hear about someone washing Rimbaud's grave or going all moony-eyed over William Burroughs. But I never do. She starts talking or writing and somehow I just let myself get taken in. I'm sure part of it is that she comes across as 100% sincere, backed up by the knowledge that she's been at it for forty-plus years, but mostly it's her humility.

If you read the book or watch the movie or listen to just about any interview with her, you'll know that, even when she's ostensibly talking about her life or her practice, she only ever presents either as a kind of lens for the other people and other works that have moved her. The sentiments she espouses admittedly have a lot in common with the kind of manifesto-style wanking so common among self-styled poets (and I'll allow that I might find her adolescent enthusiasm much less compelling coming from an actual adolescent), but Smith never makes the fatal mistake of trying to translate an assertion of the importance of art into any self-congratulatory stance.

You believe that she believes what she's saying, and, little by little, you start to believe that too. And that invariably comes as a huge relief. So I say congratulations.
posted by wreckingball at 9:49 AM on November 18, 2010 [11 favorites]


i think much of the "fuck you" stuff was in response to the xtian fundies calling a jihad down on him for "Piss Christ."

As Snyder alluded, that was by Andres Serrano, not Mapplethorpe.
posted by mykescipark at 9:57 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I want to hear Patti Smith tell someone on NPR to "fuck off," not retread the tear-soaked memory trail

Are you saying it would have been more real and true for a middle-aged woman to momentarily pretend she's playing a stage role during an interview about a book, or do you just have no patience for people who won't momentarily cater to your craving for entertainment?

Because if it's the latter, you can find all kinds of soundclips of people inappropriately saying "fuck" in public. That's not hard.
posted by ardgedee at 10:01 AM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


i think much of the "fuck you" stuff was in response to the xtian fundies calling a jihad down on him for "Piss Christ."

Yeah, I'd get pretty annoyed if people were calling a jihad down on me for something I didn't even make.


*Sigh* I even thought to myself "wait, was that him, or someone else?" Googled it, and just saw "mapplethorpe piss christ" in the suggestions and ran with it. Sorry y'all, thanks for the quality editing. Your $50 check is in the mail.
posted by nevercalm at 10:03 AM on November 18, 2010


Yeah, I wouldn't base your opinion on either Smith or her book based on an NPR piece (much as I like NPR). The book is great; her writing is funny and direct and honest, not at all drippily sentimental. Maybe it's a teeny bit rose-tinted, but what memoir isn't? As someone who lived in NYC in the '90s and '00s, I really enjoyed her description of what it was like for her & Robert as young, unconnected artists from working-class backgrounds in the late '60s and early '70s.

The book mostly covers their NYC adventures in their early twenties , before they both became relatively successful in the late '70s and '80s. I would have liked to have read more about how their friendship fared after they both finally got critical acclaim for their work. But the book sort of glosses over that period and picks up again when Robert's dying. Still, even though you know that's coming, the ending is still relatively uplifting.

I saw her do a reading from the book in January, and she was just as funny and honest in person. I don't think this story is in the book, but she also mentioned the story of how, in the early '70s, she met Allen Ginsberg (whom she already deeply admired). She and Robert were very poor, and one day she very hungrily went to a diner that had one of those sandwich vending machines. She put in some change, but then realized she was about 15 cents short. Ginsberg, who'd been sitting nearby, ponied up the difference and then struck up a conversation. After about 20 minutes talking about poetry, he said: "Wait a minute: are you a girl??" And a lovely platonic friendship was born.
posted by lisa g at 10:09 AM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I can't say it any better than wreckingball. But, I was wandering around the city last spring and found out Patti Smith was playing at the NY Public Library. Having never seen her in person I got a ticket online only to find out she was just talking not playing. It was raining so I went anyway and fell in love with who she is and what she stands for. She has been through a lot more suffering than I have, and has done it with humility, grace, and uncommon beauty. Oh yeah, I bought the book and she signed it and I enjoyed it as much as anything I've read lately.
posted by Xurando at 10:10 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Serrano's "Piss Christ" was 1987, Mapplethorpe died in March of 89, and the Corcoran Gallery pulled his show in June of 89.

In no way was he responding to "Piss Christ" or controversy over his own work IN his work - he didn't have time.

It's totally understandable to think of both artists (and Karen Finley and others) when recalling the NEA Funding shit storm that went down, though.
posted by rainbaby at 10:19 AM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Basically, elderly boomer mawkish sentimentality, yuck.

Boomers had civil rights, feminism, contraception, effective anti-war protest, Dylan, Hendrix, MLK, Malcolm X...

