It shouldn’t be really be considered news to learn that Patti Smith is a talented writer. She has always been the poet-who-rocks more so than just another famous rock singer/musician. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”, is a string of words that would have sounded impressive coming out of anyone’s mouth. It seems quite a bonus that she could also possess such a potent and unique singing voice.
Coming from a background of writing mostly poetry and lyrics, her prose is not overly verbose. It’s concise, to the point, not necessarily poetry, but still lovely and lean. This story is a slice of her own life, beginning at her birth but seen mostly through the lense of her ever evolving and yet ever rewarding relationship with the artist Robert Maplethorpe. We learn plenty about Robert, but more about Patti’s own coming of age as an artist and poet who also happens to have a band.
Patti yearns for a personal experience that signifies some kind of spiritual milestone that is elusive and mysteriously connected to Arthur Rimbaud. Periodically, this goalpost abruptly changes and updates as she deepens her worldly wisdom and seems destined to completes her task. Along her travels, Mrs. Smith religiously carries a copy of Rimbaud’s “Illuminations” a dizzying, mysterious collection which can be read in any order and offers a vivid spiritual defense of the life of a poet via poetry.
Robert Maplethorpe’s images used to intimidate me as a child to say the very least. I certainly held respect for them, but would not dare stand close to them with their strictness. Patti and Robert found and became themselves during these formative years, although Mrs. Smith professes that Robert was a completely realized artist when she first met him. Their work is not at all similar, yet it’s wonderfully complementary. Maplethorpe produced album covers, and educated Patti about the need to embody her work physically. Theirs is a friendship born out of sheer coincidence that continues to grow overtime and with this book it outlives death.