Gen Y and Millenials have, what now? Whiney and tuneless indie rock "vocalists"? Useless rallies and protest movements based on puppets and comedians? Constant text messaging? Irony as a the default mode of expression? Fedoras and ukeleles and corduroy? Gawker?
posted by yarly at 10:26 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Patti Smith can do no wrong in my eyes because of two things: Horses and the fact that she wrote lyrics for Blue Oyster Cult. She contains multitudes.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:28 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I mean, I guess i'm inclined to think of artistic rebellion as a adolescent pose, art and artists are too caught up in being "valuable" or "improtant' to really tear things down. But at the same time, I want to hear Patti Smith tell someone on NPR to "fuck off,"

rebellion and stupidity are not the same thing
posted by pyramid termite at 10:31 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


> A 70's oldies act, goes like this - Morrisson, Rimbaud, lower east side, heroin, have some kids. She has told this story a million times.

I guess I just don't get it


Said like someone who has never cried listening to "Pissing in a River"...
posted by ifjuly at 10:57 AM on November 18, 2010


Boomers had civil rights, feminism, contraception, effective anti-war protest, Dylan, Hendrix, MLK, Malcolm X...

Gen Y and Millenials have, what now? Whiney and tuneless indie rock "vocalists"? Useless rallies and protest movements based on puppets and comedians? Constant text messaging? Irony as a the default mode of expression? Fedoras and ukeleles and corduroy? Gawker?


As someone who was born in the very last year of boomerdom, I'd like to say that I can't identify with the boomers because I was a child in the 60s and so I take some issue with the picture you've painted. The generation of Whitney, useless rallies and weak protest movements are not necessarily entirely the fault of said generation. Political action events are not all fresh and new like it was in the age of civil rights, feminism, anti-war, etc. You're lucky you had a perfect storm: 1) anti-war rallies that climaxed into a fairly easy black/white political definition; 2) popular semi-revolutionary music on the radio; 3) news coverage that respected the movements; 4) Youth discoveries of a bunch of new shit: drugs, free sex, new lifestyles as well as a youth movement that was somewhat political, generally speaking, as it could be tied to an over-arching, huge thing that was happening world-wide. That environment is long gone. You can blame the new generations *"of swine," if you want, but it's not particularly relevant to the madhouse that Gen Y and Millenials have inherited.

*Hunter Thompson
posted by uraniumwilly at 11:33 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


[obligatory shout-out to Fred "Sonic" Smith]
posted by AJaffe at 11:34 AM on November 18, 2010


Boomers had civil rights, feminism, contraception, effective anti-war protest, Dylan, Hendrix, MLK, Malcolm X...

Oh, come on, I'm not even that much more than a couple years outside the baby boomer cohort and even I realize that this is self-congratulatory masturbation.
posted by blucevalo at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is a really good book. Even for people who are not so much fans of Smith's music or of Mapplethorpe's art, it is an amazing book about friendship and struggling to make art.

And if you don't read it, you'll be missing out. Which is okay, because that's why they print more than one book, because not everyone wants to read everything, but still you'll be missing out.

The other prose winners are also excellent (though good luck getting your hands on Lord of Misrule for a few weeks, because the small publisher is frantically putting together a big print run at the worst possible time in the industry cycle). I've ordered the poetry winner; I don't know Hayes's work, but he is so dashing and seems so sweet-natured that my Fangirl Threat Level is up to High.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:01 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I saw her in concert a few months ago and she still has the goods. Raw, pasionate, tender, funny, all of it. That and the Court Tavern is still open and rocking. These things are good.
posted by caddis at 12:13 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think also that that period, where artists can live and operate in the city and be poor, eking out a living and still being able to exist near viable, workable space like that which existed before maybe the late 80s doesn't really exist anywhere on the island of Manhattan anymore. So this is a great snapshot of a way of life that has vanished.

The boomer derail is unfortunate. Gen Xer here. I'll see your Civil Rights movement and raise you Disco.
posted by nevercalm at 12:19 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are you saying it would have been more real and true for a middle-aged woman to momentarily pretend she's playing a stage role during an interview about a book, or do you just have no patience for people who won't momentarily cater to your craving for entertainment?

it's a stage role either way. both as the punk rockstar and the elderly memoirist (patti smith is 64) she is catering to the voyeurism of the audience, selling a life which almost by definition the audience is not going to live. how cynical is it to reduce the idea that *anything* could happen on stage, to be shocked and amazed, to the level of a carnival act (or maybe honest?), and then sell testimony on your life in the carnival. I guess if you are going to trade on your life it hardly matters how you do it. All the same, I'd rather hear contempt for the audience because the audience is contemptible rather than sentiment and empathy for the performer (who is also contemptible.)
posted by ennui.bz at 12:20 PM on November 18, 2010


All the same, I'd rather hear contempt for the audience because the audience is contemptible rather than sentiment and empathy for the performer (who is also contemptible.)

Have fun with that! Or not.

Wait, Wallace Stevens said this best:

Gubbinal

by Wallace Stevens

That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.

That tuft of jungle feathers,
That animal eye,
Is just what you say.

That savage of fire,
That seed,
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.

posted by Sidhedevil at 12:33 PM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Patti Smith, Yuka Honda, and Quincy Jones are crucial links in any game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Pop Music Category. Fact.

I guess I kinda get the Patti Smith hate, in that her memoir (which I have not read) sounds like it retreads old ground familiar to anyone who's paid attention to her over the years, but you know what? "Horses" is still one of the best records I've ever heard, "Dancing Barefoot" and "Pissing in a River" are monumentally great songs, and Patti Smith at 64 has earned the right to do whatever the fuck she pleases however the fuck she wants to, because Patti Smith is STILL punk as fuck and I fucking love her.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:40 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I guess if you are going to trade on your life it hardly matters how you do it.

Having said that, why does it even matter to you? I mean, if your point is that she should be trading on her life in a more appropriate persona, what would that persona be? And if your point is that she shouldn't be trading on her life at all because it caters to the voyeurism of her audience, well, she lost her husband at age 46 to a heart attack, she's surely got lots of bills to pay, and yeah, so more power to her.
posted by blucevalo at 12:46 PM on November 18, 2010


catering to the voyeurism of the audience

Like all performers, everywhere, throughout history. I take it you never read, or listen to music, or go to any performances, because that's like, contemptible, to participate in the voyeurism.

BitterOldPunk has it: she's punk as fuck and has the cred to back it up. What do you got?
posted by rtha at 1:00 PM on November 18, 2010


As Wallace Stevens has been posted, why not post some Patti Smith, the previously mentioned Pissing in the River:


Pissing in a river, watching it rise
Tattoo fingers shy away from me
Voices voices mesmerize
Voices voices beckoning sea
Come come come come back come back
Come back come back come back

Spoke of a wheel, tip of a spoon
Mouth of a cave, I'm a slave I'm free.
When are you coming ? Hope you come soon
Fingers, fingers encircling thee
Come come come come come come
Come come come come come come for me oh

My bowels are empty, excreting your soul
What more can I give you ? Baby I don't know
What more can I give you to make this thing grow?
Don't turn your back now, I'm talking to you

Should I pursue a path so twisted ?
Should I crawl defeated and gifted ?
Should I go the length of a river
[The royal, the throne, the cry me a river]
Everything I've done, I've done for you
Oh I give my life for you.
Every move I made I move to you,
And I came like a magnet for you now.

What about it, you're gonna leave me,
What about it, you don't need me,
What about it, I can't live without you,
What about it, I never doubted you
What about it ? What about it ?
What about it ? What about it ?

Should I pursue a path so twisted ?
Should I crawl defeated and gifted ?
Should I go the length of a river,
[The royal, the throne, the cry me a river]
What about it, what about it, what about it ?
Oh, I'm pissing in a river.
posted by Xurando at 1:06 PM on November 18, 2010


in that her memoir (which I have not read) sounds like it retreads old ground

It really doesn't. I am not a giant Patti Smith fan, but I have heard all her usual stories in the course of being a media consumer and producer. This book isn't a rehash of the stories.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2010


It's not even the lyrics on their own--it's the way she sings "what about it, you're gonna leave me/what about it, you don't need me" g'ah. And the "should I crawl defeated and gifted". She is so excellent.
posted by ifjuly at 1:43 PM on November 18, 2010


Patti was recently on Fresh Air talking about the book. Great interview... http://m.npr.org/story/122722618
posted by TheShadowKnows at 3:31 PM on November 18, 2010


Fucking AIDS. At least now I know people "living with HIV" rather than "dying of AIDS" - but if you told me in 89 that the USA would still have a huge conservative presence in 2010, I would have laughed in your face. I was wrong. I vote Democrat for Reproductive Choice, first, and Arts Funding, second. And I have the haunting feeling I'm being played a fool. Patti Smith, start a political party, I will totally support you.
posted by rainbaby at 5:57 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't listen to Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit very often. For the same reason I can't listen to Patti Smith's Radio Baghdad very often. Captured horror.

Democracy Now did a show with Patti Smith (with audience voyeurism and sing-along) :
http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/29/punk_rock_legend_patti_smith_on
posted by llc at 9:14 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just saw her and Lenny last night, reading Jim Carroll's new book and singing a couple tunes. It was wonderful, loving valediction for their old friend.
posted by whuppy at 7:07 AM on November 19, 2010


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